What is the Celtic lore, and where can I find it?
When we refer to the Celtic lore, we mean the collections of ancient manuscripts, the folklore gathered from the Celtic lands, and the many traditional tales, poems and songs.
There are differences in the level of accuracy and authenticity of the materials available. To get technical for a moment, material is generally characterized as one of the following: primary, secondary, and tertiary.
Primary source materials are the actual documents in the original language, usually found in museums, specialized libraries, and curated collections. These documents are often referred to as manuscripts, or MSS for short. Also considered primary material is folklore that was recorded exactly from the living sources, during the time these practices were still part of the living tradition, without being filtered through the interpretation of the interviewer.
Human error and human bias is always a factor to bear in mind, even with primary sources. Part of utilizing any source is to understand the context in which the information was recorded, and to take into account any possible biases on the part of the recorder, whether that recorder was a Christian monk or someones great-grandmother. One of the ways we strive for accuracy is to compare all the different records of lore and practices, and through these comparisons a fuller, more accurate picture usually emerges.
Secondary material is the primary material in translation, along with what is written by those examining these documents, doing research and drawing conclusions. To do this sort of work takes some skill and training in the proper methodologies. Skilled amateurs may be able to do this sort of work, but because of the lack of peer review, their conclusions may not be valid.
CRs generally consider tertiary research unreliable. Tertiary research does not look at primary sources at all. It only looks at secondary sources of varying quality and draws conclusions from that material. The further away from the source documents and evidence you get, the less certain you can be of the conclusions.
There are also various compiled manuscript bodies called editions, in which a scholar has compared several manuscripts claiming to tell the same story, closely examined all the evidence, and selected what they believe to be the single most coherent and likely version of the original. Due to the editorial nature of the process, there is some uncertainty and potential bias introduced when this occurs, and there will be differences between manuscript editions produced by different scholars. This process is usually only attempted by accomplished and erudite scholars after many years of study, due to the high level of background knowledge that good compilation requires. Many CRs will study different editions of ancient manuscript texts in an effort to gain a fuller and deeper understanding of the source material.
Do you have to speak a Celtic language (Gaelic/Welsh/etc.) to be CR? How important is language? Are you all fluent in a Celtic language?
Its not necessary to speak a Celtic language fluently to be CR. We do encourage people to understand particular words in the Celtic languages that are, so to speak, the technical vocabulary of CR, and to immerse themselves as much as they are able in the language of the culture on which they are focused. The Welsh have said no country without a language, and we tend to agree with this philosophy. Unless we understand something of how different languages work, we cant understand the worldviews of the people who speak them, and Celtic languages present a different worldview than English or German or Russian.
For some of us, learning and speaking a language is a more personal and profound project. It can be important to offer at least a few words in prayer in a Celtic language, particularly if one of your Deities has requested this of you. Some of us even began our study of a Celtic language after dreams or visions in which we believe a Deity asked us to speak to Them in the language, or spoke to us in that language, and we set out on a quest to see what They were asking of us. A number of us learn songs and poetry in Celtic languages as a way to help preserve the cultures were working within or just because its fun and exciting in much the same way that we might study Irish dance or Scottish piping.
It is also useful to note that even though the Deities may understand English perfectly well, it is the language of those who oppressed many of Their people. It may not always be the best idea to address ones Deities in the language that accompanied cultural genocide.
Its also important to realize that some concepts cant be easily or completely translated from a Celtic language into English, and so for a proper grasp of the idea, learning to think in the language becomes important. If youre just starting in CR, nobody is going to make you learn an entire ritual liturgy in a foreign language. Though many of us have fluency as a goal, most of us arent actually fluent, even if weve been studying Celtic languages for years.
Whats the difference between a warrior path and a poets path? Are there other options within CR?
