“The Way of the Seabhean”, An Open Letter in Opposition to the Book and its Blatant Cultural Appropriation

With the recent release of a book claiming to be “genuine Irish Tradition” by Amantha Murphy, I thought the easiest way to tackle this is through a public blog post since nobody involved with it is willing to properly address it. The publisher, Womancraft Publishing, claims this book to be a counter to cultural appropriation when in fact it is the exact opposite. All they do is shrug their shoulders and parrot Amantha’s rhetoric in its defense. The “author” Amantha blocks and deletes any comments calling her out on this and the scribe doubles down on Amantha’s BS, clearly sucked in by her charm. A great review of the book by Amy Coe can be found here.

This book, like many others, purports to be “ancient Irish tradition” but is nothing more than a sad attempt to cash in and create a brand by a woman selling “tradition” to innocent people looking to get in touch with their heritage . Seeing the “author”, the scribe and the publisher are all unwilling to address the issues involved in creating pseudo-Irish words, of cultural appropriation or any of the other highly problematic issues with this book, hopefully this open letter will help to dissuade people from filling the coffers of Amantha and the publishing house willing to defend her. I will start with the two blog posts by the scribe about the book, and then I will address some of the many issues within the book. EDIT TO CLARIFY: The cultural appropriation in question is not a woman of Irish descent using Irish material (although it is so far from genuine it can barely be considered as such), it is about her using terms like shaman, stone people, dragon lines etc. and trying to insert them into an “Irish” system of spirituality.

I will address the recent post by the scribe below and go through it point by point. The link to the original is here:

To Orla, the scribe, I feel sorry in a way that you fell under whatever charm or blind confidence that Amantha is using to convince people that what she is peddling is “genuine Irish Tradition”. This article of yours does not clarify things linguistically at all. It still remains grammatically AND linguistically incorrect, by a long shot. I will address this more below.

 “It (Seabhean) was a word given to Amantha many years ago by an elderly woman who had heard it used in Donegal”

While Amantha may have been told this, the truth is I have had MULTIPLE Donegal speakers refute its usage there and so it appears this is one of many origins of the word she chooses to mislead her readers about. Other explanations she has given for the origin include a Gaelscoil teacher in Howth made use of the word and then at another point Amantha admits she made it up herself. In fact, contradictory remarks are made throughout the book. She has also yo-yoed on the definition of “sea” being “yes” or “strength”.

“I searched Ó Dónaill’s Irish dictionary and the word ‘seabhean’ was not listed”

Well, that’s because it doesn’t exist Orla. I’ve checked Dineen (the go-to dictionary for out of use, antiquated words), O Dónaill, De Bhaldraithe, Ua Maoileoin and eDil (the one that lists every manuscript mention of words in medieval Irish and early modern Irish). I have also scoured Ireland’s National Folklore Collection and there isn’t a single usage of the word. Because…it likely didn’t exist and its absence from so many sources over such a period of time should speak for itself.

The composite word seabhean (pronounced shavan) is a combination of the word ‘sea’ (pronounced sha) and the word ‘bean’ (pronounced ban). From a grammar and spelling perspective, the word seabhean is correct as a composite word using those two components”.

‘Seabhean’ isn’t even close to being grammatically correct, nor is it correct as a compound word. She has also yo-yoed on the definition of “sea” being “yes” or “strength” neither of which grammatically works as “seabhean” for a start, but then it wouldn’t be close enough for Amantha to make a play on words of the appropriated word shaman that she is trying to market and shoehorn into her distorted view of “genuine” Irish tradition.

Meaning of those two words together is quite close to the essence of what the Irish healer woman is”

It’s almost as if there aren’t already multiple Irish terms for healer woman/ Wise woman i.e. Bean feasa (wise woman), Bean Ghlúine (midwife), Bean Leighis (healer woman) that could have been used in its place, but circle back to my point about it not being close enough to “shaman” for her purposes.

“Perhaps some Irish speakers from Donegal may know if the word is still used today for healer women there”

Having already established that there are no attestations of it ANYWHERE for almost 1500 years of the language being written down, a number of Donegal speakers confirming it isn’t a thing and not a single dictionary in existence mentioning it, I think we can safely say it exists entirely in Amantha’s imagination. Perhaps though, this could have been investigated by either yourself or Amantha at any point between conception of the idea, the writing and publishing of the book, especially since she keeps trying to claim “authenticity”. You know, research, the kind of things people do before releasing a book. It would really save face and the endless mental gymnastics to justify it. Although it’s fine for Amantha, she can just use her lackies to do the work for her while she retreats to fantasy land of culturally appropriated concepts.

 “If she had used an Irish word, people would not have understood”.

