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Posts Tagged ‘language’

I’ve talked about my feelings about St. Patrick’s Day in the past, as well as my reasons for celebrating it as Irish Heritage Day instead. I’ve also shared, and will share again, Morgan Daimler’s excellent post on what we do know about St. Patrick, his history, snakes, etc. Each year, I continue to see the same inaccurate histories repeated about Ireland, St. Patrick, Druids, etc. Some people, apparently, even refuse to attend Irish Heritage festivals because of it! My goodness. So, instead of wasting energy gnashing your teeth about bunk history, here are some ways to celebrate Irish Heritage Day that will promote actual Irish history and cultural preservation. Before I begin, I want to remind everyone that I’m an American polytheist and a descendant of Irish immigrants. I will never attempt to represent people who actually live in Ireland, speak Irish, etc. I’m working hard to learn the old ways from Irish sources, so this is important to me, and I gather it’s important to many Irish pagans as well.

  1. Attend an Irish Heritage festival! Yes! Go! Listen to traditional music, watch or even partake in step dancing, and rub elbows with others who are proud of, or curious about, their heritage. (Just, you know… try not to get distracted by the plastic Paddy nonsense. It misrepresents Irish culture, and a lot of it is bad for the environment anyway. Also, try to avoid perpetuating drunken stereotypes.)
  2. If you can’t attend a festival, do listen to traditional music. There is plenty to stream online. And if you ever get the chance, buy CDs from bands who are keeping the old music alive and well. Play them for your families and at your gatherings. With time, you and your loved ones will learn to sing along. Perhaps it will inspire instrumental or dance lessons!
  3. Read a book about Irish history. Not modern Pagan practice. History. Learn about ancient history, yes, but also read about modern history. I’m no expert. It’s a work in progress, but we should not embrace Irish lore, symbolism, etc without grasping the fact that the Irish culture is still alive! Learn about what makes them who they are today so that you can inform your practice from a place of integrity and respect. If sitting down to read a book is not your thing, there are many podcasts dedicated to Irish history.
  4. Read or listen to Irish lore. Check out Lora O’Brien’s “Learn the Lore” challenge on Irish Pagan School. I can’t say enough about it! I’m so grateful that she is sharing and making so much available to people all over the world.
  5. Speaking of Lora O’Brien, she posted this to her FB in 2017:
    If you want to celebrate your Irish heritage today, please educate yourself. What can you learn about the reality of Ireland today?

    Try the Magdalene Laundries. Mother and Baby ‘Homes’ all over the country, and nearly 800 dead bodies in Tuam. The 8th Amendment. The Black and Tans. Treatment of political prisoners in the North. The Hunger Strikes. The Irish homeless crisis. Mental health crisis. There’s more, but…

    Instead of spending your cash and time drinking and ‘celebrating’ today, could ya donate that cash to Irish activist causes, and use that time to learn some real history.

    Happy Paddy’s Day.

    If you are able, research some of those causes, or others, and donate. I’m currently exploring some of the environmental organizations in Ireland. When I was blessed with the ability to visit in 2011, my favorite memories are of the time I spent along the River Boyne. It was gorgeous, and I long to go back and explore more of the natural wonders in Ireland. Since it inspired and moved me, perhaps that is a cause worthy of donation. What moves you?

  6. Cook an authentic Irish dish. I really enjoy exploring recipes from “Irish Traditional Cooking” by Darina Allen. I do have to alter things a bit to make them vegetarian, but I really appreciate all the extra information about the recipes and their cultural context, including how some things used to be made. Even while I don’t use meat, I think it’s important to understand traditional ingredients and why they were used.

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    I made (vegan) white soda bread today using a recipe from the book I linked and a basic, homemade vegan “buttermilk.” I think I used too much flour when I flattened it out… But I made it! I’ll offer some to my ancestors and the Good Folk. Photo by Grey Catsidhe (2019).

  7. Study the Irish language! I try to do a lesson each night using Duolingo. Like other Celtic languages, Irish (Gaeilge) needs to be preserved. Studying the language has helped me better understand how to pronounce important names, locations, and concepts within my religious practice, and it’s deepened my connection to my ancestors. Think of every lesson as an offering.
  8. Share stories with the young people in your life. Whether it’s fairy lore, mythology, tales of Ireland’s heroes (legendary or historic), or your own ancestral immigration stories, tell them to the children. As I cleaned my ancestral shrine today, I showed my daughter one of the few photos I have of my great, great, great grandmother, Mary, from County Mayo. It’s a treasure, given to me from my grandfather shortly before he passed away. My daughter was very interested, which made me so happy.

