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  1. #41
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    Re: Which Celtic Tradition?

    Quote Originally Posted by Aster Breo View Post
    What Finn said.



    There's also a recently published book called Celtic Spirit-Fire: An Adventurous Journey Into The Sacred World by Michael J. McCoy, which is more like a "handbook" for people on a Celtic path. I have it, but haven't read it, so I can't really say whether it's any good.

    I think one of the best and most comprehensive resources around right now is Taris, a blog written by TC's own Seren.
    Quote Originally Posted by Finn View Post
    I second Taris, absolutely.

    McCoy's book is more like a handbook to another approach to Irish Celtic paganism -- an approach that is quite different from the one espoused in Celtic Flame. It's more of a Ceremonial/BTWish bent to Irish Celtic paganism. Or at least, that's what I gathered.
    I love Seren's blog/website, though I've used it mostly just as a reference resource. (Someone really ought to invest in making these online texts available in print - even if only print-on-demand - for those of us who can't sit still very long when trying to read off of a screen and also like to take margin notes! )

    I'm definitely adding both Rua's and McCoy's books to my to-read list. Looking at all the different ways people have approached modern Celtic Pagan spiritual practice always leaves me in awe of the diversity and creativity of our community.

    --Ali

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    Re: Which Celtic Tradition?

    Quote Originally Posted by AlisonLeighLilly View Post
    I love Seren's blog/website, though I've used it mostly just as a reference resource. (Someone really ought to invest in making these online texts available in print - even if only print-on-demand - for those of us who can't sit still very long when trying to read off of a screen and also like to take margin notes! )
    I feel the same way. I printed out a copy of Land, Sea, and Sky when I first found it, and it's in a binder in my "Celtic library". Now I need to print out Seren's blog. Not to mention all those PDFs of Brighid-related articles I've been collecting.
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  3. #43
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    Re: Which Celtic Tradition?

    Quote Originally Posted by Aster Breo View Post
    I feel the same way. I printed out a copy of Land, Sea, and Sky when I first found it, and it's in a binder in my "Celtic library". Now I need to print out Seren's blog. Not to mention all those PDFs of Brighid-related articles I've been collecting.
    ::Ali begins scheming of a way to start a POD publishing company for online Celtic-related texts::

    Full proceeds to the authors, of course!

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    Re: Which Celtic Tradition?

    Quote Originally Posted by AlisonLeighLilly View Post
    Thanks for the recommendations, Finn!

    I've heard of Land, Sea and Sky and actually have it bookmarked, although I have to admit I've never had the time/patience to sit down and read through the whole thing. (I tend to get antsy when trying to read long texts on a computer screen.)
    It's certainly worth a read, but I think it lacks one thing that anyone interested in CR really wants to know, and that's what CRs actually do. While it's always highly spoken of - as far as I've seen - I think many are disappointed on that front, at least.

    Aedh Rua's book is not one I'd heard of before. ::runs away to add to wish list!:: Some of the reviews on Amazon aren't very pretty, but many of the criticisms seem... odd. Disagreements over theological interpretation seems to me to be a whole different animal from accusations of inaccurate scholarship, but some of the nastier reviews don't seem to make a distinction between the two - and they wield the "UPG" label like a bludgeon to make their point.
    It's a controversial book in CR for some - it certainly was when it launched, anyway. As far as the accusations of inaccurate scholarship are concerned I would agree that there are several parts that fall short. I reviewed the book a while ago, which you can read here, and I mentioned some of the problems I found - the Fomorian chapter in particular. The reliance on authors like Sean O' Tuathail is certainly a problem, I think - like Alexei he made a strong contribution to modern Celtic Paganism, but his work doesn't always stand up in terms of scholarship. Since then, I took a look back over it when I was doing research on values and found that much of the Irish terminology used there did not mean what the dictionary defined the words as. Like I said in my review, I felt the book had a decent aim and idea, but fell short all in all, compared to what the book itself was trying to be.

