Posts filed under ‘Celtic/Druid’

Celtic vs. Mediterranean Polytheisms

In pan-polytheistic online discourse I frequently see assumptions about polytheism from different cultural or philosophical types of polytheists. For better understanding of where I’m coming from as an Irish polytheist, a previous post compared Celtic & Germanic polytheism. This is an attempt to compare Irish polytheism and a little about continental Celtic polytheism with polytheistic religions bordering the Mediterranean, specifically I’m thinking of Greece, Rome and to a lesser degree, Egypt.  These are generalizations referring to several spectra of cultures that existed (and still exist just in different forms) across a long time period. Feedback, corrections and critique are welcome and I’ll make note of changes.

Differences

Theology– Our theolog(ies) are very much up to us as contemporary revivalists to discover and develop. Beings in our lore and literature are not easily categorized as gods, ancestors, heroes and spirits of place. There is much overlap between them. It’s debatable how much particular gods were euhemerized by monks or whether the Irish Dindsenchas- that explains the legendary origins of place name or the tales of Mythological Cycle are more authoritative.  Even the question of whether a particular being is friendly or not towards humans can vary by place or even specific person! For example, Balor is a monster thought to symbolize the dangers of the late summer sun being too hot and threatening the harvest. He was defeated by the god Lugh in battle, the young, many skilled god who brings the harvest. But in the folklore of the Tory Islands the two were reversed and it was Balor that was honored!  The Good People are for the most part avoided and propitiated but certain individuals do make treaty and develop a relationship with a spirit or group of spirits. Sometimes these people are called fairy-doctors and act as an intermediary between the spirit and a local community.

Departmental Deities– I often hear people in Irish/Gaelic/Celtic pagan or Druid groups explain to newcomers that “unlike the Greek or Roman pantheons we don’t pigeon-hole gods into departments like god of love/sun/thunder.” Fair enough, but that’s also not an accurate description of either Greek or Roman religion. It’s an oversimplification that might fit a specific cultus at a given time or for your classical mythology class, but not for all times, places and practices. This is also the case for Irish gods. There also isn’t a fixed, organized pantheon with a set hierarchy, no “chief god” and the family trees of the gods and other beings contradict each other in different sources. You know, like in Greek mythology!

Purity– there is a concept of ritual purity, but it doesn’t seem to be a emphasized as it is in Greek and Roman polytheism. Here is an essay discussing concepts of purity/impurity in Gaulish polytheism.

Hubris (or hybris  in the original Greek)- isn’t really a concept that exists in Celtic religions. There are certainly boundaries of respectful and disrespectful behavior in general and in ritual specifically, particularly related to hospitality and reciprocity. Threatening the gods or spirits, especially with weapons or use of iron in general (esp. towards the Good People) are all certainly ill-advised. Boasting, especially among warriors was as common as it was in ancient Scandinavia. The consequences for going too far with boasting were social and sometimes legal in nature, resulting in a loss of honor and possibly being publicly satirized.

Images– statues and images in continental Celtic territories seem to be mostly a later Roman influence and earlier images seem to be syncretized or influenced by Thracians and Scythians. I occasionally come across the assertion than the Celts had a taboo on divine images, but that is likely a projection from Abrahamic laws against idolatry. That said modern Celtic polytheists do typically use various images for the gods in worship.

Lack of primary sources from pre-Christian times- as with most Germanic & Slavic traditions, we don’t really have anything recorded directly by polytheistic Celtic peoples themselves, We have secondary sources from the Romans who were fighting or trading with them, and later ruling over them but of course these have some built-in biases.  Texts written by monks in Ireland recorded native literary traditions and combined them with classical and Biblical references. Christian era folklore & customs end up being really important in Gaelic & Brythonic traditions because they give us more of an idea of everyday spiritual practice of regular people, particularly towards local spirits and the dead. Reconstructing continental Celtic religion involves study of archaeology and comparative linguistics, religion and mythology.

