I have to start by saying that I met Lora O'Brien at Pantheacon 2015 and was fortunate enough to be able to take several of her workshops. I found that she and I had a very similar perspective on most things relating to Irish paganism, the Morrigan, and the Fair Folk. I decided to review her book A Practical Guide to Irish Spirituality: Sli Aon Dhraoi
because I read it when it was first released (long before meeting her) and liked it and wanted to offer a positive book review for the blog today. As always I will approach this book review in an honest manner and please trust that I like her book on it's own merits, however I'm acknowledging a potential bias up-front.
The book is written in an engaging manner, with the author often writing as if she were speaking directly to the reader. This is a style that I personally enjoy very much and it reminded me strongly of one of my favorite neopagan books, Lilith McLelland's Out of the Shadows
*. I tend to read a lot of academic material so it's really refreshing to read something with a friendlier tone that manages to find that balance between being down-to-earth without feeling too simple. The book is also written with a dry humor and hint of sarcasm that personally appeals to me, although I can't say how others might take it.
The text is broken up, aptly enough, into three sections each with three chapters. The first section is centered around the "World of Earth" and includes chapters on ancestry, ancient places, and sacred cycles. The second section, the "World of Sea" has chapters on the sidhe, gods & goddesses, and otherworld journeys. The final section is the "World of Air" with chapters on magical crafts, literature, and priesthood & community. Each chapter covers the author's thoughts and opinions on that particular topic, in some cases very direct and strong views and in others more reserved and encouraging the reader to decide for themselves. For example the chapter on holidays - "Sacred Cycles" - offers some basic information, some insight into the author's own experiences and practices, and encourages the reader to take a hard look at what they already know and how they personally connect to the cycle of the year. In short, this chapter urges the reader to examine their own sacred cycle and relationship to the pagan holidays, rather than filling them up with rote information and how-to's. In contrast the chapter on the sidhe takes a very no-nonsense approach, including solid traditional material and blunt modern views which seem (and rightly so as far as I'm concerned) meant to get the daft new age idea of twee little fairies out of peoples' heads.
Each chapter starts with a bit encouraging the reader to stop and write down what they know or think about the topic of that section, and in fact there is a great deal of encouragement throughout the book for the reader to journal their thoughts and experiences. It then goes on to include the author's thoughts, opinions, and research, which is all very well done and referenced although I wish the book included a bibliography. Each chapter also includes a guided meditation suited to the topic. The meditation combined with the urging to journal give the text a feel of a workbook that could be very good for beginners or those looking to re-invigorate their spiritual practice. This book isn't just about learning what Irish paganism is, it's about actually living it.
Overall I really enjoyed this one. I don't agree with everything the author says, but that usually comes down to differences of opinion on some details of belief. I love the amount of scholarship woven into such a practical hands-on style book, and I like that the author doesn't pull any punches, for example her blunt reproach to people mucking up historical sacred sites with candle wax, fire pits, non-degradable offerings, and general litter. There are very few modern Irish pagan books that fall into the neopagan category that I can or would unequivocally recommend and this one falls solidly on that short list.**
*Sadly long out of print although it is now available in ebook only.
** I also really like the author's earlier work Irish Witchcraft from an Irish Witch
which came out in 2005. That one makes it on my short list for books I'm willing to recommend on the subject of modern Irish witchcraft.
Copyright Morgan Daimler