    It's not the UPG I have a problem with in it, personally - the ritual isn't CR and I wouldn't expect it to be; the way the gods are interpreted isn't CR and I wouldn't expect them to be either, necessarily, though it is something that will definitely rub some people the wrong way. UPG is something that can be accepted or ignored, by its nature - so long as it's labelled as such. And I suppose that's why I wouldn't recommend it for someone interested in CR; it doesn't represent CR, and at times represents concepts and ideas that are antithetical to it. It is helpful from a practical sense, and while I did find a bit of the liturgy beautiful, the Gàidhlig in an Irish context was a problem for me, and the linguistic criticisms about the Irish that some of the more balanced reviews raised over on Amazon are definitely something to bear in mind. It's not something I would trust, overall.

    I guess that's where I start to feel uncomfortable with CR. My understanding is that folks in CR approach Celtic Reconstructionism as first and foremost based upon academic/scholarly work, turning to UPG only to "fill in the gaps" that scholarship can't.

    (snippage)Maybe it's my own streak of stubbornness - but I'm not keen on religions that emphasize external authority over personal relationship. I much prefer spiritual traditions that emphasize the difficult but necessary work of balancing and, when possible, reconciling the two. One consequence of the CR approach, for instance, is that while it tends to emphasize a "hard polytheism" that views the gods as real, distinct beings - it also undermines the CR practitioner's ability to engage authentically with them in the present, since he or she is expected to ignore or at least distrust any insight about or experience of them that contradicts the external authority of current academic scholarship. To me, that seems a bit like trying to be friends with someone while constantly comparing what they say and do against their high school report cards and SAT scores. Sure, that kind of information can give you insight into who they were and who they've become (and it provides an "objective," standardized measure that I guess would be helpful in catching a perpetrator of identity theft), but it seems an odd way to try to cultivate a relationship in the here and now. And what's especially weird to me is that the ancient Celts did not even have a concept of "objective scholarly research" - so the very attitude that such research should take precedence over "UPG" is pretty much by definition not part of the worldview of ancient Celtic tradition.
    The thing that occurs to me is, it's because we're a young religion that we must emphasise the scholarly/academic side so much. We're still figuring out how to do things on a practical level, still figuring out how our communities work and fit together, and our starting point is "how did they do it?" It's a huge question, and there isn't ever going to be one answer, but the side-effect at the moment is that while we're figuring stuff out it's the nitpicking and the comparing that stands out. On the other hand, since I don't think CR will ever be liturgically or even ritually prescriptive or standardised, maybe there will always be at least a wee bit of nitpicking. To say the least

    Perhaps, though, once we become more established and have more to offer in the way or ritual and liturgy then the emphasis will change from what many see as a very dry, academic path mired in the methodology, to something that is more on a par with other reconstructionist religions that are more established. Living traditions. I would hope so, anyway!

    What you also seem to be talking about in your post is the view that CR has a very dogmatic approach towards scholarship that stifles practice and experience. That would only be the case, I think, if we didn't have any room to accommodate UPG; but UPG is integral to CR, just like any other religion. Ultimately it has to inform our practices as well as our experiences - it's not like we can ever know for sure what they did, anyway. The difference is, we aim to root our UPG within our specific aims and principles, rather than a more generalised 'because I want to.' From our point of view, we are trying to build a spiritual practice that is at least in some way rooted in the pre-Christian religion of a particular culture and its historical survivals etc. What we are going to end up with is still thoroughly modern, and to many it might seem that we are simply slaves to academics. Then again, conversely, I think for many CR it is inevitable that those who are thoroughly eclectic or primarily intuitive in terms of the way they inform the practices they term Celtic, are pretty much anathema to us. So yes, the chasm of misunderstanding goes both ways, because in the end it all seems to work for each of us...

