Published here only, March 2021
An open letter in response and opposition to an opportunistic and unfair 'open letter' by Shane Broderick
I read Shane Broderick’s review of 27th February with some consternation. While anyone who puts a book into the public arena can expect to face criticism as well as praise, I was quite shocked by the review, which struck me as totally sarcastic, vitriolic and unfair. While he has the right to express his opinion and was right to lay some criticism at Amantha Murphy’s door, I do not think is was balanced, reasonable or fair.
Mr Broderick is a fairly recent BA graduate (2018), who says he has had articles published in several reputable magazines, but as far as I can tell, he has no published academic works or any books published himself – I would hardly call him a world authority on Celtic Studies, Celtic Mythology or the modern Celtic Neo-Pagan movement. However I shall take his comments on the book in question, section by section, and offer my own assessment, by way of counter-balance to his aggressive demolition of Amantha Murphy’s work.
Broderick spends the first 3rd of the article discussing the title and the use of the word ‘seabhean’, which he claims is in an invention of the author. As he correctly points out, this is not a valid Irish word in any dictionary. The author stated in the book (and to myself over the phone) that this is what she believes the word to be, having heard it spoken to her by an elderly mentor in Donegal. I am prepared to give Murphy the benefit of the doubt here given the following.
Given that an Irish word such as ‘cailleach’ (meaning old hag) has several other more fanciful or creative interpretations, as well as variant spellings, I do not see why the same might also apply to the word ‘seabhean/seanbhean’. The fact that Broderick was unwilling to accept the possibility of accepting this (in a frank exchange of views online) just demonstrates his bloody-mindedness in my opinion. While this word, may indeed be a mistake, it might also be a minor variant, but I see no evidence to suggest that she cynically made it up:
“So she just made up a pseudo-Irish word with false antiquity”
“It might not be as bad if she had just been honest and said “This is a system I’m working with. I have invented this word for it as an ode to the healer women/wise woman and it is very, very loosely inspired by Irish tradition”…”
“You wouldn’t fit ten of Amantha’s feet into half a shoe belonging to any of the genuine bearers of Irish tradition that have long since passed on.”
He also claims that Irish spiritual practitioners would not use the term ‘shaman’:
“Unless they are from Tunguska, no, they wouldn’t use the term “shaman” to describe themselves at all.”
This claim is totally false, given the hundreds of modern Irish practitioners who have trained in Celtic or Core Shamanism in Ireland in the last 30-40 years and continue to pursue their careers in this path, all across Ireland and beyond. Having slandered and denigrated Murphy as a charlatan, crook and faker of Irish tradition, he moves on to criticize the book itself.
Some of his criticisms are valid and reasonable, while some of them are not – demonstrating his own ignorance of Irish folklore, mythology and tradition:
“Women still took their mothers’ names and owned land. Some women were chieftains.” (p. 76)”
While this is technically correct (women could not officially inherit their husband’s titles and property) it is very much splitting hairs as there have been de facto female chieftains in Irish history – two famous examples are queen of Connacht Meabh/Medb/Maedhbh/Méibh (note many variant Irish spellings) who although married to king Ailill mac Máta, led (as chief) her army in war against the Ultonians (people of Ulster) and is generally regarded as the primary ruling power of Connacht during her life. Another, much later, example is Grace O’Malley who established herself as a formidable ruler and unofficial chieftain in western (coastal) Connacht in the 1500s. These are just two examples disproving his claim that immediately came to mind, without any research at all. I am sure there are other similar examples that could be found with a little effort.
He then goes on to dismember Murphy’s statement -
“Bealtaine is the time of the green man” “When we celebrate Bealtaine with a group that includes men , it is also the place of the Green Man , a personification of the god Pan”.
While it is true that ‘the Green Man’ is British and not an Irish concept or a genuinely ancient pre-Christian one, it has become accepted in Irish Neo-Paganism for many decades as similar/synonymous to/with the Celtic Cernunnos archetype, which itself bears similarities to the Greek Pan. I am sure that Murphy is aware that Pan is Greek and she does not clain otherwise. Murphy does not state this association regarding Bealtaine as ancient, in fact she is not at all specific about when this became the case. Broderick, in his determination to rubbish Murphy’s book is again being overly pedantic because it suits his purposes.
