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26 November 2008 @ 02:20 pm
An Academic (P)Review of Akins' Lebor Feasa Runda  
Here is a (lengthy) essay on the matter of this particular recently published hoax. Read further if you are interested.



An Academic (P)Review of Akins' Lebor Feasa Runda

The importance of a close study of medieval manuscripts and the texts which they contain for an understanding of the pre-Christian spiritual viewpoints of Insular Celtic cultures cannot be overstated, not only from an academic stance, but also from the perspective of those seeking to integrate and utilize these viewpoints in a modern, workable, practical religious outlook in the early twenty-first century. Far too often, not enough attention has been paid to what these texts actually say, and instead small snippets of them have been abused and subjected to the Procrustean bed of some occult framework that is utterly foreign and inapplicable to the text. Kabbalistic, elemental, Wiccan ditheism, and triplicate feminine divinity notions are some of the frameworks which have been inappropriately imposed on Insular Celtic material in the past. It is not that these frameworks are not useful in and of themselves, nor is it impossible that they may ring true and be useful, meaningful, and life-giving methodologies and schemas with which to engage the world of deities and spirits; however, to say that medieval texts which do not fit these frameworks, were not derived from or based upon them, nor do they have anything whatsoever to do with them, in fact exemplify and explicate them, is erroneous at best, and completely misleading and fraudulent at worst.

Pre-Christian Celtic religion has been, unfortunately, overly subjected to such treatments, in fact they have been so to a degree that is startling, and the source of much dismay for those of us who have gone to the trouble to actually investigate the systems involved on their own terms. Recent entirely invented "traditions" like those of Douglas Monroe's The 21 Lessons of Merlyn and Edain McCoy's Witta: An Irish Pagan Tradition are some of the examples in a long line of forgeries of Insular Celtic-based spiritual writing. Some might argue that these types of pseudo-tradition are part and parcel of Celtic culture, with a pedigree extending to the highly influential Ossian of James Macpherson in the late 18th century, the Barddas of Iolo Morganwg (Edward Williams) published in 1862 by its editor J. Williams ab Ithel, and the Breton Barzaz Breiz of Théodore Claude Henri Hersart La Villemarqué, also published in the 1860s. These works of "fakelore" do have in their favor that the purveyors of them did immerse themselves in the cultures concerned, and occasionally did end up transmitting some legitimate bits of more ancient lore amidst all of the falsifications. However, the more modern examples of spiritual forgery do not even deserve the name "fakelore" due to the very egregious mistakes that their authors make (up to and including assertions of ancient Irish potato goddesses, and spells from the film Excalibur, which incidentally originated from a cryptic phonecall by the screenwriter involved to Proinsias Mac Cana, one of the great Celticists at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, who was asked "How would you say this in Old Irish?"); I would prefer to call this very sloppy type of spiritual forgery "flakelore."

Nonetheless, on occasion new manuscripts do come to light, or previously known ones are at last translated and edited, and wonderful things are found within them. The sheer number of unedited and untranslated Irish manuscripts is formidable, and even making a full edition of one can be a lifetime's work. In the last few years, a hitherto unheard of manuscript was discovered which bears mentioning. This is the fragmentary manuscript containing the Cornish Arthurian-related hagiographical drama, Bewnans Ke ("The Life of St. Kea"). As Arthur's traditional birthplace was said to have been Tintagel in Cornwall, and he plays a large role in Cornish folklore (on which see Amy Hale, Alan M. Kent, and Tim Saunders, eds., Inside Merlin's Cave: A Cornish Arthurian Reader [London: Francis Boutle Press, 2000]), the discovery of this text in the papers of the deceased Celticist J. E. Caerwyn-Williams was eagerly examined for its likely revelations on the matter. In fact, what remains of the text turned out to be very boring indeed, and filled with formulaic language; nonetheless, its existence as a document in Middle Cornish dating to the mid-fifteenth century in a sixteenth century manuscript (Graham Thomas and Nicholas Williams, eds./transs., Bewnans Ke: The Life of St. Kea, A Critical Edition with Translation [Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2007], pp. xliv-xlix) is still an exciting find for the wider world of Insular Celtic literary and linguistic studies.

More to the point, recently a book called The Lebor Feasa Runda: A Druidic Grammar of Celtic Lore and Magic by Steven L. Akins has been published (iUniverse/self-published, 2008). Note that, unlike the academic-style citations I have given for works mentioned in the previous paragraph, I have not indicated that this "highly anticipated English translation of the ancient Irish text" (according to the author) was edited or translated by Akins, because it is my assessment that he neither edited nor translated the text, but instead invented it. In the various convoluted stories he has given on how the book came to light and a German translation of it was made available to him, which he then translated into English, he has further made it plain that no original manuscript now exists to be examined and verified by actual Celtic textual scholars, and only photocopies of the German translation were available to him. Not only has he created an impressive further example of flakelore, but he has also denied the possibility of even having an artifact of mere Celtic linguistic interest made available for investigation, in however attenuated and derivative a form. Further, Akins himself is a known scam-artist, and has a number of connections to racist streams of thought that are at best disturbing (as admirably covered by Jason Pitzl-Waters on The Wild Hunt blog, http://www.wildhunt.org/2008/11/lost-racist-book-of-ancient-celtic.html ), and is a "noted Celtic scholar and historian" of any standing only in his own mind.