    I think CR folks would respond (and have responded) that Celtic Reconstructionism is inherently a modern phenomenon and so obviously it will be influenced and shaped by the knowledge and culture of modern Western society. That's great, as far as it goes, but it's basically another way of saying that they feel comfortable picking and choosing the ways in which they strive to emulate ancient Celtic cultures. That's something we all have to do, in the end, if we want to have any kind of Celtic-inspired spiritual practice today. It's the unspoken, unacknowledged assumptions that underlie the process of picking and choosing that make me uncomfortable.
    I agree - we all have to pick and choose. All of us do our picking and choosing in a way that is informed by our beliefs and any defined (or undefined, unconscious) principles that we might have. CR is no different, and from the outside these principles might seem too limiting or pointless. The point for CRs is that while we are a thoroughly modern religion, I think it's fair to say that the principles and methodology we adhere to is our way of staying in touch with the roots of the historical, cultural practices that we are looking to. Whether we succeed is, perhaps, a different matter But since we have such a specific aim it is perhaps inevitable that our approach and even practices might seem to be very restrictive. In my experience that has never been the case (but then I probably would say that...).

    Sorry to go off on such a tangent! I wonder if Seren or any other CR-leaning (or other reconstructionist) people here on TC have any insight into this issue, from the perspective of someone "on the inside"? I'd love to hear their take on it!

    --Ali
    No worries, they were very thought-provoking questions to answer. I hope my answers help!

  5. #45
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    Re: Which Celtic Tradition?

    Quote Originally Posted by Seren View Post
    What you also seem to be talking about in your post is the view that CR has a very dogmatic approach towards scholarship that stifles practice and experience. That would only be the case, I think, if we didn't have any room to accommodate UPG; but UPG is integral to CR, just like any other religion.
    Whereas what I've been continually reminded of is the objections Catja has raised to certain tendencies in reconstructionist paganism of all cultural stripes (the first two links are to two of Catja's comments in a thread in the A&H SIG, which also has some excellent comments on the issue from other folks; the third is to the beginning of a thread started specifically to discuss the issue more broadly). The contentiousness about UPG, I'd say, is just one effect/symptom; what's dogmatic is the tendency to elevate Scholarship-the-platonic-ideal while eliding how scholarship-the-practice actually works. Even when not accompanied by (or done for the purpose of) religious oneupmanship, it colors the culture of reconstructionist methodology.

    (I'll emphasize - in hopes of deflecting the shitstorm that so often follows on any mention of this - that this is not a condemnation, on either my part or Catja's, of reconstructionism, but rather pointing out the methodology's failure mode [everything has a failure mode; identifying it is a necessary prerequisite to avoiding it]. There are many, many individual reconstructionists who don't fall into this tendency, and for whom I have a great deal of respect - you're one of them, Seren.)

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  6. #46
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    Re: Which Celtic Tradition?

    Quote Originally Posted by AlisonLeighLilly View Post
    Maybe it's my own streak of stubbornness - but I'm not keen on religions that emphasize external authority over personal relationship. I much prefer spiritual traditions that emphasize the difficult but necessary work of balancing and, when possible, reconciling the two.
    Heh. I also prefer not being told how I'm supposed to feel about someone because a book tells me they love me. I mean, if they sent me a card or called me occasionally, that would be a different story...


    One consequence of the CR approach, for instance, is that while it tends to emphasize a "hard polytheism" that views the gods as real, distinct beings - it also undermines the CR practitioner's ability to engage authentically with them in the present, since he or she is expected to ignore or at least distrust any insight about or experience of them that contradicts the external authority of current academic scholarship. To me, that seems a bit like trying to be friends with someone while constantly comparing what they say and do against their high school report cards and SAT scores. Sure, that kind of information can give you insight into who they were and who they've become (and it provides an "objective," standardized measure that I guess would be helpful in catching a perpetrator of identity theft), but it seems an odd way to try to cultivate a relationship in the here and now.

    *snerk* Now I'm thinking about how I can get my hands on my friends' SAT scores...

    In all seriousness, I will say that I think this idea, particularly the bolded bit, is a misconception about CR -- I think in part because a lot of people tend to be very careful and very quiet about what they do in personal practice. I trust quite a few people, if not anyone who identifies as a CR, would say they have an authentic relationship with their deities, and I believe them.

    Where Celtics recons speak up and get loud is about methodology in figuring out what they practice, at least, in my experience lurking on various email lists.