So she just made up a pseudo-Irish word with false antiquity and that better explains it how exactly? Terms like Bean feasa, Bean Ghlúine, Bean Leighis etc are easily explainable.

“mainly indigenous or tribal cultures, many of whom would describe themselves as shamans”.

Unless they are from Tunguska, no, they wouldn’t use the term “shaman” to describe themselves at all.

“seamhná – plural of seabhean”

The word doesn’t have a singular, let us not invent plurals of it please.

Perhaps Amantha’s courageous sharing of this work”

Are those her words or your Own Orla? Because that seems just like the sort of self-absorbed rhetoric she has been using ad nauseum when talking about this book.  

How is it courageous exactly? Her mangling Irish tradition for monetary gain and a shambolic attempt at making a brand. I thought we left that carry on in the 19th century with the Anglo-Irish writers. And the shoehorning in of “the way of the seabhean” in every sentence by both of you is tiresome. Her claiming that she is courageous by releasing this information is only a subtle dogwhistle to her sharing “tradition” that has been kept secret, thus making it more exotic, and lends more credibility to her due to people not being able to refute these traditions due to them being “closed”. Of course it is all fabricated and appropriated on her part and nowhere near accurate. Sooo courageous of her, I’m sure there will be a public holiday named after her in no time.

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”…But no it just had to be “this is genuine Irish tradition that has been passed down and this is an ancient term that was used”. The fact that everyone is willing to defend her behavior on this is sickening. And the fact that Amantha isn’t addressing this herself is very telling. We can only hope that this fizzles into obscurity and that I don’t have to spend the next few decades having to refute this nonsense online like all the other fake “genuine” Irish tradition that’s out there. It’s an insult to all the Seanchaí and the filidh before them, to all the Bean feasa through time and all the other repositories of Irish tradition, to all the collectors who travelled the country saving our lore. To quote Séamus Ó Duilearga, the director of the Irish Folklore Commission “We are certain that the nonsensical rubbish which passes for Irish Folklore, both in Ireland and outside, is not representative of the folklore of our Irish people”. And that legend of a man would be rolling in his grave having to read what Amantha is trying to pass off as genuine.

From the other article by Orla found here

The tradition of the seabhean has been passed down through generations of Irish women from ancient times, possibly since the time of the Tuatha Dé Danann”. 

While traditions, customs and stories were carried through an oral tradition, even until modern times, this tradition was not known as The tradition of the seabhean, a thing that Amantha has created using a hodgepodge of outside traditions that are alien to the Irish tradition and packed with a nice neat bow of “my Irish granny told me”. And where do I even start with the trademarking of the term “way of the seanbhean” when it is a supposed “ancient tradition”. From her goodreads profile she states another fallacy “From early childhood Amantha Murphy was the girl-child chosen by her grandmother to be initiated into the ‘Way of the Seabhean’, a traditional Irish path of the healing woman and seer, a role passed down from mother to daughter (or grandmother to grand-daughter) since ancient times”

“their presence and practices have been kept secret”.

Again, more reinforcement of the “I’m a keeper of secret, esoteric knowledge and I’m brave for sharing this”

She believes (and has proved) that these practices and this way of being in the world is not confined to the few who inherit it, but can be learnt and used by all

For a nominal fee of course for her workshops and apprenticeships. But hey, she has all this secret knowledge that her ancestors were persecuted for and is very, very courageous in sharing that with us.

“I hesitated at first but then I attended a workshop in which she kept thirty women spellbound for an hour-and-a-half. I thought to myself, if this is not written down, the world will be poorer”.

The world would be better off had you not. I’m not bashing what might help people. If something helps you or heals you, by all means do it. But this could be done in a new age book without claiming it as genuine ancient tradition and romanticising the life out of it. Or without selling herself as a bearer of 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.

“all enriched with the oral tradition which she has INHERITED”

More justification. She has a right to this.

“put in context and written down (much of it for the first time)”

convenient…

Amantha uses the word shamanic to describe the way in which the Seabhean operates. While this work is essentially Irish, it also belongs to a worldwide shamanic system”.

Having skimmed the book, are you sure this Irish material isn’t in another book? Or is it lost somewhere amongst the chakras, stone people, other worlds or planes that don’t conform to the well established (over 1500 years of oral and written lore) notion of the Irish otherworld?

