[PBP2013] Manannan and Manx polytheism

It’s not often that I write about deities outside of Hellenism —go do a search, I uploaded the Urban Hellenistos archives here not too long ago, so you can see that I really don’t. I wouldn’t be surprised if the total number of times I’ve discussed deities outside the Hellenic pantheon could be counted on one hand and still leave me with enough fingers left over to pick my nose and make a rude gesture on both sides of the Atlantic. I do though, select this topic because it’s relevant not really to my practises, but to how my polytheism has influenced other aspects of my life.

A little background:

I wrote a book! Did you know that? If you’ve met me in real life, are a friend of mine, or have just been reading a while, then you probably knew that. There’s a possibility that you might not have known that, if this is your first visit. Now, the indisputable “pagan influence” in New Dance is a bare minimum — one character proclaims that the Fates must hate him, and as I recall (it’s been a few years since i finished that one), there’s a vague mythological reference or two. I’m simultaneously writing books two and three in the series, and it’s book three that will probably put me on the farthest of the left of the dial that most people turn to find books by “bigger named” pagan fiction normally is, but that blip, that blip would be nice; pirate radio rigs are nothing to sneeze at, there was a stellar Angsty Teen film about one, and a grossly inaccurate British film about another one. This blip may just be due to a character, Margaid Fand “Paaie” Quirk. img013

Paaie (pronounced like “pyee”) just sort of… Happened. One day, I was listening to The Tubes and reading about how the Isle of Mann technically isn’t a part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but is a Crown Dependency and is self-governing, and my Moisa just inserted this little woman into my head —and ignore the old physique stats to the left of the sketch, I’ve since realised that she’s 5’11″, in flats and with her hair down. Her family is Manx, and when she meets the characters, she’s got her certificate as a hair-dresser, but is working in a punk boutique because no-one will hire her in her field. Her older brother, Collum Aengus Quirk, is a New Age traveller spending most of his time in Britain. I could hear her list off the various colours her hair had been, and I could feel the heartbreak when she held her dying mother’s hand, and the shock that her father learned that she had walked out on he A-levels, her only explanation given that she “[had] to, [her] heart isn’t in it, and [she] promised Moir”.

A big part of her character necessitated rewriting the religious and linguistic history of Mann for the purposes of the story: In the world of The Mod Stories, Mann never thoroughly converted to Christianity, and though with time and British influence, there came to be a Christian ruling class, there’s a significant minority of strict polytheists (as opposed to Christopagans) on Mann, which in 1984 was about 35% of the Manx population. Manx language also never needed a revival, because amongst the pagan population on the island, it remained a first language, regarded as the very language of Mann’s primary deity, Himself, and thus is the preferred way to communicate messages to and for a relationship of any sort with the gods. Paaie’s family comes from this indigenous Manx cultural group, and only ended up in Belfast when her mother fell ill and needed more intense care. To illustrate the fact that she and her father speak Mananningaelk exclusively, amongst each-other, I’ve looked up a small vocabulary list for the dialect to insert into dialogue written, otherwise, in English; I try to make sure it’s written in a way that’d be easy for someone completely unfamiliar to discern meaning from context.

Now, at this point in my religious workings, I know what’s clearly intended for myself to do, and if someone is specifically calling for my worship, and I don’t believe it’s ever been intended that Manannan requests the attention of myself, and it’s always seemed pretty clear that this is about the character.

The challenge that comes to me for this is that there’s significant Norse influence in Mann, including the language, and in some lists of popular names on Mann for various years, “Freya” came up a lot in the girls’ names, especially early in the 20th Century. And this is where I find a challenge, which is how to reflect this in depictions of Paaie’s family and their religious observances. In the “revised history of Mann” I’ve concocted for the stories, Mann remained pagan longer, and remained generally harder to convert by the early missionaries by taking a reality of Mann’s history and geography, combined with the traditional mythology, and turning it up to eleven: Manannan used the sea surrounding the small island to protect His people, giving pass to those less militant and less violent in their approach to conversion, at least until He was satisfied that worship of the Gods of Mann would be secured for generations. It works — the Isle of Man *was* generally harder to conquer, in general, because of the sea surrounding it. It’s awfully tempting to just toss aside much significant Norse influence in the religion, as the reflection of Norse influence in the language isn’t as great as I thought it was, at first, and it seems Norse rule was briefer than I once believed, and most of the Norse cultural influences were over the upper classes –it’s perfectly plausible that there are sects, which could primarily be divided as “Manannan” and “Mannisk” (a Norse word associated with the island).

It’s really exciting to rewrite history for fiction, especially with the intent to remain respectful of the mythology and also the history I’m tinkering with. No doubt, this is where I see the strength of a reconstructed religion, because I already know, from my own religious practises, how to look through the history and adapt it to the fiction with minor changes that not only make for a good story, but one that makes sense, given the actual history. That said, it’s also kind of scary, because this is a religion not my own, so fear of offending people exists, but I do feel it’s usually outweighed by the excitement and the knowledge that i *am* researching this in order to be as respectful of this as I possibly can. If anything, I’m researching more than is necessary for the point I intend to leave off the third book at, but this kind of far planning helps me for later.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for almost a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros most of that time. He also paints, makes music, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival subculture of the early 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.
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