In the interests of full disclosure, let me state from the beginning that I have not seen the book with my own eyes, have not held it in my hands, and indeed have not read the full contents of it; hence, this present essay is a "preview" as much as it attempts to be a "review." The author has said in a number of places that people should maintain an open mind and examine the book and then judge for themselves whether it is valid or not, but I would here assert that it is not even necessary to do this. The author has provided excerpts of parts of the book on various online fora and websites, which (if they are direct copies of the actual contents of the published book) provide more than enough evidence that this is a forgery and not to be trusted. I will explain why this is, with examples from the excerpts cited and discussed, in the paragraphs to follow. I should also address my own qualifications in this regard. While I am not an overly renowned Celticist myself, I do at least have some claim to that distinction, since I hold a Ph.D. from the National University of Ireland/University College Cork (conferred in 2006), I have a number of publications in peer-reviewed academic journals and books to my name (including but not limited to Foilsiú, Cosmos, Béascna, Journal for the Academic Study of Magic, and the Celtic Studies Association of North America Yearbook), and I have taught religious studies courses as an adjunct instructor at Columbia College and Chapman University. I have not published much in the popular Celtic paganism area thus far, because I am more concerned at the moment with establishing myself in academia, but a few pieces by me are forthcoming in the near future, and I plan to do more of this when I have greater leisure to do so. While I may not be the most qualified person in the world to critique Akins' assertions, I would suggest that I am one of the more able persons for such a task currently visible in the subculture of modern paganism.

Where does one begin with a construction such as this, where hardly a word can be trusted? Let us examine some of what Akins himself says about the book's purported origins, as presented on an online forum (http://mysticwicks.com/showthread.php?t=205102&page=3 ):

"Attributed to the 8th century B.C.E. Irish king Ollamh Fodhla who, being the recipient of a vast dispensation of esoteric knowledge through a messenger of the ancient Celtic pagan deities, recorded the teachings that had been imparted to him in ogham text on a set of wooden tablets which he later instructed his son, Caibre [sic.], to inter alongside his body at the time of his death. These same ogham tablets were later supposedly discovered and translated in the 3rd century C.E. by the Druid Mogh Ruith as the Lebor Feasa Rùnda [sic.], a text which had been preserved in manuscript form, carefully transcribed along with other scriptures by monks of the early Christian Church in Ireland, as a treatise on the magical arts known as the Black Book of Loughcrew."

All of this is highly unlikely for a number of reasons (apart from the legendary/fictional nature of all the characters named above). Firstly, ogam (which is the Old Irish spelling; ogham is the Modern Irish) is not attested earlier than the 2nd century CE, and even that isolated instance is not certain; but what is very definite is that it was developed by the Irish, very likely in the Irish colonies in Britain (especially around southern Wales) in close connection with Latin. The arrangement of consonants in three groups of five letters or feda (plural of fid, "wood") and a separate group for the five vowels, is a grammatical distinction that would not be possible outside of knowledge of Latin. The bulk of ogam inscriptions which survive on stone in Ireland date from the fourth to the sixth centuries (see Damian McManus, A Guide to Ogam, Maynooth Monographs 4 [Maynooth: An Sagart, 1997]). Further, if these were translated into Old Irish by Mog Ruith in the third century CE, again that would be impossible, because Old Irish is only attested after the Christian period in Ireland (post-432 CE at the earliest, i.e. early 5th century), and even then, no earlier than the very last years of the sixth century, over a hundred years after the arrival of Latin literacy in Ireland. Once a non-literate culture learns Latin, adaptation of their own spoken language into a written form takes time, and even at a century after the arrival of Christianity, Hiberno-Latin was a flourishing and vibrant language before Old Irish prose and poetry were even beginning to exist, much less flower. Most of the oldest Old Irish texts are dateable to the seventh century (see Kim McCone, "Prehistoric, Old and Middle Irish," in McCone and Katharine Simms, eds., Progress in Medieval Irish Studies [Maynooth: Department of Old Irish, 1996], pp. 7-53), and this period of the language spans until the late ninth/early tenth century, with the landmark date being 912 CE, when the Annals of Ulster uses for the final time the neuter definite article, as the neuter gender disappeared in Middle Irish usage thereafter. Presence of the neuter definite article in a text is used as a dating criterion to determine whether texts which only exist in manuscripts from the eleventh century onwards were written and re-copied at much earlier dates. The idea of pre-Christian lore being written on ogam staves for preservation is one that is found in texts like Baile in Scáil (Kevin Murray, ed./trans., Baile in Scáil: "The Phantom's Frenzy", Irish Texts Society Vol. 58 [London and Dublin: Irish Texts Society, 2004], pp. 35, 51), and even there, the figures concerned would have fallen within the possible period of Ogam Irish's usage, not ten centuries before its earliest possible attestation.

