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28 April 2006 @ 04:48 pm
Beta Post of FAQ questions and answers - Post 3  
Section Two: Practical and Methodology
Part One: Basic Questions

This is the first part of the second section of FAQ questions. As noted previously these are copyright © 2006 the group of us writing it. You may check back to the first two post http://community.livejournal.com/cr_r/169108.html http://community.livejournal.com/cr_r/169445.html as well.

Don't you have to be Irish/Scots/Welsh to be a Celtic Reconstructionist?

Absolutely not. You don't have to be Asian to be a Buddhist, either. Practicing a Celtic religion doesn't mean you have to be a Celt any more than practicing an Asian religion means you must be Asian.

Though many people of Celtic ancestry 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 it's 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, CR does not happen in a vacuum. Being CR requires involvement in community and culture - both the CR community and the living Celtic cultures.

See also How can you be Celtic without being immersed in the culture? and How can you recreate a culture that's dead?

How can you be Celtic without being 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. 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 and Highland games.

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, 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.

That said, there are other CRs who do many of these things from time to time, but do not desire full 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. 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 there's 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 had restrictions on writing down anything that was 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 "cleaned up" to make them more acceptable to a Christian audience and recorded 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 come 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, it's 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.

See also What is the Celtic lore, and where can I find it? and So how do I find this stuff?

If they didn't write anything down, how do you know what they believed?

Despite the fact that the druids wrote nothing about their religion, 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 the Celtic people 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 Celtic 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 the 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 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 don't 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, 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. It's 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 you're 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 - you're 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 can't find credible sources with some proof of their claims, it's 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 we're not a historical recreation society, there isn't 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 Caesar's De Bello Gallico to modern folk rituals at healing wells. We're aiming for 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?

Absolutely not.

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 -- it's easier to communicate with local nature spirits, and form a deep bond with the land, if these things are right outside one's 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 city's 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.
(Deleted comment)
Kathryn of Nigheanan nan Cailleach: in the apple tree - smilingcaitriona_nnc on April 29th, 2006 01:19 am (UTC)
thank you!
This is an excellent point, one that I've wondered about myself. I'll poke around and see if we can incorporate this.
alfrecht on April 29th, 2006 09:50 am (UTC)
Re: thank you!
Well, I can't be too much help on this.

Who invented and used ogam? The short answer: the Deisi and Ua Liathain colonists from Cork, Kerry and Waterford who went to Southern Wales seem like the most likely candidates. What class among them were the inventors and users of the cipher? Hard to say, but whoever it was, they knew Latin and were probably very literate in it, and therefore it is quite possible that they were also Christian.

There seem to be at least two groups of people who wrote some of the Gaulish defixiones: the Chamalieres and Larzac inscriptions seem to have been written by gender-specific groups of people (whether they were druids or other classes is not clear) for specific aims--the women of the Larzac group were trying to counter the magical works of another group of women, while the Chamalieres men seemed to be concerned with the effects of aging.

As far as inscriptions in general go (for Greece, Rome, and for Gaul and Britain in the post-Roman period when most of the inscriptions were written), there has never been anything which says that only druids or priests can write them. Shoemakers in Spain wrote the inscription to the Lugoves; anyone from regular people and slaves to military commanders seemed to have written inscriptions in Roman Britain.

So, I suppose there is a distinction to be made here. It's not that writing was not allowed, it's that writing down the teachings or the stories (which were probably quite intertwined) was not allowed.
Kathryn of Nigheanan nan Cailleach: reporting for duty (bridge crew)caitriona_nnc on April 29th, 2006 07:18 pm (UTC)
changing it.
How about:

If they didn't write anything down, how do you know what they believed?

That depends on what you mean by "they." It is possible that the druids had restrictions on writing down anything that was considered sacred. However, other Celtic people 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.

[and then on into the Roman, Gaulish and Celtic Christian records and folkloric examples.]
Kathryn of Nigheanan nan Cailleach: dogs ate my braincaitriona_nnc on April 29th, 2006 01:31 am (UTC)
And thank you, Kym, for taking your turn wrangling the cut-tags.
You see a boundary, I see a sidewalklysana on April 29th, 2006 06:40 am (UTC)
It just struck me we wrote the answer to that first one sounding as if we think there's such a thing as Celtic blood. Hmm.
Kathryn of Nigheanan nan Cailleachcaitriona_nnc on April 29th, 2006 06:52 pm (UTC)
Yeah, Erynn tacked on the "Practicing a Celtic religion doesn't mean you have to be a Celt any more than practicing an Asian religion means you must be Asian." bit at the last minute.

I think I'll change it to something more like: "Practicing a Celtic religion doesn't mean you have to have Celtic ancestry any more than practicing an Asian religion means you must have Asian ancestry." and cross-link to "What is Celtic?" where we cover the language/culture not blood issues.
(Deleted comment)
Kathryn of Nigheanan nan Cailleach: CRAIC - Not The Same Personcaitriona_nnc on April 30th, 2006 03:33 am (UTC)
Understood :-)
elvengeekelvengeek on April 29th, 2006 07:07 am (UTC)
Celtic "ancestry" vs. cultural definition
I think you should mention that "Celtic" is defined on a cultural/linguistic basis rather than an ancestral one.
You could include a link to Alexei Kondratiev's letter on the definition of "Celt" for more academic support.

Given all the various tribes that may or may not have been "Celtic" that have wandered around Europe and parts of the Near East (Galatia)
Celtic ancestry is a pretty fuzzy thing- it's just that only the surviving living cultures- 6 nations are considered Celtic in modern times. Frankly when you say Celtic most people think "Irish" and maybe Scottish.
alfrecht on April 29th, 2006 09:41 am (UTC)
Re: Celtic "ancestry" vs. cultural definition
Wasn't that covered in "What do you mean by Celtic?" in the first installment of the FAQ in this forum?
Kathryn of Nigheanan nan Cailleach: reporting for duty (bridge crew)caitriona_nnc on April 29th, 2006 06:47 pm (UTC)
Re: Celtic "ancestry" vs. cultural definition
Yes, Here's the quote:

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.

And here is the link: http://community.livejournal.com/cr_r/169108.html#cutid2

I think we will do a "see also" to this question at the end of this answer.
elvengeekelvengeek on April 29th, 2006 06:35 pm (UTC)
oh my bad. It's kinda hard to see the whole picture when it's being posted in chunks. Anyways I think y'all are doing a great job.
Kathryn of Nigheanan nan Cailleach: in the apple tree - smiling - closeupcaitriona_nnc on April 29th, 2006 06:49 pm (UTC)
Actually, your good. :-)
Not bad at all. Lots of people will read the FAQ out of order, in bits and pieces, so it's important that we cross-reference a lot. If you read this this way, others will, too. Thanks to your pointing this out, I now know I should go put in a link to the earlier question that covers this. So, yes, keep pointing stuff out, it really helps!
Kathryn of Nigheanan nan Cailleach: CAORANN www.bandia.net/caoranncaitriona_nnc on April 29th, 2006 07:04 pm (UTC)
ps - linkage
I'm glad to see you using the CAORANN icon I made. One request: somewhere in the keywords, please include the URL: http://www.bandia.net/caorann

That way, people coming across it will know where to go for more info. Thanks!