Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ecology, mythology, and psychology

This week I finished reading a manuscript that was sent to me for a cover blurb. The book is about Celtic (and specifically Irish) myth seen through an ecopsychological lens. Jason Kirkey, the author, does a fine job of separating and respecting the varying strands of Celtic spirituality and making clear that the essence of his book is about creating a new, ecopsychological interpretation of Irish myth as a potential antidote to some of the poisons of modern techno-obsessed and eco-destructive society. I was very excited to read this book, due out sometime around Samhain from Jason's new press, Hiraeth, based out of San Francisco.

The book, The Salmon in the Spring: The Ecology of Celtic Spirituality, doesn't fall into the traps that so many other modern books on Celtic spirituality tend to. There is a recognition for and a respect of the native traditions as they were historically and as they are expressed in folk practice today. Jason's account of Celtic spirituality is not overlaid on a Wiccan blueprint but acknowledges the views of cosmology and holiness that are expressed in the texts and the tales themselves. He has spent time actually living in Ireland and has come to know the landscape and the people there, having had some profound experiences that he carried home to the US with him.

As an ecopsych author, he is familiar with the leading names in the field, from Theodore Roszak to Gary Snyder and beyond, and has a deft touch with both his quotes and his interpretations. His goal is not to go back to the iron age or to (re)create a Celtic spirituality, but to reinterpret Irish myth, primarily the Second Battle of Mag Tuired, with a modern ecological eye. My personal feeling is that he gives a little too much attention to 2MT as a seasonal myth, but it is in line with his contention that more things should be interpreted with a view to helping us understand once more that we are part of the world rather than separate from it. He offers exercises at the end of several chapters that are based in his understanding of Buddhist practice but phrased in ways that will resonate and be understandable to those of us working with a Gaelic paradigm.

Jason doesn't talk down to his readers but invites them into his worldview, opening doors and offering views from unusual perspectives. His understanding is spiritual at its heart without losing sight of scientific, social, and ecological realities. His treatment of CR, modern druidism, and the living folk traditions is consistent and even-handed and he makes it clear throughout the text where he is speaking of the tradition and where he is coming to his own conclusions and offering his own interpretations. Most of the "Celtic" spirituality authors out there today could take some serious lessons from Jason's honesty and openness.

When I originally printed out the manuscript for a read, I was a bit concerned at the abundant references to Frank MacEowen Owen and Tom Cowan, both of whom in my opinion tend to push their own modern views of Celtic spirituality as historic truth. I tend to avoid their books for this reason. Jason studied with both of them but manages to move beyond them in separating opinion from historical fact and for this I applaud him and have a great deal of respect for the work he's done here.

When this book comes out, I can definitely recommend adding it to your list, particularly if ecopsychology and a spirituality of place are important in your own practice. Five hazels out of five.


  1. Excellent, helpful review, Erynn. This sounds like just the book I've been waiting for-- can't wait to dive into it!

  2. You're quite welcome! I'm sure a lot of folks will enjoy it and find it a useful exploration.

  3. This sounds awesome, I appreciate the review...I am about to finish reading Celtic Heritage by Rhys and Rhys and I will soon be immersing myself into a book titled Ecopsychology. It will be enjoyable to be able to see an integration of these things.

  4. Thanks for the comment, Johnathan. If you enjoy the Ecopsych book, you'll likely appreciate this one. He's definitely giving a modern take on some of the Irish mythic material, but Celtic Heritage will help give you some of the background to appreciate the material he's sourcing from.