People come to CR for many reasons. Some feel a pull toward the more mystical side, while others feel called to public service of Deity and community. Some people feel called to follow warrior Deities, while others are interested in the Deities of the arts and crafts. Those who are dedicated to Deities of making might study metalsmithing and jewelry, weaving, or woodworking.
There is a place for each type of person and for those who are interested in more than one of these paths. Historically, some people were both warriors and poets, or druids and artists. Sometimes mastery of one path included study of another, such as the requirement for members of Finns warrior fianna to be able to memorize, compose, and present poems. The arts of the warrior required physical discipline like that of Asian martial artists, and could take a lifetime to master, just as the arts of the druid do. What all of us have in common is a dedication to Celtic cultures and Deities, with a love of Celtic music, arts, and languages. Any well-rounded living culture will have a place for many diverse kinds of people and their different talents and abilities, and it is this diversity that CR fosters.
People may study warrior arts for self-defense, for self-discipline, or to understand themselves more deeply. Some of those who embrace the warrior path bring this into their lives through working in law enforcement, fire fighting and rescue, emergency medical services, search and rescue, or military service. Those called to a poetic path might be more interested in ecstatic states and traversing the mysteries of the mists between the worlds to bring back knowlege for the community. People on the druids path create ritual and study history and the tales to be able to share them with others, providing continuity within the CR community. Those who are more involved with their own home and hearth participate through keeping personal altars and honoring the ancestors and the land spirits of the place where they live and by hosting feasts in their homes on holy days. And while specialization and focus can be very important, especially in a time when we are working to flesh out a number of these traditions, many will find themselves drawn to creating a unique path that combines aspects of a number of these approaches.
Ive read about Cú Chulainns training with Scáthach. What is this Salmon Leap or the sword feat? Is there a Celtic Martial Art form?
As far as we know, there was never a single, unitary Celtic martial art form (not least because there was no single, unitary Celtic culture), but there were a number of techniques used in training for martial activity.
A variety of martial sports still exist in the Celtic lands which are fairly certainly derived from combative techniques developed in early Celtic societies. These include some forms of fixed-hold wrestling, such as the Irish Collar-and-Elbow wrestling, Scottish Backhold, Breton Gouren, and Cornish Wrestling. The Catch as Catch Can style of wrestling, which eventually branched into the pure entertainment of Professional Wrestling, as well as the combative submission fighting of Catch Wrestling, derives from northern Welsh and Lancashire wrestling. Even the minor sport of Shin Kicking (also known as Purring) develops from fixed-hold wrestling of the sort called Out-Play (as opposed to In-Play). There are a number of fixed-hold wrestling styles from around the world, so the simple presence of a fixed-hold wrestling style does not necessarily indicate Celtic antecedents. The history must be examined carefully.
Boxing owes much (though not, by any means, all) of its history to fistfighting techniques in the Celtic lands, notably Ireland. Many of the earliest professional boxers were from Ireland, both in Europe and later in America.
Additionally, there are a few weapon styles which have survived, at least in instruction manuals. Methods of fencing with the broadsword or the shillelagh (bata or stick), as well as other weapons, exist both in direct transmission and in detailed description in books.
The Salmon Leap is one of the cleasa (Feats or Tricks) said to have been known by Cú Chulainn prior to arriving on the Isle of Skye, where he traveled to pursue training with Scáthach (a renowned teacher of martial arts, said to have a school on Skye). He makes use of the leap in his audition, as it were, to her for instruction. It is also one of the most commonly reported Feats of the Irish heroes, though there were other impressive cleasa as well. Classical commentators, in discussing their battles against the Gauls, noted that the Celtic peoples would leap over the shields of their opponents. The Salmon Leap, it seems, was simply learning high jumping techniques and practicing them until the warrior could jump up in the air higher than most.
The Sword Feat (Faobhar Chleas) is described in some detail in the story Mesca Ulad (The Intoxication of the Ulstermen). It consisted of a dance engaged in prior to combat, involving juggling the sword and other impressive moves. Its likely that a number of other feats listed as known by Cú Chulainn were similar in nature (such as the Body Feat, which may have been a dance which demonstrated unarmed combat techniques).