If one examines the first part of the so-called "Book of Secret Knowledge" which Akins has given on various internet sites (for example, http://mysticwicks.com/showthread.php?t=205102&page=4 ), it is not difficult to see that this new creation myth he has fabricated involves, amongst other things, an unskillful calque on the Hades and Persephone myth, an innovation of deities for the sun (male) and moon (female) who are otherwise unattested, the discovery of a "horned god" in Irish mythology, and a number of other things which are obviously derived from Wiccan paradigms. Again, let me emphasize that the generic, non-culturally specific Wiccan paradigm of horned god and triple goddess, etc., may be a perfectly valid system in which to work religiously, but heretofore there has been no definite basis for its justification found in any medieval Irish text, and this literature has been studied closely for the past one hundred and fifty years or so; imagine the surprise that must have come, then, that at last it has been found, in exactly the form one would hope it would be if it were found in a genuine Irish source! When one finds exactly what one expects in a hitherto-unknown source, which cannot be verified by scholars, and which has somehow gone missing as quickly as it had been re-discovered, one begins to suspect that something is seriously amiss.

Just to take one aspect of this new story which is contentious and utterly baseless, let us examine the idea that there was a figure called "Cerna" who is the person named as playing the role of the horned god and abductor (equivalent to Hades in the better known Greek myth) of "Brighid" (equivalent in this calque to Persephone), and who also is the "oak king" and "holly king" in this narrative. On the same webpage cited earlier in the previous paragraph (but a subsequent message posting), Akins mentions that this "Cerna" is equivalent to Cernunnos, Herne, and Cerne (the latter two associated with Britain, the former with a single Continental Celtic/Gaulish inscription, and purported horned figures on the Gundestrup Cauldron, etc.), and that he was mentioned in an Irish tale relating to Conaire Már. This is specifically the text Togail Bruidne Da Derga ("The Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel"), and the line is one of several injunctions given to the foretold next king of Tara (Conaire) by a supernatural bird-man messenger, Némglan (who, strangely enough, appears in further excerpts of the invented text given by Akins at http://mysticwicks.com/showthread.php?t=205102&page=5 ), and reads as follows: "Nír taifnichter lat claenmíla Cernai" (Eleanor Knott, ed., Togail Bruidne Da Derga, Medieval and Modern Irish Series Vol. 8 [Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1975], p. 6 line 173, and similarly on p. 8 line 248), translated as "You must not hunt the evil-beasts of Cerna" (John T. Koch and John Carey, eds., The Celtic Heroic Age: Literary Sources for Ancient Celtic Europe & Early Ireland & Wales, Fourth Edition [Aberystwyth and Andover: Celtic Studies Publications, 2003], p. 169). If Akins were any kind of textual scholar, however, he would have realized that this is not a reference to a personal name, it is a reference to a place name (Knott, Togail Bruidne Da Derga, p. 153 s.v. Cernae), one which was quite close to Tara and the majority of the action of the tale (Edmund Hogan, Onomasticon Goidelicum, Locorum et Tribuum Hiberniae et Scotiae: An Index, with Identifications, to the Gaelic Names of Places and Tribes [Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1993], s.v. cerne). If he had been more thorough in his actual knowledge of Irish texts, he would have also known that there is in fact a horned figure in Irish literature, who is nothing like the expected paradigm of a "horned god" from a Wiccan perspective, and yet the latter part of his name, Furbaide Fer Benn, in fact means "horned man" (Whitley Stokes, "The Prose Tales in the Rennes Dindshenchas," Revue Celtique 16 [1895], pp. 31-83, 135-167, 269-312 at 38-39). The further examples which could be given of these infelicities to established tradition are so manifold in the small amount of text Akins has volunteered for examination online that a small thesis could be produced, but I think these selective matters here are enough to at least cast some doubt on his assertions.