I hope you take time today to have fun, yes, but also be respectful, learn something, and promote the preservation of actual Irish history, lore, and culture.

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I recently watched a documentary called “When the Iron Bird Flies: Tibetan Buddhism Arrives in the West.”  It was both informative and inspirational.  Although Druidism, largely informed by Gaelic Polytheism, is my spiritual home, Buddhism has always interested me.  I often find myself watching documentaries about it and reading about it when I can (although I remain a novice on the subject).  One thing I found particularly fascinating about this documentary was that it wasn’t so much about the history of the religion/philosophy; the focus was on how Tibetan monks brought the practice to America, and how that practice looks here.  Many of the tensions that exist in modern American Druidism can, in some ways, find a parallel in Buddhism in America.  For example, how much value should be placed on cultural traditions versus the central tenants?  How can we create spaces for our religious practices that don’t compromise our values?  How can we take a very old tradition from another land or culture (even one that belonged to our ancestors), and make it relevant to modern people in a different land?  How much time should be spent studying versus practicing? I think modern Pagans of many traditions can learn a lot from the movie.  It’s also especially inspiring to see how this minority faith has been able to build beautiful centers for its adherents around America.  In short, the Buddhist community in the US seems to exist because there are very devoted and serious members who spend a lot of time and, yes, resources on their spiritual passions.

As I watched, I couldn’t help but think about what drew me to Druidism through comparing my “conversion experience” to those shared on the camera.  Like the Americans drawn to Buddhism, I embraced Druidism because the messages I was receiving from the dominant culture did not resonate with me or my values.  So often, business and money are elevated above health, the environment, and true self-improvement.  “American Culture” is so influenced by monotheism as well as a tendency to generalize “exotic” concepts from other cultures.  So much of that is often watered down until it’s as useful as an advertising slogan.  It’s no wonder so many people like myself look outward or even backwards to a time many have forgotten.  I sought something different, fully willing to get my feet muddy and be transformed.

In Buddhism, part of the central focus has to do with suffering.  Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths address the reality of suffering and how we must come to terms with that and find peace. Druidism, as we know it, doesn’t really emphasize that so much, but in some ways, it could be argued that the suffering of Nature brought me to it.  In recognizing that my brother and sister Nature Spirits suffer, that we are all connected, and therefore their suffering is my suffering, I embraced Paganism and eventually modern Druidism.  Did the ancient Druids have teachings on suffering?  Perhaps.  The closest I can get to it right now is through the reported belief in life after death and the heroic way mythic warriors ran into battle, even when fate was against them.  Yes, you may have broken a geis – a taboo – that will lead to your downfall, but there is still honor in fighting because there’s integrity in it, courage in it, and people will sing of your perseverance despite the suffering you may endure.  So, I suppose, suffering is indirectly addressed in Druidism, but it doesn’t seem to be a central focus (nor does my attempt at finding a parallel mean that there has to be one).

So what is the central focus of Modern Druidism?

Harmony.

After a lot of thought and meditation, I’ve realized that my own concept of Modern Druidism’s central focus is harmony.  Again, I want to stress that this is just my opinion and only applicable to Modern (Neo) Druidism, though influenced by my fledgeling studies of Gaelic Polytheism.  Perhaps others would disagree, and my thoughts will likely evolve as I grow.  Right now – harmony.

So why harmony?

Many in the Druidic and Gaelic Polytheistic communities will agree that the concept of reciprocity is huge in Indo-European cultures.  The lore shows us that there must be an exchange of something in order for the cosmos to stay in order.  Rulers must protect their subjects and fairly distribute resources.  In exchange, everyone in the realm continues to work hard so that resources are obtained and everyone receives the services they need.  Culture can flourish.  When the ruler mistreats his or her people, as Bres did the Tuatha Dé Danann, there is disharmony that must be rectified.  In some stories, even the land herself rebels, hence accounts of sacrificial kings and symbolic marriage to the land.  In ADF Druidism, our liturgical tradition is based around reciprocity.  “A gift calls for a gift,” it is said.  When you are in a productive, healthy, meaningful relationship with another, there is mutualism.  The tall oak may appear to be the most important being in the forest, but such an ecosystem flourishes because of the give and take of the collective.  There must be harmony.

