Dont you have to be Irish/Scottish/Welsh to be a Celtic Reconstructionist?
No. You dont have to be Asian to be a Buddhist, either. Practicing a Celtic religion doesnt mean you have to have Celtic ancestry any more than practicing an Asian religion means you must have Asian ancestry. Celtic is a language/cultural grouping, not one based on blood.
Though many people of Celtic heritage are drawn to CR, being of Celtic descent is not required. We give respect to all of our ancestors and teachers, whether or not they were Celts. Knowing that humanity originated on the African continent, we believe that we are all of one blood and one human family. CR as a whole is strongly anti-racist and welcomes people of all races, ethnicities and colors who wish to follow Celtic Deities in a CR way.
The Deities call whom They will, and its not our business to say which Gods and Goddesses you can follow based on the color of your skin, eyes or hair, or the percentage of your blood, if any, that hails from the Celtic lands. Anyone discriminating based on these things is not practicing CR, despite any claims they may make to the contrary.
However, it is important to remember that CR does not happen in a vacuum. Being CR requires involvement in community and culture both the CR community and the living Celtic cultures, whether in the Celtic nations or in the diaspora.
How can you claim to be a Celtic tradition if youre not immersed in the Culture?
Many of us are deeply involved in modern Celtic cultures. We participate in language study and preservation, Celtic music, and physical disciplines like dance or various Celtic martial arts forms which come from living traditions or are reconstructed from manuals. Some CRs study traditional recipes and other householder traditions like weaving and traditional dyeing. A number of us are or have been involved in some of the political struggles in the Celtic nations. Many of us live in households with other CRs or with family members who may not be strictly CR but do participate in other Celtic cultural activities such as Irish festivals, seisiúns, Highland games and cèilidhs.
As we are not historical re-enactors, no one really lives in Iron Age Celtic culture anymore and (as stated elsewhere) that is not our goal. We are interested in living in a modern Celtic culture, whether in the Celtic lands or in the diaspora, where we participate in the parts of the cultures that never died out and immerse ourselves in our work of reconstructing what was lost or fragmented. Our lives are filled with offerings to the spirits, songs and poetry in Gaelic or Welsh, and an existence which is fully permeated by our contact with the Celtic Deities, our diverse ancestors, and our local nature spirits.
However, as CR grows, there is a certain degree of diversity, and a variety of approaches encompassed under the broader umbrella of CR. There are other members of the CR community who do many of these things from time to time, but do not desire as much immersion. Not everyone in the CR community has the same degree of focus or delighted obsession. There are many CRs who enjoy an urban, multicultural lifestyle, and who just happen to have CR as their religion. And while we encourage as much participation in the living cultures as possible, both sorts of CRs, and those at all points on the spectrum between, are welcome to participate in the CR community.
Do you have a Celtic holy book like the Bible? If theres no central text, how do you know what to believe?
There is no one central text that tells us how to be CR. The early Celtic cultures were oral, and the druids apparently had restrictions on writing down many things that were considered sacred. That said, some aspects of pre-Christian belief did filter through into the monasteries where the earliest Celtic language books were written. Tales were sometimes altered slightly to make them conform better to Christian ideology and cosmology, and recorded that way for future generations.
What we do have are collections of tales that provide much of the basic lore. We also have surviving legal texts, wisdom texts like The Instructions of Cormac, and other sources like scholarly analyses of these materials.
These things are supplemented by archaeological and other studies of the physical remains of pre-Christian Celtic cultures, showing us the shapes of daily lives, temple areas, and the workshops of artisans. Another major source for our spiritual paths comes from folkloric traditions still actively practiced in living, modern Celtic communities.
Because we have no one central authority, we have many ways of approaching the material and our practices; however, its very important to us that what we do is in accord with what we know of historical Celtic practices and beliefs. Only when we do not have firm source material on these things do we consider going to other sources for inspiration and guidance in fleshing out modern CR.
If they didnt write anything down, how do you know what they believed?
That depends on who you mean by they. It is possible that the druids had restrictions on writing down anything that was considered sacred. However, some of the Celtic peoples did leave records of their beliefs and practices, and some of these traditions have survived, in a modified form, up to the present day.
Observers among the Greeks and Romans have left many accounts and commentaries regarding Celtic peoples in ancient Classical literature. However, it is important to bear in mind that these external observers usually had their own agendas, whether political or religious. From these accounts, we know that some Celtic peoples believed in some form of reincarnation or immortality of the soul. We have accounts of them swearing oaths by land, sea and sky. Gaulish ethical precepts are recorded. We know the names of Deities from altar inscriptions, as well as details of some Celtic peoples beliefs about magic from incidental inscriptions on artifacts such as spell tablets, which have been found on both the continent and the islands. The Coligny calendar preserves a Gaulish view of time, holy days, and what constitutes lucky and unlucky days for activities.