However, Akins is no doubt going to argue something along the lines of the following in response to the above critiques (and any others similar to them): the attested traditions have been so altered and interfered with by Christian redactors that it is no wonder the traces of their "true" nature and the narratives surrounding them have been suppressed! That is a very convenient argument to make, considering that the actual lost (and found, and lost again) manuscript cannot be examined or verified by any qualified experts on early Insular Celtic literature. There are a number of lost manuscripts that are known to have existed in medieval Ireland, which include the Cín Dromma Snechta ("The Quires of Drumsnat"), the Book of Glendalough, and the intriguingly titled Liber de Subternis, which is listed as a source for certain portions of Lebor Gabála Érenn in the 13th-14th century recension of the tale found in the Great Book of Lecan (R. A. Stewart Macalister, Lebor Gabála Érenn: The Book of the Taking of Ireland, 5 Volumes, Irish Texts Society Volumes 34, 35, 39, 41, 44 [Dublin and London: Irish Texts Society, 1938-1956], Vol. 3, pp. 154-155); however, in this list of venerable and attested lost manuscripts, the "Black Book of Loughcrew" is not one of them. There is no reason to think that a monastic community ever existed at Loughcrew to have written the text down (and such communities are what give the placenames associated with most manuscripts); and of course, since his assertion is that it was written in the 3rd century CE by Mog Ruith, the lack of monastic community is therefore irrelevant and trifling...yet he still must account for how Mog Ruith could have written in a language that had not been invented yet at that period, much less at that location. There is a Black Book of Carmarthen known from Wales, and I suspect that Akins adopted this title for his invented work to make it sound "spooky," and simply inserted a placename from Ireland that is associated wtih passage tombs (which are also "spooky" and probably very mystical and magical in his mind), in complete ignorance of the attested conventions of manuscript names in Ireland.

A great deal of the overall schema of Akins' book, evident from the table of contents he has posted for it online (http://www.geocities.com/lebor_feasa_runda/ ), is based upon the general framework of Lebor Gabála Érenn (henceforth LGE), about which he says "The literature preserved through the efforts of these clerics resulted in a number of manuscripts, of which the Lebor Gábala [sic.] Érenn (found in both the Book of Fermoy and the Book of Leinster) is perhaps the most well known example" (http://mysticwicks.com/showthread.php?t=205102&page=4 ). (Let us ignore the fact that LGE is a text, not a manuscript; and this is no mere matter of semantics, this is something that is known and understood by all Insular Celtic literary scholars.) The two manuscripts listed by him above contain this text, but that is only the first recension of the text; there are four different recensions of it identified by modern scholars, encompassing parts of at least seventeen manuscripts (R. Mark Scowcroft, "Leabhar Gabhála, Part I: The Growth of the Text," Ériu 38 [1987], pp. 81-142 at 83-88). Parts of the LGE corpus are drawn from another of the famous lost manuscripts above, Cín Dromma Snechta (Scowcroft, p. 104), which was probably an early eighth century manuscript containing some of the oldest Irish prose texts, many of which are concerned with the otherworld and its characteristics (John Carey, Ireland and the Grail [Aberystwyth and Andover: Celtic Studies Publications, 2007], pp. 27-41). A close study of these texts is indeed highly inspiring and illustrative of some serious possibilities for what aspects of pre-Christian Irish religion might have been like (including things like shapeshifting, reincarnation, and invading hordes of cynocephali!), if only Akins would have taken the time to study these.

Again, though, I anticipate an attempted rejoinder by Akins, further appealing to the alternate tradition available via the testimony of this lost manuscript. If that type of argument is to be accepted, then I can also assert the following unverified information based on such a misplaced manuscript, the knowledge of which, incidentally, has motivated me to make this critique in the first place: namely a passage from the renowned (and otherwise attested) Liber de Subternis, written in Latin by pagan Roman visitors to Ireland after a sojourn there in the early second century CE. I know of an Old Church Slavonic translation of parts of it, dating from the 10th century, which predicts that "A great book of secret knowledge will be revealed by Stephanos in the turn of the second millennium, and will be proven false before the end of its first month." Unfortunately, the pages from that Old Church Slavonic manuscript were only shown to me in digitized form in a late night internet search two years ago, and the server where those webpages were stored exploded in an unfortunate fire involving a runaway incense burner at the monastery in Russia where it was located, which also (alas!) took the contents of the monastery's library with them, which included the manuscript. The one copy of the manuscript that was made by a KGB agent in 1983 has unfortunately gone missing in the administrative mix-ups following the collapse of the old Soviet Union subsequently, and the agent himself has disappeared, and probably was using a false name anyway, so there is no way to trace his wherabouts. Thus, this can't be verified by scholars...but you should keep an open mind and just accept what I have to say, because I am (actually) an Insular Celtic literary scholar that is recognized and approved by a major academic institution in Ireland, and therefore utter credulity in every word I say is expected.

[The sarcasm button was activated heavily in that last paragraph, in case anyone might be in doubt...!]