    And what's especially weird to me is that the ancient Celts did not even have a concept of "objective scholarly research" - so the very attitude that such research should take precedence over "UPG" is pretty much by definition not part of the worldview of ancient Celtic tradition.
    Bolded mine.

    No, they didn't have "objective scholarly research"... but they had druids. Who knew their traditions; who spent years learning their stories; who knew their family lines and kings' histories. Who knew everything without having to write it down.

    ... and who generally were the ones who spoke to the gods, and so, the ones to trust when it came down to knowing what they wanted. And who had a community of other druids to check each other:

    Scene: somewhere in pre-Christian Ireland
    DRUID A: Hey guys, I think the Morrighan would like us to give her the title of "Fluff Bun" because she told me she just adores bunnies.
    DRUID B, C, and D: ... have you been drinking, A?
    DRUID A: Of course I have, but I'm serious, guys!
    DRUID B: She likes bunnies... TO EAT.
    DRUID C: She's the Raven Goddess, dude. In every story. We've ever told.
    DRUID D: She would KILL us if we started calling her "Fluff Bun."
    End Scene

    Er. Even without that travesty of theater, you get my point, right?

    I am too much a mystic to not believe that individual ancient Celts had mystic relationships with their gods, but I tend to think that when it came down to it, they generally participated in the community rituals, traditions, and practices as established by the druids. And that was their "objective research" to ground themselves in.
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    Re: Which Celtic Tradition?

    Quote Originally Posted by Finn View Post
    No, they didn't have "objective scholarly research"... but they had druids. Who knew their traditions; who spent years learning their stories; who knew their family lines and kings' histories. Who knew everything without having to write it down.

    ... and who generally were the ones who spoke to the gods, and so, the ones to trust when it came down to knowing what they wanted. And who had a community of other druids to check each other:

    Scene: somewhere in pre-Christian Ireland
    DRUID A: Hey guys, I think the Morrighan would like us to give her the title of "Fluff Bun" because she told me she just adores bunnies.
    DRUID B, C, and D: ... have you been drinking, A?
    DRUID A: Of course I have, but I'm serious, guys!
    DRUID B: She likes bunnies... TO EAT.
    DRUID C: She's the Raven Goddess, dude. In every story. We've ever told.
    DRUID D: She would KILL us if we started calling her "Fluff Bun."
    End Scene

    Er. Even without that travesty of theater, you get my point, right?

    I am too much a mystic to not believe that individual ancient Celts had mystic relationships with their gods, but I tend to think that when it came down to it, they generally participated in the community rituals, traditions, and practices as established by the druids. And that was their "objective research" to ground themselves in.
    And this is what gets me all the time. Recon is largely a guessing game because they did not write any of it down. Said druids had a whole lot more to work with than we do, as they had all those traditions and stories to memorize and work with. We have hints here and there and the rest is guess work. It can be educated guess work, and I applaud the people that devote so much time into trying to figure it out, but at the end of the day it is still a big guessing game.

    I often think we just need to start the whole thing over and figure it out for ourselves for our times.
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  8. #48
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    Re: Which Celtic Tradition?

    Quote Originally Posted by AlisonLeighLilly View Post
    I guess that's where I start to feel uncomfortable with CR. My understanding is that folks in CR approach Celtic Reconstructionism as first and foremost based upon academic/scholarly work, turning to UPG only to "fill in the gaps" that scholarship can't.
    This is one of the basic approaches of reconstructionism, and why a fair number of actually informed, more neopagan-oriented folks basically say that recons have dead religion.

    I think there are a couple of points for it. First of all, that stuff can in theory be available to everyone (footnote follows); depending on divine inspiration seriously privileges those people who happen to have a god-phone. Secondly, there is an ideal to be had in figuring out what the ancients did and trying to do something comparable.

    (Footnote: Though of course it actually isn't. The "this is religion as homework!" ideal doesn't do a whole lot for people who aren't interested in being their own bloody academic department. I know several people who were in theory interested in reconstructionist religion but who were not personally up to doing all the damn research themselves; when they didn't find a group that could present and teach them well, they drifted away.)