Celtic warriors did not, apparently, stop at simply learning how to hit someone with a weapon. They also engaged in practices which today we might call cross-training, and in methods which were more clearly magical in nature.
For a much more detailed article on this subject see: Celtic Martial Arts by C. Lee Vermeers.
Can women be warriors too?
The existence of women warriors in Celtic cultures is highly debated. Although many CRs and scholars believe there is evidence, we must note that the evidence is circumstantial and arguable at this time. Until a clearly identified Celtic womans body is discovered buried with weapons, this is the best we have to work with. Whether or not there were professional women warriors among the Celtic ancestors, there is definitely a place for women warriors in CR, as we are not recreatingthe past.
As the ancient Celts were a warrior culture, our modern ideas of who is and isnt a warrior may not be applicable to the way the Celtic ancestors lived. Women were, and are, expected to be willing and able to fight, especially at times of extreme crisis. This is something we know from historical times. For example, although it would not have been considered appropriate for Scottish women of the late 18th century to become soldiers, when the need arose during the Highland Clearances many women did take up the battle physically. Women were also known to join in the Irish Faction Fights, which could be anything from mild skirmishes to full-out, bloody battles. While it is unclear to what extent professional women warriors were common at any time in Celtic history, it is clear that Celtic women were prepared to fight whether in defense of themselves, their people or their territory.
There are instances of early Celtic women who fought and led armies in battle, as attested by the Romans. The most famous of these is Boudicca, queen of the British Iceni who led a multi-tribal rebellion against the Romans after her husbands death, the rape of her daughters and her own flogging in the first century C.E. This was recorded by the Roman historians Dio Cassius and Tacitus. It is often noted that there is no evidence that she had actual training in arms or that women were amongst her warriors, however, it should be noted that if the mind set of a warrior people does not include women as capable warriors the men are not likely to follow one into battle. Ammianus and Diodorus Siculus both described Gaulish women as being as large as the men and indicated that they were better fighters than their men. Tacitus as well as Caesar remarked on women at least being present to cheer the warriors on, and who were often killed or wounded in battle, although they do not mention women actually fighting; Plutarch, on the other hand, noted Gaulish women staying behind the battle lines to kill their own men if they retreated.
Based on new evidence, some of us are considering that we may now have to rethink our belief that the Romans would have noted women warriors in the battle field. Perhaps the women who are often seen as just cheerleaders were remarkable in that, despite their presence on the field of battle, they were not fighting. Its possible the Romans simply did not note the women who might have fought. In 2004, the discovery of graves at a Roman fort in Cumbria included several women burned and buried with horses and weapons, indicating that the Romans themselves had female mercenaries (Sarmatians?) among their troops. There is no written record of these women so, if we now have this hard evidence and they didnt bother mentioning it, would they mention women fighting among their enemies as being odd? However, we do not yet have any reports of Celtic women warriors graves.
The mythology contains a number of references to Goddesses of war and slaughter. In some of these tales the Goddesses, or what may have been priestesses of these Goddesses, are seen on the battlefield spurring the warriors on, or depicted in animal form joining the battle. Actual accounts of Goddesses and women who took up arms and ruled by right of conquest are less common, but they do exist even if some are debated. For instance, in the Cath Maige Tuired when the Morrígan exclaims that She will kill as Her contribution to the battle, many choose to interprete this as by magic even though its never stated if She will act by arms or magic. More clear is the story of Macha the Red, who ruled by right of conquest, having defeated a series of other claimants to the throne (all men) in battle. Medb and Carman led armies into battle, much as Queen Boudicca did historically. The woman warrior Scáthach trained Cú Chulainn, and he was challenged to a fight by the neighboring warrior woman Aoife, whom he defeated only by cheating. Fionn Mac Cumhail was also fostered by a woman or women who taught him to fight. It is among the Outsiders, the Fianna, that we see many accounts of women warriors, including Ness who led a Fianna band for a period of time and Creidne, who, after her father raped her and she bore three sons, went Outlaw until she won inheritance right for her sons. As often is the case, even if women warriors are not welcome in mainstream culture, women drawn to the path find roles Outside of it.