The matter via which Akins' concoction can be seriously and verifiably discredited, though, lies at our fingertips, and will now be explored. This is in the form of the so-called Old Irish words as given in the German translation of the text by the invented scholar Henry Thorenson, the original Irish version of which disappeared when Rudolf Hess allegedly took it to Britain in 1941 (found at http://mysticwicks.com/showthread.php?t=205102&page=4 ). (Am I the only one who sees in this fable's named characters a not-very-creative variation on the name of an actual and attested great Celticist and linguist, originally Swiss but working from Germany, Rudolf Thurneysen [1857-1940]?) At this point, of course, Akins can add in plausible deniability to any critiques which follow, since he could say he is only following the text he was given, and is therefore not responsible for any errors and falsifications in the original. If Akins is in any way qualified to understand Old Irish, he should have seen right away that the Irish in the German translation is wrong as far as Old Irish conventions are concerned; and if this Thorenson was an actual scholar living and working in Germany before World War II, his own skills would have been considered so sloppy and lacking that he would have been fired from whatever university position he might have held. (I note that thus far, Akins does not state which university Thorenson would have worked from, and as I have connections at several German universities, it would be easy to find out if such a person were at any of those institutions.)

Firstly, the very title of the purported work is irregular. "Lebor Feasa Rúnda," which Akins says is the "Book of Secret Knowledge," would have to be in Old Irish "Lebor Fessa (or possibly Fesso) Rúnae." At that stage of the language, the word for "knowledge" was fis, which in the genitive was fessa (or fesso in some very old glosses) (E. G. Quin, ed., Dictionary of the Irish Language, Based Mainly on Old and Middle Irish Materials, Compact Edition [Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 1983], s.v. fis); Akins' form of the word in his title is Classical (Modern) Irish at the earliest (i.e. 13th century or later). His failed attempt at archaizing Modern Irish rún (which is, in Old Irish nominative singular form, also rún, and occasionally in Middle and Modern Irish rúin) into a genitive singular by assuming that there was a double "n," which in Old Irish was a consonant cluster often written "nd" (but would have been pronounced the same as "nn"), is particularly ham-fisted, since there is not a single attested form in Old or Middle Irish of rún being spelled with a geminate "n" (Quin, Dictionary, s.v. rún).

Consistently, throughout his discussion and translations, Akins gives the name of the otherworld island Tír na nÓg or Tír na n-Óg ("land of youths") as "Tir nan'Og [sic.]." This indicates on the part of the German translator (as well as Akins in his commentaries and elaborations) a lack of understanding of how acute accents work, and total ignorance of the basic rules of initial mutation when it comes to genitive forms of the definite article in Old and Middle Irish, which in the plural (in all genders) nasalize the following noun (John Strachan and Osborn Bergin, Old Irish Paradigms and Selections from the Old Irish Glosses [Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 1949], p. 1). Thorenson/Akins gives the name of the supposedly titan-like race of the Fomoire as "Fomoraig" in the German text. One of the oldest attestations of this word comes from the Leinster dynastic poem "Mess-Telmann," which is from the seventh century; therein, it appears, in genitive plural form, as Fomoire (Koch and Carey, The Celtic Heroic Age, p. 52), which would make it impossible for it to have a final "g" in any grammatical case at that stage of the language. On the eponymous ancestress of the Tuatha Dé Danann, Akins says the following: "The name Danu, however, is actually a modern-day hypothetical reconstruction based upon inferences which suggest that it may have been one of the original forms of the goddess’ name, despite the fact that it has never been found rendered as such in any of the original sources of existing Celtic literature. The names of the goddess that do appear recorded in the medieval manuscripts range from Danand, Danann, Dinand, Dianann, Donann, Ana, Anand, Anann, Anu, Aine, Boand, Boann, and Boind, all of which most likely referred to what was originally a single entity...." In the German text, the name of this figure is given as "Danand." Ignoring the utter misunderstandings and leaps of logic in the latter part of Akins' explanatory statement, this again demonstrates a fundamental lack of knowledge in terms of how the form "Danu" has been arrived at by scholars. The existence of such a goddess is far from certain in the pre-Christian period, and perhaps evolved from earlier forms like tri dee dána, "three gods of skill" (John Carey, "The Name 'Tuatha Dé Danann'," Éigse 18.2 [1981], pp. 291-294) to distinguish this divine pre-Milesian race from another tuatha dé known in early Irish literature, i.e. the "People of God," as in the biblical Israelites (Kim McCone, Pagan Past and Christian Present in Early Irish Literature, Maynooth Monographs 3 [Maynooth: An Sagart, 1990], p. 70), and the attestation of the name for the divine race probably occurred no earlier than the 10th century (Carey, "The Name," p. 294). That matter being left aside, though, the presumed form of a nominative feminine nasal stem noun (determined because the genitive ends in "nn/nd") would be Danu, on analogy with other personal nasal stem names, e.g. Bricriu, gen. Bricrenn; Derdriu, gen. Derdrenn; Ériu, gen. Érenn; Anu, gen. Anann (Strachan and Bergin, Old Irish Paradigms, p. 15). Akins also gives an alternate name of Cerna as "Samthainn," and in his interpretations explains that the holiday of Samain is related to it: "This day was especially associated with the Celtic horned god, a fact which seems to be reflected in one of the names given to him in the Irish mythological cycle where he appears briefly as Samthainn...." (Let us ignore the fact that this is usually a feminine name, and one given to a few prominent Irish saints.) Unfortunately again, this equation is not possible in Old Irish, and Akins' thoughts on this matter seem to be influenced by ideas about Scots Gaelic and Modern Irish pronunciation, where "th" is entirely silent. In Old Irish, "th" is uniformly pronounced as a voiceless dental fricative, akin to the Greek letter theta (E. G. Quin, Old Irish Workbook [Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 1975], p. 4), and the proceeding "m" would not be lenited as a result of the following consonant cluster--"Samthainn" would have to be pronounced almost exactly as it appears from an English point of view, as similar to "sam + thin." (Thus, again, the idea that there is some divine figure called "Sam Hain" behind the name of this holiday, and is in fact the spirit of Hallowe'en is as illusory as the body of Sam Hain under his lavender cloak, as depicted in the 1980s cartoon The Real Ghostbusters, and is something worthy of, and indeed found in, Jack Chick pamphlets.)