How can harmony, as a core concept of Druidism, apply to our practice?

For the Buddhists in the documentary, suffering influenced people to go through great lengths to improve themselves and their ability to find peace.  Obviously, there is a lot of meditation, but there is also a lot of study.  Whereas the stereotypical monk spends much of his or her day in meditation, in reality, he or she is also involved in a deep study of philosophy and, as Druids would call it, lore. Several of the Western Buddhists were also engaged in studying the Tibetan language to better engage with the culture that inspires them – something many modern Gaelic Polytheists can understand. At one point in the film, some of the monks discuss the importance of memorizing whole texts in Tibetan.  One man explained that there may come a day when someone will ask a question, and rather than make an excuse such as, “Oh, well, I don’t have my books with me right now,” you become the book.  That reminded me of the ancient Druids and their emphasis on oral history; they were said to activity discourage the written text.  Modern Druids have taken the pendulum and swung it the other way.  I think the Buddhists are on to something with regards to studying texts but then working to memorize them – to internalize them.  There’s a harmony there.  Furthermore, they have to find a harmony between their book studies and their spiritual practice of meditation.  A reoccurring discussion in Pagan circles often involves the need to find a balance between how much time one spends studying and actually working or experiencing.

Looking to a very successful minority religious practice for inspiration, one can see the benefits of finding harmony between both. In addition, Modern Druids must also find a harmony between doing that individual study and work, and then serving the community.  In my opinion, based on the historical basis, Druidism is a religion in service to others – the tribe, the spirit world, and the land.  Thus we nourish harmony within ourselves, then cultivate it around us in our relationships.

Harmony with Nature

As explained above, working with Nature was a driving force in my coming to Druidism.  While I wouldn’t describe our ancient predecessors as environmentalists, there’s evidence that they had animistic-type beliefs such as a deep respect for the land and the reciprocity needed to maintain harmony. The rich lore about Nature from Celtic nations inspired me, and the landscape reminded me of my own in certain ways. The modern world is so out of harmony with Nature. It only seems natural for people who strive to cultivate positive relationships with the spiritual world -including the spirits of Nature all around us – to embrace a lifestyle that at least attempts to live in better harmony with the Earth Mother and Nature Spirits. Historical precedence will only take us so far. The necessity for modern Druids to embrace environmentalism (of some breed) is based on contemporary needs. Many in the modern Buddhist community are doing the same. Their meditations on the beauty of Nature have moved several to act. The documentary gave some examples of how modern Buddhists are out picking up litter, marching in protest of environmental degradation, and speaking out for more sustainable practices. Seeing that was really inspiring.  Again – harmony between the desires of the self and the needs of the community.  Druids should also embrace that.

How do you find harmony in Druidism or Gaelic polytheism?  If you feel differently than I do about the central focus of Druidism, what is your opinion and why do you think that?

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A grovie recently brought a documentary on Hulu to my attention.  It’s called “The Celts” and you’re able to watch it free online!  With six fifty minute episodes, I decided to give it a go while marathon nursing my little one (growth spurt, I guess?).  Narrated by John Morgan, it spans Celtic history from that civilization’s cradle to modern times.  Because I am, admittedly, new to the Druid scene, I can’t claim this is the most accurate documentary ever made about the Celts.  I will say, however, that nothing struck me as contrary to the historical reading I’ve been doing.  There were even some fascinating tidbits that matched up with what others who have been studying longer have shared with me.  For example, I learned a lot about the salt mines in the Hallstatt region – something Michael Dangler brought to my attention in past musings about the Celts, modern Druids, and natural resources.

The documentary also asks some compelling questions such as who are the Celts?  What does it mean to be Celtic?  This question is explored in the final installment – the episode I thought would be least interesting considering it was about the modern era*.  There is no fluffiness about this series.  It teeters between respecting modern Druidic practices in Celtic nations as revivals of national pride – a way to celebration cultural and linguistic heritage in a modern way – and as anachronistic nonsense that continues to confuse modern folk about the historical facts.  Also questioned are kitschy elements that so many modern folk, especially the diaspora who make pilgrimages back to the old country, think represent the Celtic identity.  The conclusions are that defining “Celticness” is difficult to do outside of the usual reliance on linguistic groups alone.  I think all modern Druids and Gaelic polytheists who live outside of Celtic nations should check that episode out and think on it.