This attitude has survived to some extent into modern times, in that many women who are descended from these fierce ancestors were raised with the attitude that, when called for, we must be willing and able to fight. In this spirit, CR women often study martial arts and some work in professions that could be considered modern expressions of the warrior path. See also: Whats the difference between a warrior path and a poets path?
What is this UPG thing I keep hearing about?
UPG = Unsubstantiated Personal Gnosis. This is a label used to identify information gained through meditation, intense flashes of intuition, visions, and other spiritual experiences. Often this information may not be verifiable through primary or academic sources but seems to be usable in personal ways. CRs consider it highly important to label UPG which cannot be substantiated by lore or research as such, as this helps prevent misunderstandings about verifiable sources and preserves intellectual honesty. UPG and its variants are used specifically to indicate beliefs arrived at via mystical means, not ideas or intellectual conclusions reached from academic research.
Variant phrasings of UPG are Unverified or Undocumented Personal Gnosis.
Though it is unclear exactly who first coined the term UPG, consensus holds that the term and its variants originated in the Ásatrú communities some time in the 1990s. These terms have been gratefully adopted by many Reconstructionist traditions and further refined and applied in our communities.
SPG (Shared Personal Gnosis) indicating a mystical vision and belief shared by a number of people; preferably, one arrived at independently of one another and arising from people who are otherwise unconnected. For instance, a vision experienced collectively by the members of a small household may have more validity to it than a vision by a sole individual but, due to the possibility of group hallucination, it is debatable whether this small-group gnosis truly qualifies as SPG. A vision experienced by geographically separated people who have never met one another is more in tune with what we consider SPG.
CG (Confirmed Gnosis) indicating that substantiating evidence for an incidence of UPG or SPG has later been found in the lore. This is also sometimes referred to as CPG (Confirmed Personal Gnosis). These instances are highly valued, and have served to bolster individual and community faith in the Deities, spirits or ancestors from whom the information was received. Instances of CG are also very important in that over time they help us learn to distinguish true imbas from imagination. (Imbas is the Old Irish word for inspiration. In Modern Irish it is spelled iomas. )
UPG is never an end in and of itself; rather, it is the beginning of a journey, the beginning of the process of testing the information through both spiritual practice and academic research. UPG is only useful when the community also values humility and fact-checking, and acknowledges that even the most experienced mystic can at times become deluded or make mistakes. At some point or another we have all had to discard some cool dream or vision if it simply does not line up with the lore, or if it threatened to take us in a direction that was counter to our values. Similarly, though we have some people who have shown skill in mediating for the Deities and spirits, and for bringing back information from the otherworlds, we have no desire to take the dangerous step of setting up anyone as an infallible guru or voice of the Divine.
When considering whether someones UPG or SPG may be worthy of inclusion in your spiritual practice, these Laws of UPG may serve as a useful guide:
How much UPG is acceptable in CR? How do you know?
CR, like all traditions with a mystical, ecstatic side, needs to have checks and balances in order to remain healthy. Those who work with trance states, journeying, and other forms of interacting with Deities and spirits, need to have a solid support system that they can turn to for feedback, grounded discussion of similar or shared experiences, and reality checks against the known Celtic lore and cultural knowledge.
While CRs living all over the world have sometimes experienced unpredictable things, such as local spirits appearing in a Celtic guise, or spirits who claim to be Celtic Deities appearing in unusual forms or with unusual messages, every mystic worth their salt knows that these things have to be tested against the lore and the perceptions of other mystics before they take them as anything more than imagination. It is not uncommon for our minds to create projections of our expectations. If you find yourself dealing with an entity thats offering you the wisdom of the universe, chances are very good that its your mind youve met, and not a spirit or Deity.