Perhaps most amusingly for our purposes--and noting the Nazi-sympathetic tendencies of Akins in this regard--is his inclusion in his table of contents (http://www.geocities.com/lebor_feasa_runda/ ) of a chapter called "The Journey of Parthalon [sic.]." Partholón is a standard part of LGE's schema of invasions, being the leader of the first wave of invaders after the biblical flood in the attested corpus of tradition. The likelihood that this figure existed in some pre-Christian form in Irish lore is undeniably impossible. Partholón, apart from exhibiting an initial "p" which would not have been part of the Irish language in the pre-Christian period (witness the lack of "p" in the twenty original letters of the ogam alphabet), is an Irish calque on the biblical name Bartholomew. Celticist T. F. O'Rahilly cites Kuno Meyer as having "suggested the most likely explanation of why the leader of the invasion should have borne this name, namely, that St. Jerome (followed by Isidore [of Seville, whose work was highly regarded in medieval Ireland]) explains Bartholomaeus as meaning filius suspendentis aquas, 'son of him who stays the waters' (interpreted as the waters of the Deluge)" (T. F. O'Rahilly, Early Irish History and Mythology [Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1946], p. 75 note 1). The irony of a racist-affiliated person advocating for a view of pre-Christian religion that involves a transparently Jewish biblical name (and one that has been known to be such for over a century, as explained by Kuno Meyer in the late 1800s, who was an actual and very respectable German Celticist) as essential to its structure should not be lost on those who have read this far!

This already over-long excursus of Akins' many errors, which add up to a negative assessment of the authenticity of this purported document, could be multiplied extensively with further examples from what he has published on the webpages cited; one can only imagine the heights of nonsense which are achieved in the full text of the printed book. I am no expert or specialist in Celtic linguistics, and yet my working knowledge of the languages involved demonstrates that under no circumstances would a qualified German scholar like Thorenson supposedly was, nor a Celtic scholar like Akins claims to be, for a moment be fooled into thinking that any of this is credible in the least. As a scholar who is currently struggling to make ends meet and who has not secured long-term academic employment, despite gaining the respect of Celticists, medievalists, and Indo-Europeanists for my work thus far, and having good successes with peer-reviewed publications for someone at this stage of my scholarly career, it has simply worked out that I've had the time to devote to writing the present essay, though that time was not excessive. I seriously doubt that any tenured or full-time employed Celticist would even condescend to having done such a thing, and Akins' assertions that he sought scholarly reviews of his work previously seems dubious at best; if his statement that he was refused by Ronald Hutton (who is not even a Celticist or textual scholar) due to time constraints (http://mysticwicks.com/showthread.php?t=205102&page=5 ) is in fact true, I suspect it was a polite way of waving him off. The authenticity of such a text, if it were legitimate, would be something beyond measure for most any Celtic scholar, but it is transparently a fake, and even hearing the smallest bit of the story of the work and its rediscovery, or even the title of it, would alert any qualified scholar immediately to the spuriousness of the document and its author's claims.

