The FAQ has become very, very long, so this is just the beginning. Once finished we will be posting it on the web, and printing up a booklet version as well. Copyright will be ©2006 to the group who are co-writing it (currently eight of us), with thanks to everyone on cr_r for your help. We will permit extensive quoting of the FAQ, and printing out for personal use, but will retain the right to any sale of the material. Though how much we will sell a booklet of material available for free on the internet, I don't know; but it does seem to be a good idea to also have a hardcopy version available.
Section One: So What is Celtic Reconstructionism (CR)?
What is Celtic Reconstructionism (CR)?
Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism (CR) is a polytheistic, animistic, religious and cultural movement. It is an effort to reconstruct, within a modern Celtic cultural context, the aspects of ancient Celtic religions that were lost or subsumed by Christianity.
There are some survivals of pre-Christian Celtic traditions in the lore and folk practices of the Celtic countries and the Celtic diaspora but, after centuries of Christian overlay, most people do not find these folk traditions by themselves to be a whole or viable spiritual path. By studying the old manuscript sources and the regional folklore, combining this information with mystical and ecstatic practice, and working together to weed out the non-Celtic elements that can arise, we are nurturing what still lives and helping the polytheistic Celtic traditions grow strong and whole again. We approach this in part by trying to envision what different Celtic Paganisms would look like today if they had been uninterrupted by Christianity, much as Hinduism has changed over the centuries, remaining the same religion but changing in form with the changing times.
What do you mean by "Celtic"?
"Celtic" applies to a group of related languages in the Indo-European language group and the cultures that developed in the communities that speak these languages. Celtic identity is not based on genetics or "blood" but on being part of this linguistic and cultural grouping. Celtic is pronounced "Keltik" unless you are French, in which case it is "Selteek". Don't ask us about the Boston basketball team or the Scottish football/soccer club. We have no clue.
CR greatly values the study and preservation of Celtic languages as well as participation in the living Celtic cultures. Language is the key to understanding a culture's mindset. While fluency in a Celtic language is not a prerequisite to participation in the CR community, people serious about developing the tradition almost always dedicate themselves to studying one of the Celtic languages as part of their CR practice.
So what are the Celtic Languages?
There are two basic groupings of Celtic language: Continental and Insular. Each of these are broken down into further divisions of Q-Celtic or P-Celtic.
In Continental Celtic, there were a number of languages: Cisalpine Gaulish (Northern Italy), Transalpine Gaulish (France, Switzerland, Austria, Germany), Galatian (modern Turkey/Anatolia), Lepontic (Northern Italy), and Celtiberian (Spain/Portugal - the only continental Q-Celtic language). These languages are no longer spoken.
In Insular Celtic, there are seven languages. The Goidelic (Gaelic) Q-Celtic languages are Irish, Scottish, and Manx. The Brythonic (or British) P-Celtic languages are Welsh, Breton, and Cornish, as well as the long-dead Cumbrian language. Pictish seems to be an archaic form of P-Celtic.
The distinctions between P- and Q-Celtic are made based on the differences like those in the words for "son" and "head" -- in Irish, mac and ceann, and in Welsh, map and pen.
What do you mean by "Reconstruction"?
In discussions of religions of antiquity, "reconstruction" refers to the process of building a model of previous historic and pre-historic traditions, and then examining that model for ideas of how to implement those traditions in a modern, practical sense. The specific definition of "reconstruction" which fits our usage best is "an interpretation formed by piecing together bits of evidence".
In the case of CR, what we are attempting to model are the various forms of pre-Christian Celtic spirituality. We do this in order to create a modern spiritual practice that retains as much authentic older material as possible while also being workable in the modern world. We do this because we feel called to Celtic Deities and a Celtic worldview, and we wish to help preserve modern Celtic languages, music, and cultures.
Is it a new or old tradition?
CR is a new tradition based on old ideas and ideals. We work with the best current scholarship we can find to try to understand the cultures of the early Celtic peoples, and what they were doing in terms of pre-Christian, polytheistic spiritual traditions. We also participate in the traditions of the current, living Celtic cultures in ways that express a polytheistic, animist spirituality. But while many Pagan elements have survived in the living Fairy Faith and other folkloric practices, in terms of a complete, polytheistic, Pagan religion, CR does not have, nor has it ever claimed, any unbroken lineage to the pre-Christian past.
Along with the work of scholarship, we also rely on our own iomas and aisling -- our inspiration and our visionary practices -- to help us find ways to integrate old practices into a new time and setting. One of the primary thought-exercises behind the development of CR is "what would the Celtic spiritual cultures look like if they had been uninterrupted by Christianity?" All religions and traditions grow and change with time. If Celtic polytheist cultures had been uninterrupted from the Iron Age until today, they would still look very different from what was being done in the Iron Age, just as Hinduism and other spiritual paths have, over time, changed in their own lands and cultural matrices.
How and when did CR start?
For many years there had been a general dissatisfaction with the popular approaches to Celtic Spirituality, and a number of individuals were in dialogue about how to create a more authentic approach to polytheistic, Celtic religion. Over the 1980s, a growing number of people began coming together to discuss the issue and share information about their Proto-CR practices.
A key event in laying the groundwork for much CR practice was the 1985 Pagan Spirit Gathering in Wisconsin, USA, and its Celtic discussions and workshops. Participants at this gathering returned home and continued to develop the foundations of their CR sub-traditions, incorporating some of the ideas they had shared in person. In later years, some of them would re-meet online and once again collaborate.
The first appearance in print of the term "Celtic Reconstructionist", used to describe a specific religious movement and not just a style of Celtic studies, was by Kym Lambert ní Dhoireann in the Spring, 1992 issue of Harvest Magazine (Southboro, Massachusetts, USA). Ní Dhoireann credits Kathryn Price NicDhàna with originating the term “Celtic Reconstructionist”; however, NicDhàna credits her early use of the term to a simple extrapolation of Margot Adler's use of the term "Pagan Reconstructionists" in the original, 1979 edition of Drawing Down the Moon. Though Adler devotes space to a handful of Reconstructionist traditions, none of those mentioned are specifically Celtic. Also in Drawing Down the Moon, while describing his Neo-Druidic group, NRDNA, Isaac Bonewits used the phrase "Eclectic Reconstructionist." However, by the time CR became a recognized tradition, this pairing of terms had become oxymoronic, as "Reconstructionism" in the Pagan/polytheist sense had now been defined specifically to exclude "Eclecticism".
NicDhàna and Ní Dhoireann have stated that they coined the term CR specifically to distinguish their practices from those of eclectic traditions like Wicca and the Neo-Druidry of the time. Erynn Rowan Laurie also began using the name "Celtic Reconstructionist" at some point in the early '90s, though "NeoCeltic" was her initial term of choice. With Ní Dhoireann’s popularization of Celtic Reconstructionism in the Pagan press, and then the use of the term by these three individuals on the Internet, “Celtic Reconstructionism” began to be adopted as the name for this developing spiritual tradition.
Who's the leader of CR?
There isn't one. Individual groups may have leadership, though some groups are much more informal. In addition, there are a number of people who have gained respect within the broader CR community for their ideas. However, there is no authority which derives from that respect, and that respect is not usually universal nor absolute. We all work for what we have here.
See also "Are CRs autonomous or is there some sort of governing body?" and "How do you determine who your spiritual elders are when you don't always have an ordered hierarchy?"