Similarities with Kemetic religion (from my limited knowledge of it!)

-Strong belief in afterlife, alternate realm, though in Celtic cosmology typically there is an Otherworld existing parallel to our own that is partly afterlife realms, but many other realms belong to gods and the Good People.

-the concept of Ma’at -meaning roughly justice & order in a cosmic sense reminds me a lot of An Firinne- which means truth in Irish, cosmic order with a moral dimension

-The ritual role of kingship, relationship to people and the land. This does not necessarily mean a need for a contemporary king/queen, but the concept of kingship/queenship and sovereignty is key to cosmology. Were Celtic kings/queens deified after death, as with pharaohs or some Roman emperors? Not as a rule that I’m aware of, naturally they’d be important ancestors, founders of particular dynasties, kingdoms, chiefdoms, clans were historically viewed as family patrons, and this practice has been continued with the revival of polytheism with key ancestors.

There are a couple more common pan-polytheistic topics that I am unsure of. What do we know about expectations of piety in pre-Christian Celtic societies? In Ireland, which is the area I’m most familiar, our sources of information about ethics are Brehon law, a system which continued with some modifications long after Christianization, and advice for kings on good behavior. I will have to check them to see if anything is said about piety. But my general feeling is that a sense of piety would be pretty different than a Greek or Roman one. Celtic traditions overall strike me primarily as animistic in character and secondarily polytheistic, they are more primal and localized and tribal. Those elements are definitely in place in both Greece and Rome especially in earlier periods and even later on in certain aspects- the cult of Dionysus seems like something Celts would totally be down with. Whereas Greece and Rome seem more primarily polytheistic.

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October 13, 2018 at 8:40 am 6 comments

Celtic Polytheism- Online Discussion Groups

Old post/page- Updated list. I’m thinking of actually moving these to resource lists for different areas like Gaelic polytheism, Gaulish etc.

Facebook Groups: Some are private/closed, so if you prefer you can keep your membership hidden, or create a profile that uses a religious or other assumed name. Since almost all are closed, I’m now only making note of the public ones!

Indo-European Religion

Pan-Celtic, Pan-British

Celtic Paganism, (Celtic Recon focus)

Celtic Polytheists (Public)

Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism/Polytheism

Irish/British Celtic Polytheism (Public)

Pan Celtic, Non-Facebook Groups

Cauldron Forum’s Hazel & Oak: Celtic Polytheism Special Interest Group

Paganacht Reddit– This one is active!

Celtic Reconstructionist Livejournal Community– in the 2000’s this was the main hub of online discussion- less active now, but lots of good material!

Pan-Celtic, Specific Topics

Alexei Kondratiev’s Lorekeeper Course study/discussion group (Public)

Cult of the Severed Head– historic & current use of skulls/heads in ancestor veneration, healing, divination

Gaelic

Creideamh Duthchasach nan Gaideal– This group is a place to share resources on Indigenous Traditions of the Gaels, its about documenting what our ancestors valued so that we can determine what if any of those values we continue with or which we alter or toss out.

Sinnsreachd- Gaelic Polytheistic Tribalism: Note this group associates more with modern Gaelic cultures rather than Pagan subcultures

Sinnsreachd Hearthkeepers- Practical Gaelic Polytheism

Loachra nan gaidheal– Gaelic warriors guild- Laochra Cuallacht of Comhaltacht na nGaedheal: Cairdreabh nan Gàidheal

Irish-specific

Irish Polytheism/Paganacht/Gentlidecht/Gintliocht

Practitioners of Irish Polytheism

Irish Magic & Spirituality– moderated by Lora O’Brien

Teanga na draoithe– Language of the Druids- Irish language learners

Brythonic

Welsh Polytheistic Reconstruction

Caer Feddwyd– is the public face of Brython, an organisation which aims “To research, recover and redistribute to the best of our knowledge and wisdom the native British pre-Christian Spirituality, as evidenced by historical sources and personal experiences, to trace its influence and expression into later times and to explore its application and relevance to life in the modern world”