It is a rather tragic thing that Celtic academia is insular (in the worst sense), and considers itself scientific and above the fray when it comes to any of its findings or studies being applicable to anything outside of further academic pursuits; gods forbid that anyone's work have relevance or wide interest and appeal, lest it become "popular" and somehow lessened because of that popularity. While there are more pagan and pagan-friendly Celticists, classicists, and other medievalists being trained and coming to light every year, as those of us who have not been satisfied with the watered-down versions of ancient texts and traditions in relation to paganism we've been subjected to in the popular pagan world gradually take the time and effort to properly educate ourselves (whether in or out of colleges and universities), academia is still not an open or friendly world for those who identify as a non-majority religion, especially those religions which might end up taking the subjects studied in medieval or classical departments as the basis for religious speculation and practice. Anything produced by people with such known affiliations runs the risk of being labelled and subsequently dismissed as "agenda-driven scholarship." The same is never said of Christians who happen to be biblical scholars or theologians, and their views are never automatically dismissed and questioned because of their possible sectarian bias; but it is always the privilege of the majority to appear unbiased and strictly logical. This lack of interest in, accountability toward, and dialogue with a potentially huge pool of interested and motivationally devoted and inspired future scholars and paying consumers of Celtic, medieval, and classical scholarship (i.e. a great deal of the modern pagan population) on the part of the larger academic world is a matter that needs to be addressed in a larger context, but that is not a matter to worry about overly in the present circumstances. I merely note this because I am taking a very huge risk in discussing and refuting this particular pseudo-academic chicanery publicly, and thus identifying myself as an allying myself with the modern pagan community. Akins has no worries over such matters, because he has no standing amongst any reputable academic institutions, and can only possibly gain for himself (financially and perhaps also egotistically) by having published his work. There is nothing heroic or praiseworthy in fabricating falsehoods and spreading them for profit.

It is thus quite evident that Akins' latest production is a sham, and not even a very skillful one, nor a very creative one. It should be readily apparent that any claims Akins makes about the provenance of this book, much less the contents of it, are not to be taken seriously in the least by anyone who is subject to the laws of common sense and factual, logical, and documentable argumentation. To really put this in perspective, in order to understand just how egregious his errors in this matter have been, this is the equivalent of someone seeing a news story about the current U.S. economic crises in a newspaper, tearing out part of the article, taking a pink highlighter and writing "$20" on the newspaper (with the dollar sign included), and going into a convenient store and presenting the paper to the cashier, saying "Could I get two tens for this twenty?" Paying this charlatan any heed at all is a species of ignorance equivalent to treating such a person asking for change for non-valid currency with the response of "Sure--in fact, I'll give you three tens, a six-pack of Coke and three gallons of gas for it, too!" The offensiveness of the suggestion that he has such little faith in the intelligence of his audience should be something that is a cause for great anger. However, now that the shoddiness of this act has been illustrated, and one's previous possible lack of knowledge on this matter has been addressed, there are further steps to be taken in response.

One might very rightly feel cheated and abused, possibly shamefully ignorant, and even a bit foolish if one has been in the position of thinking that there might be any value whatsoever to Akins' claims. However, I would suggest that those who find themselves in this position take heart and not worry too much--if this is a subject about which one did not have specialized knowledge to begin with, then one can't be held responsible for not knowing it and not acting based upon it. Indeed, there are many things which each of us may have no knowledge of whatsoever, and there is no harm in this, for no one can be, nor should anyone be expected to be, an expert on everything. But rather than feel remorse and resentment toward oneself for this, one should instead turn one's feelings outward toward the person who has thought so lowly of his potential reading audience as to have attempted to gull them in such a lackluster, lazy manner. (If one is going to make an Old Irish forgery, one should probably attempt to learn Old Irish at a very high level!) One should turn one's anger at this situation toward the person who has acted in such a shameful and dishonorable fashion, and do everything in one's power to prevent this farcical hoax from being known or allowed to propagate further. If one owns the book, one should see if it is possible to return it and get a refund; if one sees the book elsewhere in person, one should do whatever is possible to make sure it is discredited and exposed for the forgery it is to all who will possibly stand to be mislead by it. As it is a self-published, print-on-demand title, we can only hope that the resulting demand for it is so low that few copies of it will be circulating in printed form, and that it will be forgotten like so much ephemeral literature will no doubt be in generations to come.

Dr. Phillip A. Bernhardt-House
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anarchomo on November 26th, 2008 11:03 pm (UTC)
Wow, thanks for taking the time to pick this apart. Always glad to see someone challenging junk like that, all the moreso when you do it so systematically (and in a way that might keep people from giving him money.)
cigfran_lwydcigfran_lwyd on November 26th, 2008 11:07 pm (UTC)
thank you for this fascinating and excellent essay.
one gets an impression of akins, rather of a celticist joseph smith. mystic tablets indeed.
Kelleycopperbeech on November 27th, 2008 01:49 am (UTC)
thanks for the details on this. so well said.
judith: non-fluffy bunnywisewomanjudith on November 27th, 2008 03:17 am (UTC)
Wonderful writing, and thank you very much!

Although it is somewhat important to not draw attention to frauds (I like the term 'flakelore' very much)I think it's also important to be able to point to a well-written and fact-filled debunking like yours here.