Its very important to consult with other mystics, visionaries, seers, and lore-keepers about the information that you receive in your trance and ecstatic work. This is also why our reading in the traditional lore and texts is so important it allows us to compare new information against a known cultural matrix to see if it fits. It also helps to bear in mind that just because the Ancestors are dead doesnt mean that theyre any wiser than they were in life. Always test answers and information you gain from spiritual work against common sense and the known facts. Its well known that some of the Deities are tricksters as well, and while we may respect Them, we cannot always trust Them completely. It is vital to examine everything you learn before using it in ritual or bringing it to the community as anything other than your own UPG.
Remember also that the agendas of the spirits and the Deities are not necessarily our own. If they ask you for something you cannot reasonably provide, tell them so and explain why. Be extremely cautious if you receive messages of any sort that suggest you harm yourself or others. Not everyone in the Otherworlds has your best interests at heart.
When approached cautiously, with a firm support network and a good grounding in tradition and lore, UPG can be a very useful part of CR practice. Some UPG eventually becomes accepted within CR as a whole as valid and valuable group practice as well as being useful to the individual receiving the insight. Remember that all of us have to throw out lovely ideas from time to time because theres contradictory evidence in the lore and traditions or because facts stand against it. In those cases, such insights may be useful in personal practice, but dont have a place in CR as a whole.
In regards to relating to a deity, how much should one be in concordance with the myths? With history?
How do you decide what aspects of Celtic culture to keep and what to discard?
Since the basic purpose of CR is to reconstruct what Celtic Pagan religions could have become in the modern age, we must, with great respect for the ancient and living traditions, adapt ancient spiritual practices to fit within modern societys legal and ethical structures. In other words, its more dishonorable to break socially just laws of the country we live in than it would be for us to set aside those practices which are now illegal, ethically inappropriate, or impractical to the point of impossibility in a modern context. Carrying home the severed heads of worthy enemies is a poor idea for modern CR practice.
Iron Age tribal social structures are an impracticality that we have laid aside. CR has no High Kings, no Tribal Chieftains. There are not enough of us to qualify as actual CR nations or túatha (a túath was actually thousands of people the size of a town or small city), and those are political titles that are inappropriate for a spiritual-social community living within the laws of the sovereign nations where we reside. It is also offensive to the living Celtic cultures to attempt to radically redefine what these terms and titles already mean, and as we are involved in the living Celtic cultures, it would not even occur to us to do something so offensive. While we may strive toward the better ideals of tribalism, community and collectivism, we do not believe it is our place to claim a region of the country as our territory and attempt (or pretend) to rule over it in any way. It is our desire instead to interact with the spirits of the land, the ancestors and the Deities in a respectful way, and to coexist peacefully and constructively with our human neighbors, no matter their background or religion.
We encourage people to contemplate what is good and useful about early Celtic cultures. We all attempt to cultivate a personal and communal sense of Celtic virtues such as Truth, Honor, Justice, Loyalty, Courage, Community, Hospitality, Strength, and Gentleness and to implement these values in our modern lives in ways that work for us. For some, this leads to community service in either a personal or a professional capacity. Others find in it a call to political activism for peace and justice. Some of us simply find it a way to help us live our lives as better, more compassionate individuals.
Do you borrow from other cultures to fill in the gaps?
Borrow? No. Steal? One certainly hopes not. Use broad as well as deep study, especially of closely-related cultures, to help form a working hypothesis of how the Celtic ancestors may have done something? Yes, sometimes.
When we speak of studying other related cultures for ideas on how to elaborate on some of the Celtic religious practices for which we have scant information, we are not advocating simply importing rituals, practices or beliefs from other traditions. Often, we are only going as far afield as looking at Welsh or Gaulish lore for hints to the missing pieces in the Gaelic. Others may look at the common elements found in a number of other Indo-European cultures for signposts for what we may be missing, especially to the Norse, which has historically interacted rather extensively with Celtic cultures in both the Islands and on the Continent.