Continental Celtic/Gaulish

Gaulish Polytheism Community

Touta Galation – online org, some local in-person groups

Deity-Specific

Clann Bhride: Children of Brighid Religious order devoted to Brighid (co-ed)

Ord Brighideach International– Religious order devoted to Brighid (co-ed)

Nigheanan Brighde Order– Celtic Polytheist flame-keeping order, all women

Cuallacht na Brighid– Order of Brighid for Comhaltacht na nGaedheal: Cairdreabh nan Gàidheal, co-ed, not solely flame-keeping

Coire an Dagda– Cauldron of the Dagda

Song of Oghma

Druid

Druids

Contemplative Druidry– focus on contemplative practices in Druidry (big tent definition)

Not the Druids you are looking for

Specific orgs

ADF- Ar nDraiocht Fein (Closed) Open to non-ADF members. There are other FB groups and lists for specific ADF groves and subgroups- I’m not listing them all!

AODA- Ancient Druids of North America

The Druid Network

Druid Grove of Two Coasts

Henge of Keltria

OBOD Friends (unofficial)

Reformed Druids of North America

Sylvan Celtic Fellowship– Located in Lincolnton, NC but welcomes folks from other areas, inclusive of all Celtic-based paths

National (outside U.S.) 

Canadian Celtic Polytheists “For Celtic Polytheists living in Canada to meet, share events, help and support each other. You may be a Celtic witch, Celtic Reconstructionist, Druid, or any other Celtic path, but you must honour Celtic deities to join.”

Canadian Druid Network

Regional

Northwest Druidry: NW United States and SW Canada

 

June 27, 2018 at 9:03 pm 5 comments

Crossing the Danube: Celtic & Germanic differences

Whenever I go into Heathen or Asatru spaces I joke silently to myself that I’m metaphorically crossing the Danube, the river that the Romans considered the rather arbitrary division between the  continental Germanic and Celtic tribes. Similarities and differences between Celtic and Germanic groups are sometimes over-emphasized or downplayed, in addition to of course intra-Celtic and intra-Germanic cultures having those problems. This adds up to create some misunderstandings between these two cultural/linguistic families including in the religious aspects. I will discuss the general spectrum of Celtic paganism, polytheism and Druidry, and get into a little that is specific to Celtic Reconstructionism. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Decent Celtic information has tended to be more obscure than decent Germanic information (at least Icelandic sources!) , in spite of often being more popular among Pagans most easily available information was up to not that long ago. Frankly, I’m amused what Heathens angrily denounce as being fluffy, the amount of fluff they have typically had to deal with seems so minor by comparison to the Celtic side.
  2. I know many Celtic Pagans/polytheists and Druids that are also at least partially involved in Norse/Germanic traditions whether for reasons of ancestral/ethnic heritage and/or spiritual inclination. We also sometimes have spouses who are Norse/Germanic by culture & spirit, and the household may to some degree combine the two, particularly with ancestor honoring. Folks who primarily identify as Heathen or Germanic/Norse polytheist seem to be less frequently eclectic/syncretic or dual/multi-tradition. Though I am seeing an increase in that, especially with the Religio Romana.
  3. How historically gender-egalitarian- or even “matriarchal” or “feminist” nature of Celtic cultures were gets exaggerated, while the not-so gender egalitarian-ness of Germanic cultures gets exaggerated. They both were mixed bags for the status and treatment of women- patriarchal overall, but women especially higher class women, had more rights than most of ancient Greece or Rome. This also varies by time period, specific culture and so forth of course.
  4. The warrior path gets over-emphasized in a distorting way among Germanic folks, and particularly in some types of British Druidry, Celts somehow become pacifists..like say what *where* are you getting this from? When really being mostly farmers and herders with a few aristocratic warbands was for the most part what both the Celtic and Germanic tribes did.
  5. The conversion to Christianity of the Irish, Scots and Welsh at least was more peaceful than that of most Germanic peoples I’m aware of. That doesn’t mean we’re happy about it, but that Celtic Pagan relationships with Christianity & Christians is overall less hostile. You see more overt syncretism between the two, and a spectrum between Celtic Paganism and Celtic Christianity gets referred to as Celtic Spirituality or Celtic Wisdom generally. Though there are shared customs, sacred sites and local spirits honored by both Christians, Heathens and secular folk in Germany, Austria, the Low Countries and Nordic countries and by their diasporan cousins. I certainly don’t see Heathens celebrating the patron saint days of their homelands!
  6. There is more Celtic Reconstructionist (particularly historical) overlap with general Paganism/Wicca/Witchcraft and Druidry both Neo-Pagan & fraternal/ceremonial magic influenced types as compared with Asatru and Heathenry, which has roots in some places in folk culture & custom revivals and to some degree in occult/magical orders, though that influence seems to have lessened over time. Much to its chagrin, Celtic reconstructionists have had more difficulty in differentiating themselves from broader Paganism as compared with Heathens, who have been quite persistent in their distinct identity.