With the arrival of Christianity, we see traces of earlier Pagan beliefs in what was forbidden in the Penitential texts. These are full of proscriptions against the worship of trees and various magical and ritual acts that must have been common among pre-Christian Celtic peoples; otherwise there would have been no need to forbid them. Certain aspects of Paganism also infiltrated early Celtic Christianity, and much of the role of the druids was carried on by the filí (poets) in Ireland. We also have law texts from Ireland regarding the roles and status of druids and filí that can be quite revealing if studied carefully.
The legal texts of Ireland also preserve information about Celtic Paganism through their reliance on legal precedent earlier, mythic cases that became the basis of later judicial decisions. The law texts preserve many tales of Pagan times and rely upon Pagan legal decisions as a basis for later judgments. One monastic text preserves a healing spell with appeals to Dian Cécht, the Irish God of healing and Goibhniu, a smith-God. Additionally, Saint Brighid carried many of the attributes of the earlier Goddess Bríde and Her life stories suggest some things that earlier Pagans believed about Her (things which can be confirmed by cross-cultural studies).
Because Celtic cultures were oral, some things were preserved in the storytelling traditions and song. The Carmina Gadelica, compiled in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by Alexander Carmichael, preserves a good deal of lore and magic from Scotland. Though much of the material is Catholic, there are earlier layers of Pagan material beneath that, and the appendices include beliefs about auguries and omens as well as healing and spoken spellcraft.
Folk patterns of pilgrimage to holy sites often include sacred springs, caves, and mountains that were holy before the arrival of Christianity. Well-dressing and the practice of tying strips of cloth on trees as an appeal for healing or luck is very likely a survival of pre-Christian Celtic belief. Although we dont have enough to make a full and rounded system of Pagan belief from the fragments that survived, there is a great deal for us to work from. With the addition of evidence from archaeology and linguistic studies, and the help of comparative studies of religion and mythology as well as cultural anthropology and Indo-European studies, CR works to restore what was lost and bring things forward for new generations.
How do you pick which authors to believe?
There are two approaches. One is to find well-read, experienced and knowledgable people to recommend books to you. In order for this to work, they must be people you trust to make correct judgements between good and bad research. CR folk often debate the validity and accuracy of information presented in books. Usually an eventual consensus judgement emerges about the author or book.
The second approach is a difficult but very personally rewarding learning process of developing that discerning judgement yourself. This involves critical thinking and the ability to discern the difference between fantasy and reality, solid attributed research and wishful thinking. Its useful to go through the bibliography of any book you are looking at. Check out who is writing the books the author references. If most of the books in the bibliography are printed by occult and Pagan presses, chances are youre better off looking at a different source. However, if a book or article is published by an academic press affiliated with a university or other academic institution youre more likely to find useful and accurate information.
A crucial point in evaluating any book is whether the author is writing within their own field of expertise. For instance, someone with an advanced degree in archaeology, but no training in the Celtic languages, might be invaluable in terms of understanding sacred sites, but next to worthless in analyzing the mythology. A Ph.D. level zoologist might be a fine author on zoology, but know absolutely nothing about Celtic studies or comparative mythology. If an author cannot read the original language of the texts they are using as source materials, there are bound to be flaws in their interpretation. Similarly, if an author is trained in Classical and European mythology, but is not an expert on the Insular Celts, their conclusions will be filtered through a different lens and may easily result in a warped view.
We can not believe any authors who write on matters Celtic if what they are presenting is based on nothing more than their own opinion. Checking their references is absolutely necessary if you are uncertain as to the historical accuracy of their work. If you cant find credible sources with some proof of their claims, its best to take the information with a grain of salt or to regard it as personal opinion, not fact. The most accurate sources on Celtic history and religion are going to be archaeologists, Celtic historians, and language experts publishing through academic presses, not occult and New Age authors. The books may be more difficult to wade through, but the rewards for doing so are immense.
Is there a certain era that you focus on reconstructing? Why, and what defines that era?
As were not a historical recreation society, there isnt an era to focus on. The Celtic traditions we look to for our source material and inspiration appear over a span of dozens of centuries. Limiting ourselves to, say, the holdout traditions of the non-Christianized Irish of the 6th century would prevent us from looking to resources ranging from Caesars De Bello Gallico to modern folk rituals at healing wells. We are developing a polytheistic Celtic tradition as it might have looked if left mostly to its own devices over the centuries, not a museum-ready replica of a bygone age.
Do I have to live in the country to be a CR?