The Book

Amy’s goodreads review covers a lot of this so I won’t be repeating too much, but just to expand on them:

“a woman could divorce her husband at any time, but a man could only divorce his wife at Bealtaine.” (p. 87) 

The Brehon laws allowed for divorce on both sides under specific circumstances. There was no specification that a man had to wait till Bealtaine. He could divorce for 7 reasons: Unfaithfulness, persistent thieving, inducing an abortion, bringing shame on his honour, smothering her child or being without milk through sickness. (Fergus Kelly, Guide to Early Irish Law, p75)

“Women still took their mothers’ names and owned land. Some women were chieftains.” (p. 76)

Women were expressly barred from chieftanship, there are no historical records of this ever being achieved afaik. Names were patronymic. The owning of land is one of the most cherry picked and misquoted things out there. Only yesterday I was accused of “wanting to put women in their place” by someone when I corrected them on women’s status in early Ireland. Women owning land was exceptionally rare. The banchomarbae (female heir) could only inherit land if there was no male heir. Considering multiple marriages were allowed, along with separation to impregnate another women for an heir (and every child whether legitimate or not being equally allowed to inherit), the absence of a male heir was typically not an issue. On top of this, her inheritance of the land was only a life interest and could not be inherited by her child on her death. It instead returned to the kin group.

Mythology

Amantha’s grasp of mythology is almost non existent (or consists of researching new age books and websites as bad as her own) and this is covered well by Amy in her review. But in short her christianisation of Cú Chulainn (while he was alive that is, there is a tale where his ghost is christianised), “Cúchulainn knew that Maeve had a wicked temper , but he had taken to the way of the cross and was a Christian”. In the timelines presented in the lore, Christ was still alive when Cú Chulainn was. Hard to “take the cross” when the person in question had yet to be crucified.

“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” .

The green man, a new age centered concept, not native to Ireland, has NOTHING to do with Bealtaine

Her use of mother, maiden, crone and the typical “sun god” nonsense for Lugh are just more examples of her inability to research and more solid proof of her separation from true Irish culture and tradition . And PAN…Really?

Contradictions

These proliferate throughout the book. As mentioned above about the word “seabhean”. At one point she proclaims “There is no “tradition of the seabhean”” to only come back a few pages later and claim “The seabhean is held in high regard in her community. This role has passed down through the female line in families since ancient times”.

“People came to me for readings and I did not charge them . I said to spirit , “ I cannot keep giving readings . I need to get a job to earn money . ” Spirit replied , “ What is your problem ? We’ve given you the tools . ” (p22 kindle)

She is trying, unsuccessfully, to tie this book into the wise women who existed in every community in Ireland. Only difference is…they didn’t charge people. But hey, Amantha now has been told to make money from the otherworld, and is now totally justified in ripping people off and selling made up “ancient tradition.

“I realised then that I was supposed to be charging money; there was supposed to be an exchange”…The exchange was not monetary in the actual tradition and was never asked for or expected. It was freely given.

The name Brigid also means bridge .

It doesn’t.

Brian Boru: “Each Bealtaine , he lay with a priestess of Medb at Tara and in this way he became the king of the people .

Where do I even start with that?

Ailill turned to her and said, “ I have a bull and my bull is the strongest and biggest bull in the whole land. Nothing and no one can come against my bull. So I no longer need you , Maeve , in order to rule this land .”

That isn’t how that story went…

If the relationship suited both , then they could have a handfasting ceremony at Lughnasa (pge87)

Handfasting does not appear in ANY record before circa 17th century in SCOTLAND. It was not an ancient or Irish practice.

“The children conceived at Bealtaine were born at Imbolc and were considered sacred” 

No they weren’t.

“Since the time of Christianity , there has been a systematic effort to rid the world of magic and to regard our more ancient deities as evil and against life” .

Not in Ireland there wasn’t. Priests used magic, Saints used magic, the people used magic. Still did widely until very recent times and may of the practices are still carried out.

The fairies I played with when I was young were tiny , light-filled elementals “. 

Completely going against HUNDREDS of years of accounts in Ireland of “fairies” and on top of that she actively tells people to seek them out. Not a single Irish person who has even read enough stories of the “othercrowd” that they could count on one hand, would ever tell you to go anywhere near them. Hundreds if not thousands of tales of people being killed, maimed, blinded or driven insane would tell you not to do this. And her claim of restoring the fairies (sídhe) to a locality is laughable. The sídhe would make mincemeat of this woman if she went anywhere near them.

And suggesting leaving urine as a gift for the sídhe? Have you even the SLIGHTEST bit of knowledge about them? Absolute proof the author is full of shit and completely detached from actual Irish tradition. Urine, has for centuries, been known to be a massive deterrent to the sídhe/fairies.

If you made it this far – thank you for reading to the end, and hopefully the examples given above are enough to convince you not to fill the coffers of this charlatan or support the publisher and scribe willing to bend over backwards to defend this fraud’s approprition of multiple cultures not just the Irish one. I will leave some suggestions for books and sources at the bottom

To Womancraft Publishing: You should be ashamed for marketing this as a weapon against appropriation or for defending it. Do the right thing and never reprint this.