However, many CRs are fine on keeping the tradition simple, sticking with the practices we have, and not attempting to elaborate anything.
CR was developed to provide an alternative to those Celtic religions that were really just putting knotwork on ways foreign to the Celtic cultures (namely Wicca, generic Neopaganism and core shamanism) and that were pillaging Celtic cultures for a few exotic bits to spice up an otherwise eclectic practice. Therefore, a key element of CR is the deliberate avoidance of mixing our practice with other cultural practices. If we must fill in the gaps, we would be more likely to use ideas from other Celtic cultures, or at least other Indo-European cultures, to help us develop something Celtic to fill the gap. It is crucial to understand that instead of just forcing foreign practices into a Celtic framework, we use them as hints okay, this was done in an ancient Norse ceremony, and it bears a strong resemblance to this ceremony found in a Vedic text, and heres a reference in this Irish text... oh, wait, maybe a similar thing was done among the Celts but it would have been more like this instead.
In doing reconstruction work, it is vitally important to first have a thorough grounding in the particular Celtic culture whose practices we are reconstructing. Without that, it is too easy for people to try to bring in things that are not only disharmonious with Celtic culture, but even for them to unknowingly try to unnecessarily replace things for which we already have working, Celtic examples. This is another area in which Celtic Reconstruction requires patience and years of study. Thankfully, as the movement matures, the years of study are being somewhat distilled so new folks dont have to continually re-invent the wheel, as it were. But they must also understand that even those of us whove been doing this for many years are still making sure all of our wheels work.
When sufficient hints cannot be found in closely-related cultures, some feel that it is appropriate to look further afield to other tribal and animistic cultures, such as the Afro-Diasporic traditions, in order to flesh out the tradition. However, this is an area of some controversy in CR. Different individuals and CR sub-traditions sometimes have divergent opinions on how appropriate this is; but even among those who look to wide-ranging sources there is still agreement that this is only for hints to how to do something in a Celtic way. It is a quest for adaptable technologies and not for replacement beliefs. One example of this would be the exchange student approach some have undertaken to learn how to safely manage ecstatic trance techniques. This began separately among several unrelated members of the CR community because these things were already happening sometimes in Celtic ceremonies. Our Deities seemed to be demanding that at least some of us perform this trance function, so this necessitated looking to experienced elders of living traditions for advice on how to safely ride out these experiences. Rather than deny the Celtic Deities, we wanted to find a way to safely deepen our connection and communication with Them not only for ourselves, but also in service to the larger community. But among those who have been deeply affected by cross-cultural studies, and who are on speaking terms with Deities of other cultures, there is still the shared principle that as we develop our various CR traditions, non-Celtic practices should not be imported whole cloth. We want a vibrant and deep Celtic tradition, not an eclectic one.
Does CR include syncretisms?
In considering this question, it is crucial to recognize the difference between ancient syncretisms and recent ones, as well as the differences between syncretism and eclecticism.
Ancient syncretisms, which reflect longstanding parts of the living Celtic cultures and their historical interactions with other cultures, may be acceptable within a CR practice. However, syncretisms which are recent impositions of foreign ideas are not seen as CR.
While recent syncretisms are not accepted as part of CR, some CRs feel that historical syncretisms, which occured as ancient polytheistic cultures interacted over a long period of time, have become a legitimate part of the living traditions. A common example of this is the presence of some Nordic customs and deities found among the Scottish traditions, and the many other examples of the ways these cultures historically intermingled and influenced one another. These sorts of ancient, polytheistic syncretisms that grew out of lengthy cultural interaction are seen as different from the syncretisms of oppression which were instituted with the aim of co-opting and eventually eclipsing the native religions.