    There is also a specific problem with UPG: it is individual. The (in an ideal world) peer-corroborated nature of anthropological research means that there is a sound shared basis upon which one can build praxis. (Even if later research overturns it; the board's ancestor Chavi described herself as being a fam-trad Celt where the reconstructionist stuff was based on theories that were in part later refuted, but since the stuff worked for her family and for the Powers, they continued to run with it.) If one's happy being solitary and building something that may not have terribly much in common with "co-religionists", that's one thing, but a lot of people actually want a religious community, which requires something that can be shared. What that is doesn't actually matter all that much, but it needs to exist.

    The schism between academia and mysticism in reconstruction is a real one, and honestly a lot of recons are kind of smug assholes about not doing any of that frou-frou UPG shit. CR, though, is one of the most mysticism-friendly of them, as far as I can tell, basically because there is so little available to work with.
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  9. #49
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    Re: Which Celtic Tradition?

    Quote Originally Posted by SunflowerP View Post
    Whereas what I've been continually reminded of is the objections Catja has raised to certain tendencies in reconstructionist paganism of all cultural stripes (the first two links are to two of Catja's comments in a thread in the A&H SIG, which also has some excellent comments on the issue from other folks; the third is to the beginning of a thread started specifically to discuss the issue more broadly). The contentiousness about UPG, I'd say, is just one effect/symptom; what's dogmatic is the tendency to elevate Scholarship-the-platonic-ideal while eliding how scholarship-the-practice actually works. Even when not accompanied by (or done for the purpose of) religious oneupmanship, it colors the culture of reconstructionist methodology.

    (I'll emphasize - in hopes of deflecting the shitstorm that so often follows on any mention of this - that this is not a condemnation, on either my part or Catja's, of reconstructionism, but rather pointing out the methodology's failure mode [everything has a failure mode; identifying it is a necessary prerequisite to avoiding it]. There are many, many individual reconstructionists who don't fall into this tendency, and for whom I have a great deal of respect - you're one of them, Seren.)

    Sunflower
    I'm a little about all the nice things people are saying here! I feel honoured as much as I feel like I'm awkwardly shuffling my feet and not quite sure what to say But thanks for all the kind words, everyone. I really appreciate it. And - most of all - likewise.

    Don't worry, I don't take any of the criticisms or the negative opinions or even the condemnation that some might articulate about reconstructionism personally. I think there are many valid points raised in the links you provided there, and even if I disagree with some of it, it seems a bit pointless to get het up about any of it. It can be a delicate subject, I know, but if there is to be a constructive discussion about it then people should try to look at things objectively. Every religion should be open to scrutiny and criticism, from the inside or the outside; it doesn't make our beliefs any less valid.

    I think one of the big, important differences between CR and other reconstructionist religions out there is that we have far less to go on that's concrete in terms of ritual and practice. This means our approach to reconstructionism has to be somewhat different to that of other recon religions, so in some respects it makes it difficult to compare us to reconstructionism as a whole (other reconstructionists would probably disapprove of what we're doing and question how it can be reconstructionism at all, for one; we apply the methodology, but are not necessarily as literalist as those Hellenic Reconstructionists that were mentioned). It makes it very confusing from the outside, because what applies to one reconstructionist religion doesn't necessarily apply to others.

    Within CR, we have to mine through a lot of imperfect sources and see what we can find, and piece things together bit by bit. Our rituals end up being thoroughly modern, but based on our understanding of how rituals might have been constructed back then, and all in all we have to be far more comfortable with UPG than other reconstructionist religions might be (perhaps...). Complicating all of this is the fact that there are many different approaches within the umbrella of CR - different cultures, different focuses (druids, filidh, warrior, 'hearthy' etc). It takes a lot of work and some might wonder why, but I'd say...well. It takes all sorts, doesn't it? A lot of what reconstructionism has done has filtered down into other paganisms in one way or another, so at least we're doing contributing something positive!