I argue on MysticWicks myself,and I feel that the phrase 'so open your brain falls out' is in my future as well as citing your explication of the Old Irish.

The provenance of the supposed work made my brain hurt, and I read it out loud to my son so he could enjoy the joke too.
sara_super_id: magesara_super_id on November 27th, 2008 04:09 am (UTC)
I think perhaps, the people who will read Akins, won't be able to comphrehend the first paragraph of what you wrote.

If you want to debunk something that is intended for a high school or middle school grading level, shouldn't you write in that grade level? The average American reads at a 7th grade reading level. I would like to think most pagans are better readers than that, but you write at a graduate and doctorate level.

Perhaps if you added an abstract at the beginning that summarizes what you are getting at?

The folks who are at your reading level (or even below it but still at the college level), most likely didn't fall for Akins in the first place.
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sara_super_id: magesara_super_id on November 27th, 2008 05:29 am (UTC)
Quite frankly "he's wrong" is not going to cut it without "here's why."

I agree with you.

I like Alfrecht's essay.

I don't know if it will reach its intended audience.

The first paragraph of this essay is 219 words long.


In short:

I cannot state strongly enough, how important it is for both neopagans and academics to study medieval manuscripts for evidence of a pre-christian spiritual practice. Currently, most neopagan celtic books only present a few Celtic texts that the authors interpret through the lens of eastern pop-spirituality. Those texts that cannot be forced into this mold are often ignored. This is a travesty for neopagans sincerely interested in a pre-christian celtic spirituality.

71 words for the whole first paragraph.

I am not a great writer, that paragraph I wrote could be much better. But I am wondering who Alfrecht is writing for? An academic audience? If so, then cheers. I honestly think his points could come across at a lower reading level and more concisely.

I am trying to be sincere and engage in the essay with constructive criticism. I apologize if I was inappropriate. I think considering the audience is one of the first aspects of criticism to address.
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sara_super_id: heart tattoosara_super_id on November 27th, 2008 05:45 am (UTC)
Ah, well that makes a lot of sense. A mixed audience is the most difficult.

And it is well suited for the cr lj com. I saw it posted a lot of other places, but I now realize it was friends linking to it.
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finnchuillfinnchuill on November 27th, 2008 07:04 am (UTC)
I do think it is important for him (or someone working collaboratively with him) to adapt/write another version for a 'popular' audience, as most of the people who would be likely to buy this book would be unable to understand Phil's current (and valuable) essay--and surely one of the intended purposes is to dissuade potential buyers. After all, the blurb alone raises multiple red flags for readers with critical thinking skills, and with more than a cursory knowledge of Celtic myth and history.
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Paigemompaigemom on November 27th, 2008 05:41 pm (UTC)
Ah, yes. That book. The small Pagan press I am acquisitions editor for (Ground Mark) turned this one down in a heartbeat. It's like we could see the plaigarism issues in advance. Funny, that.

Also, the bit about Akins and the Scottish clan crest and all the ensuing wackiness was a little off-putting when thinking about future publicity issues.
Grey Catsidhewcm on November 28th, 2008 06:40 am (UTC)
I really appreciated this article. As someone who is just wading into both the vast ocean of CR and academia, I gained a lot of perspective. And may I say that I'm truly grateful to those of you in universities who are taking a chance and going public with Paganism so that people like me may one day be taken seriously.
Christian A. Youngbodlon on November 29th, 2008 07:20 pm (UTC)
Thanks for taking the time to write this. As you say, most academics don't have the time and inclination to shoot stuff like this down, which has the unfortunate side-effect of leaving those of us without expertise in the field sort of adrift.

It makes me wish, as I did over in your own journal, that there were more good books being written, and especially that more people would write those books in an accessible way and gear them toward the pagan market. Trash wouldn't flourish half as well if it didn't seem like the only thing available.
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Prof. Jeremy M. R. F. Chesterfield-Pickles III: Pictish Concennalfrecht on January 8th, 2012 01:07 pm (UTC)
Alas, I'm not surprised...It's always easier to buy into a sham than it is to stop and think, or do research, or look for something on one's own. When something claims to be "everything you ever wanted AND MORE," and sounds too good to be true, people rarely realize that it probably is, and just get sucked into the hype...especially because of the "suppressed knowledge" meme that is often so popular with modern pagans--the notion that people who actually know what they're talking about, with academic credentials, being against a particular text for legitimate reasons just feeds into the nonsense idea that "the 'authorities' don't want you to know about this wonderful thing that's an important part of your real heritage," etc.

And, of course, the pro-Akins crowd has written "rebuttals" of the piece I wrote, and they think they're sufficient, when in fact they're also as factually flawed (if not often more so) than the original.

As Aislinge Meic Con Glinne said, it's as useless as trying to prevent a mare from farting...If I never hear of him again, or his various underlings and sock puppets, it'll be too soon.