Eclecticism involves the combination of diverse beliefs and practices from a variety of unrelated cultures. The only authority generally recognized by eclectics is their own sense of what feels right. Syncretism is somewhat different. Syncretism involves a main culture that one is rooted in, but which also incorporates some elements from an outside culture that seem to be harmonious with the syncretists main cultural focus.
Eclecticism is absolutely not part of CR. Recent syncretisms are not accepted as CR.
The only syncretisms that most CR elders seem to agree are acceptable are those which have become a longstanding part of the living Celtic cultures, due to long-term cross-pollination. This includes the cross-pollination with Norse culture, some aspects of Celtic Christianity, and the overlap between related Celtic cultures such as the Gaelic and Gaulish.
There are some CRs who are doing cross-cultural studies, or who have backgrounds in a variety of cultural approaches to religion. However, CRs agree that such studies are meant to help form a better understanding of Celtic cultures in context, rather than to confuse or dilute the Celtic cultural focus of CR.
Can I be CR and still worship non-Celtic deities?
Yes, but with caveats.
Worshipping non-Celtic Deities is regarded as outside the purview of CR, and should in no way be considered a part of CR practice. While it is acceptable for people involved in the CR community to have non-CR practices in their personal lives, it should be kept firmly in mind that they are just that non-CR practices. The cultures and rites of non-Celtic Deities should be respected, just as we expect Celtic cultures and Deities to be respected, and these rites should be kept separate from your CR practice. If you worship Deities of other cultures, separate altars should be maintained for Them, and offerings and other rites should be undertaken in the ways of that Deitys culture.
If you feel a particular pull to Kali, for example, it is highly recommended that you worship Her through a local Hindu temple, or at least in traditional Hindu ways, rather than attempting to bring Kali into your CR practice. She is not a Celtic Goddess and would probably resent being treated as such. She already has Her own formulated and traditional rites and practices, Her own preferred offerings, and Her own holy days. To ignore those things in an attempt to fit Her into a CR practice would be doing violence to both CR and Hinduism.
The only times when it might be acceptable to worship non-Celtic Deities in a CR format would be in the cases where long-standing, historical interactions betwen related cultures created a hybrid cultural environment that traditionally included these Deities. For instance, in the cases of some Highland Scotland and coastal Irish communities that adopted some of the Norse Deities and customs. If the cultures had enough similarity, and it is clearly evident that these two cultures did meet and mingle and create an historical tradition, it is often considered acceptable to continue to include these long-standing syncretisms as part of that tradition.
See also: Does CR include syncretisms?
What is this Ogham stuff you keep mentioning?
Ogham (or in Old Irish, ogam), pronounced Ohm, is the earliest form of a written Gaelic language an alphabet and cipher originally devised under Latin influence. There are twenty ogham feánna (letters/glyphs), which are organized into four sets of five. Each set is an aicme. The first three aicme are made up of consonants and the fourth is made up of vowels. There is also a fifth aicme called the forfeda (extra letters) that are rarely, if ever, seen outside of manuscripts. The forfeda are definitely of later origin than the original character set. Whether they were the creation of the monks who wrote them down as an attempt to bring it in line with Latin or an independent development of a living system is a matter of some debate. Some CRs working with ogham as a divination system incorporate the forfeda, others do not.
Most ogham inscriptions which have survived are on large boundary stones, and simply give a name in the genitive case, often with a patronymic or matronymic or the name of an individuals grandfather. Ogham inscriptions are much like a Continental Celtic language in their morphology, and the Irish language changed more between the Ogham period to the Old Irish period (with about three centuries or so of crossover) than it has ever since.
In Old Irish narrative texts, ogham is often described as having been written on sticks of wood or wooden objects (like shields), but no such artifacts have survived. A few bone artifacts with individual letters, either dice or bones with possibly magical inscriptions, do survive. Use of ogham for divinatory purposes seems likely, given the attestation in the Second Vision of Adomnan that one of many diabolic arts that the Irish practiced was fidlanna, divination by wood.