    Within the Gaelic subsets of CR, many of us also emphasise looking to the living cultures to inform what we do, and that is something that I don't think other recon religions tend to do at all (or are able to, perhaps is a better way to put it). The folklore, the living traditions - these can't be said to be pagan in origin, but we could argue that they are part of a thread that reaches back to pre-Christianity, given the conservative nature of the cultures. For those of us who are aiming to build a family/household-oriented practice, rather than a druidical one, these are the kind of things we can do, and they form the primary focus of our daily practice. Like Finn says, not many CR folks talk about the practical aspects so there's often the misconception that the methodology can stifle our experience and practice. This is not the case; we just approach it on different terms than non-recons might, and because it's UPG it's largely considered to be personal in nature; private, or at least not widely-shared and accepted as gospel within wider practice. That doesn't mean it's not discussed or a taboo subject, however. There are occasions when CRs have reached SPG - things that particular deities like as offerings for example, and that's the kind of thing that lets us know that we're getting somewhere, I think. But whether it's UPG or SPG being discussed it's made clear that it's just that.

    There are definitely negative aspects within CR, and like I said, the criticisms that Catja brought up in those links you posted make good points. I got involved in CR when there were a lot of growing pains, and a lot of contentiousness amongst each of the factions that developed and grew. There was a lot of talk about this and that, but very little discussion of what people were actually doing, and very little encouragement to keep on doing and evolving. A certain few folks posted regularly and assumed an air of authority, and when all the bickering started it was very difficult to get a word in that seemed to add to the discussion because sometimes it devolved into handwaving about who had the most obscure academic source to prove their point (generalising widely, with perhaps a little bit of hyperbole there). To a beginner and an outsider, I found it difficult to imagine how to go about practicing CR, and that's partly why I decided to do it myself and share what I found, with my friends who were doing the same to one extent or another. I always kept coming back to CR, so I figured, well. If no one can tell me, I might as well do it myself.

    In the early days of my involvement, the arguing and the politics etc eventually saw some of the different factions break off into different groups, or even leave CR altogether. Those who retreated into their own groups carried on doing their own thing, but with less public engagement and involvement (with a few exceptions, of course). I think it's fair to say that this was at least partly because they were as tired of the constant arguing and the negative reputation it brought CR as a whole, as much anyone else was. It was clear that if any progress was going to be made, then it wasn't going to be progress that applied to the whole of CR; as a result, what many of us are doing now is very much part of a certain niche within CR, really, and for the most part I'd say things are still being done more quietly.

    That seems to be changing now, though; the CR group on Facebook has become very active and seems to have largely replaced the Yahoo groups of old (though they're still going). Most people within CR will always seek a community, and when it's a healthy community, or communities, that's a great thing. What I'm seeing in the new groups that are emerging and becoming more public and popular once again is that there are still many of the old problems surfacing. There are strong opinions and strong personalities at play, and old politics lurking. That impacts on the community, and the image of the community in a wider context. Some of the groups are actively trying to rise above it (and succeeding), others get mired in it. Either way, I think all recons are aware that all of those negatives will often detract from the fact that some of us, at the least, are actually doing something that is as spiritually fulfilling and valid as anyone else's practice. Most of us aren't more concerned about being slave to the sources; they are a significant part of our practice, as a starting point, for sure, but ultimately it's the doing that makes us what we are, not the reading.

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    Re: Which Celtic Tradition?

    Quote Originally Posted by Fireof9 View Post
    And this is what gets me all the time. Recon is largely a guessing game because they did not write any of it down. Said druids had a whole lot more to work with than we do, as they had all those traditions and stories to memorize and work with. We have hints here and there and the rest is guess work. It can be educated guess work, and I applaud the people that devote so much time into trying to figure it out, but at the end of the day it is still a big guessing game.

    I often think we just need to start the whole thing over and figure it out for ourselves for our times.
    For the record, I was not discouraging CR with this post or trying to say anything negative about it.
    Its just a frustrating endevour due to the lack of information and the fact that much of the information available is so often either very old and written by people that attacked the Celtic nations, or it is as I said educated guesswork.
    Really? So, hey, want to go fishing? I've got a telescope, and it's going to be a dark night, so we should see the fish really well.
    ...what, I'm not talking about fishing? That's stargazing? It's all doing-stuff, so it's the same thing, right?
    -HeartShadow

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