Broderick goes on to criticize various references to mythology within Murphy’s book. While her versions do not conform to the standardized written versions codified in Irish surviving texts, one must acknowledge that in Irish oral tradition there are many variants of almost all Irish legends. For instance, stories of Fionn Mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool) abound across Ireland, claiming him for themselves with ‘beds’, ‘graves’, ‘houses’ etc. Clearly Fionn Mac Cumhaill had only one grave but folklore has given rise to many stories of his adventures and multiple death sites across Ireland. Are these all total rubbish like Murphy’s oral vairants on the ‘official’ versions?
Clearly some of Murphy’s accounts are erroneous (Cú Chulainn defintely died long before the Christian era started), however Broderick dismisses the obvious variations that occurs through oral transmission of stories as entirely bogus and an indication of Murphy’s ignorance or fabrication. Given that I myself have read many variants of Irish stories (as much as 5 or six versions in some cases), that claim to be codified oral tradition I can conceive that some of Murphy’s knowledge does not conform to the academic mythological cannon. The fact that some of her stories are different does not necessarily imply that they are fabricated or that she is a pedlar of lies, once again Broderick has a clear agenda and is determined to use whatever material he can to destroy Murphy’s reputation.
Another example of Broderick’s unfairness is his analysis of Murphy’s statement:
“If the relationship suited both, then they could have a handfasting ceremony at Lughnasa (p. 87)”
The term ‘handfasting’ is a relatively modern Pagan term, it would just have been called a marriage (probably pósadh in Irish) in pre English-speaking Ireland. Murphy did not state or imply that the ancient Irish used the term ‘handfasting’. Such marriages, as she stated, would commonly occur at Lughnasa, but they were also very common at Bealtaine and the summer solstice (Grianstad an t-Samhraidh) as well. Lughnasa was regarded by some as the most important and flamboyant seasonal festival of the Irish year, there is plenty of evidence in the historical record to support this. Either Broderick is unaware himself of this information or willfully omits it simply to make the author look bad.
And again referring to the line
“The fairies I played with when I was young were tiny, light-filled elementals”
Broderick goes on the attack, using the fact that the sídhe or Tuatha Dé Danann were known to be tall, shining beings, often with blonde hair. Murphy does not specifically say that they were of the Tuatha Dé Danann, yet Broderick dismisses the common belief in Ireland that various types of fairies and elemental spirits varied in size from ‘tiny’ up to being slightly taller than humans.
Broderick also claimed (online) that Murphy is not Irish because she was not born in Ireland and also had not lived most of her life in Ireland. He seems to ignore the fact that both of her parents were Irish and that she has been living in her family’s ancestral home for over 20 years. As an Irish citizen (as defined by the Irish state and most people) Murphy is entitled to describe herself as Irish and work in an Irish context without being accused of ‘cultural appropriation’.
In conclusion, Shane Broderick, in a rather tiresome and self-promoting manner has tried to destroy the work of Amantha Murphy – a far more experienced, successful and well-known person than himself. I suspect that Mr Broderick has written this demolition of Murphy’s book with the hope of making a name for himself, in the most cynical way possible. While the book does deserve some criticism, one must remember that Murphy is not an academic and does not claim to be. Much of this book is biographical and experiential in nature and should be read in that context. I will not pretend that this book is academically accurate – that would be both foolish and pointless. However, while it was pertinent to highlight the mistakes within the book, I think it was done so in a mean-spirited and vindictive way, with the intention of permanently damaging the author’s reputation.
This is not a scholarly book, and perhaps most of the criticism regarding its factual errors should be directed towards the ‘scribe’ and the publisher, who ultimately is responsible for the editing, presentation and sale of this book. It is not an earth-shattering tome, but neither is it the worst book on Irish tradition or Shamanic practice, by a country mile. Mr Broderick is entitled to his opinion, but I do not think he has been fair to the author, who does not claim to be an academic (like Broderick) but is a working practitioner, who has learned by experience and received oral knowledge, rather than ‘book learning’.
If you are curious about this book I suggest you read it for yourself. It does have quite a lot of ‘factual errors’ or ‘alternative takes’ in comparison to an Irish academic text, but it is none-the-less an interesting account of an Irish spiritual practitioner and it is not without merit, as the divisive ‘open letter’ by Shane Broderick suggests.
Luke Eastwood (BSc Hons.) is a Druid who has studied the subject for approximately 25 years, he is also a long-standing member or DCD and OBOD, founder of Éigse festival and Irish Druid Network. Although far from a Gaeilgeoir he does speak and understand some Irish (Gaeilge). He also studied at Dublin School of Horticulture and has worked in many professions, including horticulture, graphic design and journalism. Luke has written several published books on gardening, ecology, folklore and spirituality.