To the scribe, Orla: Wash your hands of this immediately and stop defending her

To Amantha: Stop deleting comments and face up to the fact you are uncovered for the fraud you are. Stop watering down our legends, folklore and mythology because you are completely incapable of even basic research. Stop ripping people off by pretending to be a repository of ancient tradition and stop telling people your completely bastardised version of “Irish tradition” is genuine. You are an absolute disgrace and should be ashamed of yourself, although considering the self-absorbed rubbish I’ve seen so far, it’s unlikely that you know what shame is.

Suggestions for decent, accurate sources on Irish folklore, celtic studies and Irish culture

Brehon laws:

Guide to Early Irish Law, Fergus Kelly

My article here

Fairy Folklore:

Meeting the othercrowd, Eddie Lenihan

The National Folklore Collection here

My articles here, here and here

Medieval tales

Introduction to Early Irish Literature, Muireann Ní Bhrolcháin

Early Irish Myths and Sagas, Gantz

The Celtic Heroic Age, John Koch and John Carey

Modern tales

Folktales of Ireland, Sean o Sullivan

Ireland’s Folktales: Henry Glassie

Mythology

Gods and Goddesses of Ireland, Morgan Daimler

The Irish Pagan School here, here and here

11 thoughts on ““The Way of the Seabhean”, An Open Letter in Opposition to the Book and its Blatant Cultural Appropriation

  1. You claim to be academic but seems a very personal and brutal attack on the author?!.
    As an academic myself this is not how we balance any review or debate. One wonders what the motive is here?

    Like

    1. The motive is being sick and tired of fake material being presented as fact and further watering down our already damaged traditions and customs. If it wasn’t someone charging a premium for “initiations” into a non existent “ancient Irish tradition”, I would have settled for a “normal” review. I will not, however, hold back on con artists ripping people off, or presenting our heritage like this.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Brilliant post! It’s things like this book that really show paganism to newcomers in a bad light and needs to be challenged and stopped.

    Like

  3. I never, ever comment on blogs but since today is the fifth or sixth time someone has shared this with me, I will offer my support. In addition to writing about history, in my spare time I volunteer as a transcriptionist for both the Duchas.ie and EMBROC and I would say that you are missing out on some good citations concerning Irish Folklore, but other than that I applaud your stance.

    Some of us have been fighting the lewellynization of irish history for a good long time now. There’s a good deal out there that’s nonsense. Good for you for speaking up though. Your blog looks quite interesting. 🙂

    Like

    1. Thanks, luckily, with the except of Luke Eastwood getting butthurt over this and writing a letter in opposition to it, the reception has been great. I know there are plenty of more references I could have used, but I simply felt there needed to something out there calling this out as what you called the “lewellynization of irish history”

      Like

  4. I love your blog that I just found, I’ll definitely be a regular reader.I am not a person who cares for rules or what’s correct being of an artistic temperament, we are rule breakers.It doesn’t bother me too much but I loved the passion with which you defended this. In the Irish traditions wasn’t there knowledge/book knowledge and then intuitive knowledge or fios, leaving us open to arriving at things by ourselves and not just written tradition. Not defending the person, but it’s why I’m lax if I read something say by the celticist Caitlin Matthews etc.

    Like

    1. Sorry for taking so long to reply to this, I had meant to come back to it. Yes, there is ‘Imbas forosnai’ (divinely or supernaturally inspired knowledge)/ fios. And the argument of orality vs book learning is one of the arguments used against me on this by Amantha’s cronies and in the multiple letters written against me because of this. Thing is though is that I’m intimately aware with the Irish oral tradition as well as the manuscript tradition that survived side by side for millennia. We also have one of the largest folklore archives in Europe, full of material that was written down from the oral tradition (same as many of the manuscripts were in the very early material). And the absolute bullshit that Amantha is firing around isn’t backed up by anything. At all. I mean there is even a section where she recommends giving piss as an offering to the fairies. There is literally hundreds of years of lore that says the exact opposite of this in both written and oral lore. And of course she went straight to victim mode rather than address her bullshit.

      Like

  5. Thank you so much for this. I am really trying to learn and understand the actual practices of the Irish people. As a High Priestess of a Wiccan tradition, I have made it my mission to track down actual practices so that I teach my students the correct facts regarding things we do. It’s a tough balance but I feel it’s the right thing to do. I would rather support people who live the life than those that make up stuff for monetary gain. And providing recommended resources is always a bonus to me

    Like

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