Many CRs use ogham for divination, sometimes through casting or drawing a fiodh (lit. stick, usually used to indicate an ogham letter/glyph inscribed on a piece of wood), much like the Norse use runes, and through studying the symbol systems as a way of interpreting omens in the world around us. CRs who use ogham for divination and meditation study the old texts and work with our inspiration and the feedback of other CRs to learn and further develop the system. This results in each letter becoming a point in an entire matrix of symbolic and conceptual associations. Many CRs look to the Book of Ballymote and its section on ogham alphabets and ciphers for historical associations and symbolism. However, particular approaches to the inclusion of ogham in a modern setting vary, with some CRs focusing on the tree associations for each letter and their ties to natural forces, others on the linguistic analysis of letter-name meanings or the word-association kennings and their poetic connection, and still others to the bird ogham, fortress ogham, color ogham, cipher ogham, or other historically attested ways of interpreting the feánna.
For one method of working with the crann ogham (tree ogham) from a CR perspective, see: Treehuggers: A Methodology for Crann Ogham Work by Raven nic Rhóisín and Kathryn Price NicDhàna.
Is it Samhain, Samhuinn or Samain? Why all these different spellings?
This can be a bit confusing to the learner, as we are sometimes discussing Old Irish sources, other times Scottish ones, other times other Celtic languages entirely. Just as modern English is different from the English spoken in Shakespeares time, so have the Celtic languages evolved over time.
Therefore, spellings and pronunciations will vary depending on the specific Celtic language (Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Gaulish, etc), and the time period during which the material was recorded. As Celtic Reconstructionism has become an umbrella term, which encompasses many individuals and groups, of a variety of Celtic cultures and approaches, we see no need to force any standardization of these words. Usually, one will use the spellings/pronunciations that make most sense in context of a particular discussion, or those of the language which they know the best. For example, when explaining our tradition to someone from the broader, Neopagan community, we may use the most commonly understood name for a festival or Deity. But when referring to an ancient manuscript, we are more likely to stay true to the spellings used in that manuscript.
For the sake of introducing a bit of consistency to this FAQ, we have tended to standardize terms to Modern Irish. CR is a modern community, so some CRs feel strongly that we should use contemporary terminology, except in cases where no modern word exists for the concept we are trying to name. Also, Modern Irish is probably the most widespread of the Celtic languages, and therefore easier to find classes in than some of the others. This is in no way intended as a slight to those on Scottish, Welsh, Gaulish or other paths, but merely a way of making this document more understandable to those who speak none of the Celtic languages.
Here are some examples of different spellings used for the same terms and concepts. When more than one variation per language is given, the variations are listed from the oldest known form of the name to the spelling in current use. An asterix (*) before a word indicates that it is a reconstructed form:
This all sounds like a lot of work. Why would anyone want to work that hard when they could just join an established religion?
Yes, at this stage in its development, CR does tend to be a lot of work. Its not for everyone.
Though we are at a place where people who dont want to do lots of research or pioneering mystical experiments can join an existing CR group, and participate on a much more informal level, the truth is that functioning CR groups that are willing to take in new members are still few and far between. So if youre alone, you may feel that it is difficult, especially if you are just getting started. Right now CR favors pioneer species, so to speak.
One of the main reasons we began this work was that we believe the Celtic Deities and Ancestors were, and are, asking it of us. Independent experiences by unrelated individuals have led to Shared Gnosis that several Deities in particular were eager to see CR happen. So a number of people sworn to these Deities found ourselves becoming very driven to create a functional, authentically Celtic tradition in order to better serve Them. A number of us were also inspired by our experiences in other living cultures and wished for something that full and vital, not only for our own Deities and Ancestors, but also for ourselves. It will be a while till we are as fleshed out as the traditions that inspired us, but that is our goal.
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