The Way of The Seabhean, Accusations and Bullying (Statement by Orla O’Connell, 15th March 2021)

The following statement appeared on the personal blog of Orla O’Connell on 15th March 2021. It can be found in full here. Orla is the scribe who worked with author Amantha Murphy on our January 2021 release The Way of the Seabhean.

Orla O'Connell, scribe of The Way of the Seabhean by Amantha Murphy
Orla O’Connell, scribe of The Way of the Seabhean by Amantha Murphy

Since its release on January 28th, The Way of The Seabhean has been at the centre of a storm of accusations and personal and vicious attacks on Amantha Murphy, for whom I scribed the book. The publisher has also been subjected to online abuse and her health is suffering as a result. The main allegation being made against the book is that it misrepresents Irish Tradition. That Irish Tradition is presented by the accuser as an immutable written monolith that has been collected by scribes and folklorists over 15 centuries. He suggests (or believes) that the Irish Tradition is a closed book and the preserve of scholars. Anything that has not already been recorded and written down cannot be valid.
The Way of The Seabhean does not claim for itself (or does not wish to be included in) any such rigid canon of Irish Tradition. This is not a scholarly book. 

Amantha Murphy is an Irish healer woman who shares some of her healing practices and her personal ‘teachings’ gleaned over nearly seven decades. She is a visionary who uses her gifts to bring healing and balance. The tradition into which Amantha was introduced, as a child, was an oral tradition. Her healing gifts were passed on to her by her grandmother who was, herself, a healer and midwife. The role of the healer woman has been passed down from generation to generation for centuries if not millennia. This is an Irish tradition which Amantha Murphy may legitimately claim. As a dyslexic child, being beaten in London for her inability to learn reading and writing, she found with her Granny, in Kerry, an oral tradition which she embraces, carries and lives to this day. While dyslexia is being presented elsewhere as a limitation, I see it in this context as an asset, because Amantha carried that tradition forward orally and her lack of scholarship prevented her from either writing it down or adding to it by studying other sources.

The Way of the Seabhean by Amantha Murphy, Womancraft Publishing
The Way of the Seabhean, by Amantha Murphy with Orla O’Connell

What Granny taught her was a way of being in the world. While she did not go into great detail on her own healing practice, she taught Amantha love and reverence for the earth and respect and tolerance for all people and creatures. She taught her to go and lie on the earth for healing, to ask the mother if she needed anything, to make sugar sandwiches for the fairies, to walk anticlockwise around stone monuments and that sometimes the stones would share their stories. This was the schooling that Amantha was given. It was a living Irish oral tradition, the specifics of which had never been written down. There is a difference between this tradition and THE IRISH TRADITION to which it is being unfavourably compared. THE IRISH TRADITION that has been collected and written down has been frozen in a moment in time, whereas Amantha’s tradition moves and grows (as all Irish traditions did and would have continued to do, had they not been written down or discarded in favour of modernity).

This book does not pretend to be anything it is not. From the outset, in the first chapter, it states clearly what Amantha means when she talks about her ‘tradition’.

When I speak about my tradition, I mean the tradition that lies within my blood and my bones. My teachers are my granny, my ancestors, Spirit, the living earth, the Great Mother, the Tuath Dé, the stone people, the tree brethren, my animal helpers, the fairies and elementals. They have all sustained me in my life and have shared parts of this tradition with me. Now I claim this as my tradition. It is not only mine; it belongs to all those who consciously carry the bloodline of those who walked before them.
As a child, listening to stories of the Tuatha Dé Danann, Sionann and Medb, I began the journey of accessing my tradition. I was able to enter into those stories and draw from them parts of who I was. I began to reclaim memories. In the beginning I did not know whether I was picking up memories from other lives that I might have lived, or if I was accessing the ancient knowledge that I carried from my forebears in my own DNA. After a while, it did not matter which it was. Those traditional teachings and ancestral memories, together, have informed my work.

A huge amount of criticism and scorn has been directed at the stories from Amantha’s childhood, despite the explanation in the first chapter.

The stories, as they were told to me by Granny and her friends, had been passed down from generation to generation since ancient times, perhaps even since the time of the Tuath Dé themselves. These were part of the Kerry oral tradition and have never been written down. They bear the marks of the many storytellers who retold them over the centuries. Some incorporate Christian elements and themes (for example, in the version of The Táin which was told to me, Cúchulainn had been converted to Christianity).

Amantha Murphy, author of The Way of the Seabhean
Amantha Murphy, author of The Way of the Seabhean

Some of the stories which are included in The Way of The Seabhean, have been compared unfavourably with written versions of the stories. Amantha has been accused of making them up, misrepresenting the TRUE Mythology and of not studying the canon of Irish myths. These accusations say more about the accusers’ misunderstanding of mythology than about Amantha’s versions. The argument is even made that one of the stories is incorrect because of the Christianisation of Cúchulainn “while he was alive that is”. If this reviewer believes that Cúchulainn was a historical character, then he has missed the point of what mythology is about.