Though reverence for nature is a core part of Celtic tradition, and many CRs prefer to live in rural areas, most are currently living in more urban environments. There are aspects of CR that are easier if one is living out in nature its easier to communicate with local nature spirits and form a deep bond with the land if these things are right outside ones front door. Some CRs feel raising their own food, for instance, is an integral part of their spirituality. But urban CRs are more likely to have access to libraries, language classes, and Celtic cultural events. They are also more likely to have a number of other CRs with whom to work and socialize. Urban CRs do still make connection with nature a part of their practice by familiarizing themselves with their local parks, arboretums and nature preserves, respecting the wildlife and flora that share their urban environment, cultivating a bond with the citys land and its natural features, and making regular pilgrimages to more wild settings when possible.
Ideally, in a region with both urban and rural CRs, community members help each other out with rural CRs providing the land for ritual retreats out in nature, and urban CRs hosting guests for cultural events in the city. In this way, the diversity of the community results in a fuller experience for all members.
Do you work in groups or are you solitary?
Both. At the moment, there are very few groups that are larger than a hearth or household, but thats because there arent a lot of CRs out there. Larger groups tend to get together for the major festivals, for feasting and making offerings to the Deities, ancestors and land spirits. These large, celebratory groups may also include visitors who arent CR at all. Many of us practice by ourselves out of necessity, at least most of the time. But with increased visibility and networking on the Internet, more groups are developing as people meet in local areas, and as they discover others who are dedicated to the same Deities or are working on the same paths.
What do you call your groups?
As with so many other things on the CR path, this depends greatly on the group and its goals, as well as its cultural focus.
A family-based group might call themselves a Household or Hearth (or an equivalent in a Celtic language, such as líon tí), and may also include friends as part of their extended family. A group devoted to study and scholarship might refer to itself as a Hedge School or Druidic College. Those who meet mostly for purposes of worship might refer to their group as a Grove, Nemeton, Nemed (temple, sanctuary, modern Irish Naomheadh) or Fidnemed (woodland sanctuary, modern Irish Fiodh-naomheadh). Groups focused on their dedication to a particular Deity or cultural path may identify as Brighid orders or Fianna-inspired warbands. Other groups may be loose, non-hierarchical collectives, who may identify as outsiders or feel no need for a permanent, public name.
Some larger groups might consider calling themselves a clann (extended family) or a túath (tribe or nation, and the land the tribe/nation inhabits). However, more traditional CRs see this as inappropriate; any modern, polytheistic groups currently using these terms have radically redefined them. Historically, and in the living cultures, these terms imply huge groups: either those who share a common, distant ancestor (such as the Highland Clann organizations), or a large, land-based community of thousands of people. Even a household in ancient Irish terms was very sizeable reckoned at about thirty people per dwelling. A tríca cét was roughly three thousand people, and a túath consisted of several allied tríca céta. Therefore, a túath only really applies to groups larger than six thousand people. In a modern sense, a clann would more accurately describe a huge, extended family of origin, such as ones birth family and relatives, all the way out to the very distant cousins (again, as seen in the Highland Clanns). Túath would more aptly describe a town or small city.
Currently, there are no large, organized CR groups of that size, and though many of us include members of our families of origin in our celebrations, rituals and cultural events, there are no modern, Celtic Polytheistic groups who fit the historical definition of a clann or túath.
The names of groups and any officiants in them will also be influenced by the cultures and languages that inspire them. Names of groups based on Welsh or Gaulish traditions will be different than those based in the Gaelic traditions of Ireland or Scotland. Though there is a respect for historical as well as contemporary context in our naming conventions, there are no hard and fast rules.
Do CRs have a distinction between clergy and laypeople?
Yes and no. In terms of household worship, we do not need external or intermediary clergy each CR acts as their own conduit to spirituality, making offerings at our altars or outdoor shrines and connecting with the Deities, ancestors and nature spirits as we can. Sometimes the head of a household, or the member of the household with the most aptitude towards the work, will lead these sorts of rituals for their friends and family. In cases where a number of group members are experienced and skilled, these groups might work more collectively, sharing the leadership among all group members who are able to fulfill a role.
Within the larger community there are those who write and perform rituals for large groups at festivals or for holy days. Some among us are better at divination or healing, while others tend to things like weddings and child blessings. Others are good at teaching the basics of CR to others, while still other folk specialize in the philosophies and theologies of CR. Those folk who enage in the research and philosophy, in public ritual and healing, or in divinatory service to the community could be considered clergy, while those who prefer to act only within their own households tend to fall more into the laity category. At this point in CRs growth, there is no hard and fast distinction and most of us act as clergy at one point or another, if for no other reason than necessity.
Are CRs autonomous or is there some sort of governing body?