June 5, 2018 at 7:52 am 3 comments

“Celtic” Ancestry?

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.

 

June 1, 2018 at 8:08 am 4 comments

Intro: Why Celtic Paganism is not usually Alt-Right friendly

I’ve spent a fair amount of time for several years reading thru articles about the Alt Right and closely related political/cultural factions that say they aren’t Alt Right, but have many of the same ideas & tendencies. Yes, this has included looking at Alt Right websites, forums, even watching some of their YouTube videos. Reading blogs by folkish & Alt-Right sympathetic polytheists, Heathens & Pagans as well. It’s not exactly a fun way to spend my time, but I’ve considered this research a harsh necessity in today’s world. Likewise, I know many of these folks do the same research in the other direction towards people like me, the “Social Justice Warriors”.

Anyhow, I’ve encountered in several of these places frustration, bafflement and so forth at how most Celtic Pagan spaces do not include them or even that our communities (both online & off) are too feminist/SJW dominated. Typically I see this as a good “problem” for us to have! Alt-right leaning ideas (or ones easily mistaken for them)  do indeed exist in our spaces, as well as in non-Pagan centric Celtic cultural spaces. We don’t always agree on what “counts” as bigotry and cultural appropriation, and in particular I’m not going to call people racist or appropriative, because I feel those terms have become so broadly used that it isn’t clear what they mean. Heck, I myself have been accused of cultural appropriation and various kinds of bigotry, in spite of all my attempts to try following intersectional social justice ideology.  I’m not interested in a debate with any hard-core Alt Righties. I’m open to potential civil discussion with people who don’t dehumanize people who are different from them, and to be fair I’ve had a tendency to do that myself to some folks- and I’ll be talking more about ways I’ve behaved badly and been hypocritical. I’d appreciate people who disagree with me to do the same.

For anyone who isn’t comfortable, that’s fine you do not need to participate. I’ll still be moderating comments for nastiness. I also think we need to have discussions among liberal/left-wing/progressive Pagans & polytheists and I will make it clear when those are internal discussions, likewise with discussions between liberal/leftists who are of non-Pagan religious identities and non-religious identities.  Whew! That was a lot, and that’s just the intro post.

This post series is being done from a primarily religious and cultural viewpoint as an many generations removed Irish/Scottish diasporan American polytheist rather than a secular political viewpoint. If I get ambitious enough I’ll adapt them for a non-Pagan Irish/Scottish cultural interest audience (for both diasporans & natives, whoever’s interested in my blatherings, I’m also happy to link to folks grappling with similar issues in their communities.

This post was inspired by & an indirect response to #9 Politics in Melas the Hellene’s Polemical Topics in Polytheism series.