I remember a discussion with the late Irish writer, Dermot Healy, about the function of myth. Dermot believed that myths should serve the people and should move and grow with them. If a myth was ever written down and ‘closed’, then it failed to serve its purpose and became irrelevant. Amantha uses these stories (which she inherited with all the interesting embellishments and marks of other storytellers over the centuries) as living myths. They are not included here as quaint tales from the Irish past but as powerful sources of knowledge. “The stories of our land, this land, Ireland, weave us in right relationship with all.”

Perhaps the oddest and most bitter criticism of this book is Amantha’s use of the word ‘Seabhean’ as a title for herself as healer woman, for her workshops on “The Way of the Seabhean” and as part of the title of this book. The text states clearly in the first chapter where the word ‘seabhean’ came from.

When I inherited this tradition it was nameless. After much searching, the word that came up for me, from a woman elder in Donegal, was the word seabhean.

Yes, there were other words available in Irish for the healer woman and Amantha could have chosen ‘Bean Feasa’ or several others, but the word ‘seabhean’ was the one that resonated with her because she was already using the word ‘’sea!’ (literal translation – ‘’tis’) as a positive affirmation in her rituals. The woman who gave the word to Amantha taught Irish in Howth. That woman had heard the word used in Donegal. Calling Amantha a liar does not change that fact.

I have consulted with an Dr. Seosamh Mac Muirí who states that he accepts the usage of ‘seabhean’ in the speech community from even this one report of it. He says that one should take time to consider ‘seagh’, the adjectival ‘seaghdha’, and ‘seile seagha’ in Dineen’s Dictionary (under ‘sine’) in keeping with beliefs of our past generations.

In my glossary, at the end of the book, I had translated the word ‘sea’ as ‘strength or vigour’ and also ‘regard or esteem’ – these were all definitions from Ó Dónaill’s Irish dictionary.

Our reviewers went to great lengths to check every dictionary and manuscript ever written to prove that the word ‘seabhean’ is not listed in any. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Composite words constructed like this are used in the Irish language. Examples of these from Ó Dónaill’s dictionary are ‘spéirbhean’ and ‘síbhean’ and their plurals are ‘spéirmhná’ and ‘símhná’. Despite derisive comments on my knowledge of Irish grammar, this construct is correct. Otherwise, my name would be Orfla rather than Orla. You can find a link to this rule of Irish grammar here.

I am only singling out the more important allegations here. These people have written theses on The Way of The Seabhean and this post would go on forever if I were to answer them all. So allow me to gather a whole bunch of them into the next theme.

They claim that the book uses material appropriated from other cultures and packages it as “genuine Irish Tradition”. I would like to point out that that quotation is from the reviewer and was not used in any promotion for the book. They cite Amantha’s use of the word ‘shaman/shamanic/shamanism’ as cultural appropriation. Her use of the word is clearly explained. Guess where? In the first chapter. Where else?

I understood that every indigenous culture has its own way of attuning and working with the earth, ancestors, elements and elementals and its own way of connecting with spirit. All of these ways are loosely termed ‘shamanism’ now. What Granny had taught me was part of that.” And also, “The main reason I use the word shamanic is because people know exactly what I am talking about and the realms within which I work.

Other accusations of appropriation are chakras: Chakras are the energy points or energy vortices in the body. In Amantha’s work, these are the feet, the base, the womb, the solar plexus, the heart, the thymus, the throat, the third eye, the head and the place of communion (which is the place of harmony when all of the other energy points are in balance). Similar energy points are used by healers from many cultures. The word ‘chakra’ is neither Irish nor English. ‘Chakra’ is a Sanskrit word, which is almost universal and is used in The Way of the Seabhean to conveniently convey the concept. The energy points (as described in the book) are not borrowed from any other culture. The book explains: “The ten chakras that I use were shown to me by the earth herself, here in Ireland”.

The symbol of the Tree is said to be appropriated. The book explains: “Throughout my years, I have attuned and journeyed shamanically with trees, going down into their roots. In that way, the trees revealed themselves to me as the symbol for the Lower, Middle and Upper Worlds.” Amantha’s use of what she calls the “Three Realms”, the Lower, Upper and Middle Worlds is said to be an appropriation. I understood these three worlds as being the realms in which the seabhean operates. I can see that, if a person were to skim the book, the words ‘our tradition’ in this context could be misleading. But Amantha has already explained what she means by ‘my tradition’ and has very clearly explained her way of working. She is not claiming that the three realms are part of the canon of Irish Tradition.