There is a good deal of autonomy in CR, and we do not have any official governing body. However, those who have been working together for the past fifteen to twenty-plus years to develop the CR tradition and community do tend to stay in touch with each other and keep an eye on how the tradition is developing. We have a lot of communication between groups and individuals, both old and new, in keeping with the Celtic values of respect and hospitality. We share with each other online and in person, and work through our UPG together to come up with patterns that fit across the spectrum. While no one speaks for CR as a whole, we do very much rely on the opinions of other CRs when discussing the traditions publicly. That said, CR organizations may have their own governing bodies that deal with individuals within those organizations.
How do you determine who your spiritual elders are when you dont always have an ordered hierarchy?
We look at what the individuals in question are doing for the community, what theyre producing, and the results their works bring to the community.
Do they comport themselves with honor? Are they honest, ethical people? What do their students and/or their teachers say about them? What do others who have met them in person or interacted with them for a long time online have to say about them? What kinds of things are they teaching, and how closely does it seem to follow historical Celtic spiritual precedent? Do they bring valuable insight to discussions, set an example to emulate by their admirable behaviour, and produce scholarly, respected, and inspired work? Do they help to productively foster a feeling of community and the spiritual development of the individuals within it? Do their inspirations seem to work for a variety of people across the CR spectrum?
In traditional, land-based communities, no one was (or is) able to operate with the current anonymity provided by the Internet or the occasional festival gathering of strangers. You would know who someones grandparents, parents and older siblings were. You would know the values held, and patterns of behaviour exhibited by, their family. They could not escape their own reputation.
In our modern world, we have to find ways to make up for this lack of long acquaintance. In CR, we cannot judge anyone by any titles they take for themselves. Rather, we learn about people by watching what they do. We must be patient and see how someone behaves in community over the long haul. Part of being an elder is actual physical age, as well as the wisdom and experience gained by many years of participation in the tradition. Titles are not easily granted, nor can they be bought or self-proclaimed. They are earned. They result from community recognition, not individual self-aggrandizement or ego. Folks we consider elders are those who have had a positive impact on our practice and who have advanced CR as a whole through their teaching and their work.
Are there any CR organizations? Websites? Books?
There are a number of CR organizations, but none speak for the whole of the CR movement. There are also a number of websites where one may find CR writing and resources. Some of these represent organizations and online communities, but most are by individual CRs or household-size groups.
As of August, 2007, the only introductory book to CR is the book version of this FAQ, available any moment now from this website. The only other book that most CRs agree is about CR practices is E. Lauries Circle of Stones. This will change over the next few years, as a number of CR books are now being written. Right now, we have the same materials all CRs have relied upon to date: the old tales and manuscripts, the books of folkloric practices, and the collective wisdom of the community.
Online communities and discussion groups vary in quality and openness depending on the members of those lists and communities. When joining these communities, be prepared to offer sources to support your comments when asked, and remember that a question is not a challenge to you as a person, but merely a request for information.
Below are some CR email lists, communities, and discussion groups:
What do CRs eat?
The official cuisine of CR is Indian Food. No one knows why.
In all seriousness, while there are no pan-CR food taboos, there are many individuals who use food choices and behaviours to deepen their spiritual connection to CR. There is a strong tradition of feasting as both celebration and offering of hospitality, and traditions which demand that a guest must be offered food, drink, and the chance to wash upon arrival. Many CRs extend this to a modern context, and will offer such hospitality to their guests.
Specific foods may be deliberately eaten or avoided to evoke spiritual effect. Some CRs will choose to consume salmon and/or hazelnuts as an effort to take wisdom into themselves, beef as a way to appreciate wealth and bounty, or pork to evoke feasting, plenty, and a possible connection with the Otherworld. Many will deliberately seek out locally-grown and produced food and consume it mindfully to commune with their local land spirits. Some Celtic Deities have specific food associations, such as Brighids well-known association with milk and dairy products. This known association may be drawn upon in ritual, sharing a cup of milk or offering one. In the Irish materials, Manannán mac Lír and Goibhniu were involved in presenting the Feast of Age that gave immortality to the Túatha Dé Danann. The rite involved the sacrifice of a boar that returned to life the next day, and consuming ale brewed by Goibhniu. Some CRs hold feasts in commemoration of this involving pork and ale or mead.
In addition, individuals may have personal behavioural requirements called geasa, the breaching of which was a serious error often leading to ones downfall. Many of these relate to food. The ancient Irish hero Fergus was never allowed to refuse to attend a feast in his honor, and Cu Chulainn was prohibited from eating the meat of dogs while at the same time unable to refuse food offered by a woman. Some CRs believe that they have similar geasa, and will avoid foods that are personally proscribed.
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