“Celtic” Ancestry?

June 1, 2018 at 8:08 am 4 comments

First off, particularly with the coming of comparatively cheap DNA tests,  people keep coming into Celtic Pagan/Druid & Celtic polytheist communities all excited about their DNA results- I found out I have Celtic ancestry! I guess that means I should worship Celtic gods, right? How do I do that? Well, that’s cool that you got your DNA results but what do you mean by “Celtic” ancestry?

The generally accepted definition of Celtic both by people within Celtic nations and their diasporas and within academic Celtic studies is for people who speak, or in comparatively recent memory spoke a Celtic language. There’s also archaeological definitions, though they are more debated*. Though frankly the diasporans & fans of various forms of Celtic music and dance commonly argue with it a lot more, because “Celtic” stuff is romanticized. So “Celtic Pagan” gets used about as sloppily as the label “Celtic music”. It’s much more precise and respectful to be more specific.

You can have ancestors who immigrated from Ireland with Norman, English, Ulster-Scots,  Norse and yes, Irish Gaelic ancestors. There’s also the Irish Travellers, a distinct ethno-cultural/linguistic group who sort of branched off from settled Irish Gaels centuries ago. They have faced discrimination and exclusion from settled Irish Gaelic society as well as the British when they ruled Ireland.

You can have Scottish ancestors from the Lowlands, the Highlands or both, the Lowlanders being more Anglo-Saxon Northumbrian by ancestry as well as Gaelic, and the Highlanders, Orcadians, Shetlanders and Hebrideans being more Gaelic & Norse. Then there’s the people of the Isle of Man, the Manx, once again a mix of Gaelic & Norse.

The modern Brythonic peoples are the Welsh and Cornish, also in Britain, and the Bretons in Brittany, France- they settled there from Britain long ago. So those are the 6 modern Celtic nations, peoples and languages.

The Galicians and Asturians in Spain are sometimes seen as having a kind of honorary status as modern Celts, they do not speak a Celtic language but their music and culture is seen as having Celtic influences.

More distantly many more people in continental Europe likely have descent from Celtic tribes but that gets a lot more historically murky with tussles with Romans and Germanic tribes.

The good news is regardless of your DNA contents, you still *may* be able to be some type of Celtic polytheist or pagan. I’d highly recommend trying your best to study a Celtic language and finding other ways to respectfully participate in and support modern Celtic communities. I’ll have more tips on how to do this in a later post, experiences I’ve learned from as a diasporan in how best to interact with folks who are native to, or more recently culturally connected with Celtic nations. At that point, I’ll probably narrow it down to Irish & Scottish as those are groups with which I’m most familiar.



Entry filed under: Celtic/Druid, Sociology. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

Intro: Why Celtic Paganism is not usually Alt-Right friendly Crossing the Danube: Celtic & Germanic differences

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Melas the Hellene  |  June 1, 2018 at 4:13 pm

    Thanks for this article. The definition of Celtic people needs to be discussed further among most people. Too often it is thought, as you point out, that Celts are those who speak the Celtic languages today or their immediate descendants. Whereas in the context of ethnic polytheism and reconstructionism, the Celts can be considered largely as the inhabitants of France, West Spain, Central Europe, the British Isles and partly North Italy, i.e. regions anciently populated by Celtic peoples.

    • 2. caelesti  |  June 1, 2018 at 7:49 pm

      In Celtic reconstructionist & revivalist polytheism, we do indeed go by a cultural/linguistic definition rather than ethnic descent, though seeking our roots is often an inspiration. That doesn’t mean anyone who learns a Celtic language and immerses themselves into a Celtic culture will be accepted, though it is sometimes the case. Nor is ancestry any guarantee. Different traditions have different rules of membership. For more about this see: http://www.keltria.org/journal/l-kona.htm

  • 3. Miss. Walpurga  |  August 5, 2018 at 8:24 pm

    I find this post interesting especially from the standpoint of my pagan friends in Ireland. As far as I’m aware… Pagans in Ireland hate the “ethnicity” excuse and believe it’s a much more cultural thing. So you have some very good points here 🙂

    • 4. caelesti  |  August 6, 2018 at 11:19 pm

      Indeed, the Irish Pagans I’ve encountered thus far (and for that matter Irish non-Pagans) have been quite emphatic in their opposition to racism, fascism, homophobia & transphobia which is great to see, in fact that’s the biggest source of tension between Irish-Americans in general & Irish folks both historically & today!


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