I need to say a few words here about Amantha’s way of working. As a dyslexic, her work is essentially oral. She has no library of reference books to consult on any of this but carries everything in her head. In fact, I am in awe of all that her one head can carry. Any oral tradition is a shifting, moving thing. Inaccuracies and inconsistencies are inevitable. I have done my utmost to check each and every reference and if a few have got past me, I apologise for that.

I would like to thank Luke Eastwood for his defence of Amantha Murphy. In his Open Letter, he writes: “I read Shane Broderick’s review of 27th February with some consternation. While anyone who puts a book into the public arena can expect to face criticism as well as praise, I was quite shocked by the review, which struck me as totally sarcastic, vitriolic and unfair. While he has the right to express his opinion and was right to lay some criticism at Amantha Murphy’s door, I do not think it was balanced, reasonable or fair.”

He goes on to say: “Having slandered and denigrated Murphy as a charlatan, crook and faker of Irish tradition, he moves on to criticise the book itself… While the book deserves some criticism, one must remember that Murphy is not an academic and does not claim to be. Much of this book is biographical and experiential in nature and should be read in that context… However, while it was pertinent to highlight the mistakes within the book, I think it was done in a mean-spirited and vindictive way, with the intention of permanently damaging the author’s reputation”.

I hope that this post will clarify many of those perceived ‘mistakes’. The material for this book came from hundreds of hours of audio recordings. As Amantha teaches by repetition and is a born storyteller, these recordings contain a rich tapestry full of (thoroughly enjoyable) meanderings. The task of distilling this ‘pure drop’ from that vast ‘mash’ was enormous and took me several years. My preoccupation was with presenting these particular ‘teachings’ of Amantha’s in a written form acceptable to the many people who worked with her over the years and, at the same time, creating a book that was accessible to interested readers with no background in this kind of healing or spirituality. I think I succeeded in both of those goals.

If I had been writing an academic discourse on how the role of the healer woman fitted into the canon of Irish Tradition, then I would have referenced sources and texts. But as I was working from an oral source and as every word of this book is Amantha’s (only the foreword, glossary and footnotes are mine), this never was, or never could be a book to measure up to high academic standards. Perhaps I should have added in a few extra footnotes for disambiguation, but it is obvious that our learned reviewers didn’t read the ones that are already there.

A pattern has emerged through most of this post. Nearly all of the answers to the allegations were to be found in the first chapter of the book. From this, I must conclude that the people who reviewed the book either never read the first chapter of the bookskimmed over it (as one of our reviewers admitted doing) were too blinkered by their own bias to understand it, or wilfully misrepresented it for their own purpose.

Luke Eastwood suggests that “Mr Broderick has written this demolition of Murphy’s book with the hope of making a name for himself, in the most cynical way possible.” But who benefits from the loss of Amantha Murphy’s reputation? The answer could well be provided by Shane Broderick himself. At the end of his bibliography of suggested (“decent, accurate”) sources, he blatantly advertises the Irish Pagan School. The Irish Pagan School runs workshops on Irish paganism (spirituality), offers tours to sacred sites in Ireland and performs rituals like weddings. Commercially, they are Amantha Murphy’s competitors. One of the owners is the Reverend Lora O’Brien. I visited her Facebook page and saw that she had shared Shane Broderick’s unfair post with the words: “This is so important. Please read”.
{Added note from the publisher: we were informed by the person who started this campaign in their initial email – someone who at all times did not use their full/real name – that they had not read the book, had no intention of doing so and was claiming to be writing their own book on the subject.}

I would like to thank members of the Pagan community who have supported Amantha and the book. I would especially like to thank those who, having first jumped on the critical bandwagon, then read the book and had the courage to change their minds. I would like to call on the Irish Pagan School to distance themselves from slanderous and vindictive attacks on Amantha Murphy’s reputation and this book. I call on the cyber bullies to stop harassing our publisher.

Amantha’s teachings (and the book itself), respect all individual spiritual paths and all people. The reviewer who accused the book of sexual prejudice obviously missed the reference on page 88 to Amantha’s relationship with another woman. The notion that either she or the book is phobic to any members of the LGBTQ community is ridiculous. Amantha’s work is inclusive. It is imbued with joy, humour and lightness of being. The Way of the Seabhean has brought healing and hope to many. What a shame that such a positive, uplifting and beneficial book is being dragged into this mire.

Please share this post to stand with us and say that cyber-bullying and character assassination is not okay.

Orla O’Connell M.Phil.(Creative Writing) is an Irish writer living in Co. Sligo. Also known by her name in Irish, Órfhlaith Ní Chonaill, she is the author of the prizewinning novel, The Man with No Skin and scribe of The Way of the Seabhean – An Irish Shamanic Path, for Amantha Murphy.

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