The best part of this production are the visuals.  Not only were there the usual views of seaside cliffs, standing stones, and rolling green hills.  I was able to delve into the aforementioned salt mines, visit a people in China who are believed to be descended from an ancient Celtic people, and examine a wide variety of artifacts in exquisite detail.  Although the music was a bit odd at times, I think they were going for a Celtic sound that wasn’t obviously Irish.  Otherwise, I enjoyed hearing different examples of Celtic languages spoken.  The episodes about modern Celts also feature some very interesting stories about how those languages were suppressed – something we should not forget about when we go to honor our ancestors in ritual!  I also really enjoyed seeing a carnyx for the first time.  I had read about them in history books and saw them illustrated upon photos of artifacts in books.  The Gundestrup Cauldron  features some, for example.  This show included a man who reconstructs and plays them.  I had read of their sound and the belief that they brought fear into enemies.  To hear one was truly wonderful!  I don’t know why I never looked them up for more detail, but here’s a start**.

I definitely recommend this documentary.  I believe it would be very accessible to people who are new to Celtic studies and Druidism, and after ten years of learning, I also got a lot out of it.  I’m sure old hats would enjoy it just as much for all the beautiful footage!

 

*This is, of course, something I want to study more to have a better understanding and appreciation for my ancestors and the hearth culture I’ve embraced.  It’s just sometimes difficult to get into because there are so many political and imperialistic aspects to wrap my head around.  I’m more intrinsically motivated to learn about the ancient Celts, their religious practices, and their customs.  I’m trying to learn more about Christian and modern Ireland in baby steps.

** Now how cool would it be for a Druid grove to have one during Lughnasadh games?

 

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Last night, while attempting to do my Nine Moons Retreat, I took some time to focus on my studies and finished a book I’ve been reading in bits and pieces for months – Celtic Rituals An Authentic Guide to Ancient Celtic Spirituality by Alexei Kondratiev.  While I’m always wary of anything claiming authenticity, Kondratiev has a pretty solid reputation as a linguist and as someone who has studied and worked in Celtic communities.  Finally, the book had two glowing reviews.  I was not disappointed.

This book was not the usual drivel that usually passes as Celtic in Neo-Pagan literature.  Everything was very well-researched and, as a linguist, he understood the languages and cultures he was talking about.  He is one who encourages study and activism within the culture one wishes to focus on.  He argues for the preservation of smaller, traditional cultures over the global monoculture so prevalent in Western society.  While the rituals he described were somewhere between Wicca and Celtic Reconstructionism, he was up front about the lack of evidence for calling quarters in ancient Celtic rituals.

It is no secret that Kondratiev had Christian leanings despite his study and involvement with NeoPaganism.  This made his book even more unique in that it encouraged Pagans and Christians to work together to preserve the cultures of the Six Nations.  Chapter Five: The Cycle of the Tribe was particularly interesting to me because it argues that Celtic-inspired Pagans should accept and embrace the reverence of saints within the Celtic nations as they have absorbed much of the Pagan mythos and are politically and spiritually important days full of heightened energy.  While he doesn’t insist that Pagan circles out right revere the saints, he suggests taking those days to remember, celebrate, and ritually support the Six Nations.  It is something we should consider as St. Patrick’s Day approaches.  I know I went through an “All Snakes” phase during my more uninformed period of Paganism, but I now know more about Irish history and understand that St. Patrick didn’t violently eradicate the Pagans, nor was he responsible for introducing Christianity to Ireland.  If anything, it is a day to embrace your Irish culture and remind the world what your ancestors went through.

Chapter Four: The Cycle of the Moon was of particular interest to me.  He argues that “The Song of Amergin” can actually be used as a mythological calendar.  He doesn’t intend for it to replace the Coligny Calendar in historical importance but as “a living, resonant dynamic for relating to the lunar cycle in a Celtic cultural context.  It can therefore provide a serviceable alternative until a more practical approach to the Coligny Calendar becomes possible; it may, in fact, reveal certain mythic patterns that will be directly applicable to the Coligny Calendar” (206).  Each “I am” line from the poem corresponds to an “age of the moon,” starting, of course, with Samhain.  Much of it is probably UPG, but Kondratiev makes a very convincing case!

I highly recommend this book to all aspiring Druids and anyone interested in Celtic cultures.  You may not wholeheartedly adopt all of his practices, but Kondratiev surely had some interesting ideas.

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