 

June 1, 2018 at 1:42 am 10 comments

Why Modern Druidry?

So, what do you do? This post fits well with my ideas about how many of us, once we get past a beginner practitioner level, end up with some types of spiritual specialties, and how the clergy/laity dichotomy often doesn’t “translate” well into many forms of paganism and polytheism.

A while ago I had a rationale for why we call ourselves Druids in ADF and other orders. Aside from the historical reasons, in the case of British dudes who dabbled in early archaeology and mystical esoteric nature-y forms of Christianity and on our side of the pond, college students who wanted to get drunk in the woods instead of going to chapel- Reformed Druids of North America. Much is made of Ye Olden druids all being priests, judges, advisers to kings and so forth- and if we aren’t filling those sorts of roles in modern societies, we can’t really be druids. Well, of course we have things like separation of church and state- or a different state religion. But we are all way more educated than the average human being was for most of human history. We all typically get at least a high school education. And we all have to do more to educate ourselves and figure out our religion than most people who can just walk into a church and sit in a pew and it’s all set up for them. So, essentially we all end up doing smaller chunks of clergy work, druid work as individuals. Still, is it appropriate for us to call ourselves druids?

As for Celtic cultures as a whole, both historic and modern, they have all experienced conquest and imperialism by other peoples and suppression and erasure of many of their traditions, customs and languages. The many roles of druids are inseparable from their cultures of origin, and yet that is exactly what has happened, druids have been removed from their Celtic cultural contexts. At the same time, some revival Druidry groups have been intertwined with Welsh, Cornish and Breton nationalism, and revival of music, arts and languages. I admit I was once much more dismissive of revival Druidry, til I interacted more with revival Druids and learned about their history and traditions. I began to appreciate it as its own thing, expressed in particular times and places for particular reasons.

Note: I wrote this post back in 2015 or 2016 or so, & it’s been saved as a draft since. Posted after giving it some edits. I’m still ambivalent about using the word Druid as a personal identifier however as well as how many other people use it. Hence why there will be a part 2, for my more recent thoughts.

 

May 20, 2018 at 5:39 am Leave a comment

Lore, Lit and Canon

July’s Gaelic Roundtable topic is Lore. Before I tackle that, I need to figure out what the heck even to me counts as “lore”.

Folklore is stories, customs, shared among a group of people- rather than attributable to any one person. It is generally shared orally, but especially with the Internet there is now a lot of written and pictorial folklore, such as conspiracy theories and memes. There are several kinds of folklore that I see as relevant. One is folklore that is so old that it is intermixed with literature, the next category. Another is folklore collected into books or recorded. It’s important to considered selection bias on the part of which people were available and willing to be interviewed, what stories, sayings and songs were included by folklorists and archivists, and what has or hasn’t been changed. Sometimes there were social and political motivations for collecting the folklore and that impacts what is included. Some of this folklore is in the home countries themselves, others can be found in various parts of the Irish and Scottish diaspora.

Literature– many of the texts such as the Book of Invasions, the Book of Leinster and so forth, I think are more accurately described as medieval literature rather than folklore or mythology per se. However some of the texts draw on folklore as well as history and it is often hard to tell what is what. Other literature that we might not see as being religious per se, but has cultural importance and influence such as works by W.B. Yeats  can also be part of this category. Since our mythologies are very fragmented, finding inspiration in modern fantasy novels can serve as a sort of midrash.

Canon is the collection of texts considered authoritative by a religion- or a fandom! The primary example of course, being the Bible. Though Gaelic polytheism is not really a text-based religion, there are some texts that are seen by most as more valid than others. Some of us might include more Celtic Christian or Celtic Twilight era texts. And since we (quite rightly!) have no central authority there is no Irish, Scottish, Manx or pan-Gaelic canon. But I think an individual or group could have a personal canon. These distinctions could be useful in our discussions of comparative practices.

July 8, 2017 at 12:24 am 4 comments

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