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08 May 2006 @ 02:20 am
More FAQ! Misconceptions! Part One of Three!  
Why are you racist?

CR is firmly anti-racist. This has been unanimously agreed upon by representatives of the established CR sub-traditions, CR elders and other long-term members of the community, including the founders of the tradition. CR was founded in no small part because some of us were sick of the rampant cultural appropriation in the Neopagan community, and wished to devote ourselves to something that was our own, that honored the ways of our ancestors without needing to rip off anyone else's ancestors or cultures in the process. There is no ethnic or cultural requirement for anyone to practice CR -- we do not believe that "blood" has any bearing in spirituality or in who might be called to a particular path. And as Celtic identity is a matter of language and culture, "blood" really has nothing to do with whether or not an individual or tradition is Celtic. No matter where your ancestors were from, or what your ethnic background, you are welcome to practice CR with us.

What makes your ancestors any better than my ancestors?

Nothing, and nobody who is actually practicing CR believes that the early Celts were inherently any "better" than anyone else. While many people of Celtic ancestry are drawn to CR, and respecting our ancestors is important to us, Celtic ancestry has never been a requirement. A significant number of people in CR don't have any Celtic ancestry at all. We follow Celtic deities and explore Celtic traditions because we are drawn to them and what they have to say about the human condition and human spirituality. People practicing or endorsing racism are not accepted as a part of CR any more than KKK members are accepted as a part of mainstream liberal Christian denominations. We work hard to expose people using CR or a link with Celtic culture as an excuse for racism and condemn them for their prejudices and acts of discrimination.

That's not how my (insert family member here) taught me to honor (insert figure of choice here)!

As will happen in any living culture, some of the tales do exist in different versions. Similarly, folkloric practices and the meaning and use of various magical objects can vary a bit from region to region. However, as a whole, the Celtic oral traditions have been remarkably conservative. We have versions of tales recorded at the turn of the century that hardly vary at all from the same tale in ancient manuscripts. Given this inherent consistency, when someone appears in the community and puts forth a bizarre set of mythological associations and claims they are valid because they learned them that way from their family, it is understandable that these claims are greeted with skepticism.

Usually when a variant meaning is valid, some supporting evidence, such as other tales and folklore from the region, can be found. But in cases where these sorts of assertions clash radically with everything that is known of the region they claim to be from, yes, it's usually a case of someone making things up or having been taught by someone who made it up.

Do you use the Celtic Tree Calendar and Celtic Astrology?

No. Neither of these actually have anything to do with any of the early Celtic peoples. The "Celtic" Tree Calendar is the creation of Robert Graves in his 1946 "work of poetic imagination," The White Goddess, and the creation of so-called "Celtic astrology" is even more recent (and based upon Graves' fabricated tree calendar).

While sacred trees do play a part in Celtic myth and folklore, and many CRs incorporate this older tree lore as part of their work, it is a different system than either of the above-mentioned, recent fabrications. Similarly, there are old manuscripts that point to possibilities of an ancient Celtic view of astronomy and astrology, but these are nothing like what has been popularized as "tree astrolgy," and the information is still rather obscure as little of it has been published in English.

For a good discussion of the alleged tree calendar and a debunking of the tree astrology that grew out of it, see Peter Berresford Ellis's The Fabrication of 'Celtic Astrology' article. Another article by Ellis, Early Irish Astrology: An Historical Argument, discusses what is known about the possible existence of a pre-Christian Irish astrological system, which used native names and concepts (none of them trees) for the planets and constellations.

Aren't there oghams in America too?

No. While Barry Fell and some of his followers in the Epigraphic Society and other groups have made such claims, particularly in Fell's 1976 book America B.C., there is no physical evidence that any Celtic people arrived in North America before the arrival of Columbus. It can be conclusively proved that the Norse people arrived in pre-Columbian Canada, for they left physical evidence of their inhabitation in Newfoundland -- artifacts, structures, and written accounts preserved in other countries about their colonies. By contrast, there is no physical evidence that the Irish or Scots ever came to North America in pre-Columbian times, and the immrama voyage accounts of early Irish literature are far more easily read as Otherworldly adventures than an account of actual landings in North America. If the Irish or the Scots had arrived prior to Columbus, we would expect to find potsherds, buttons, weapons, drop-spindles, and a wide variety of other physical items left behind in trash heaps, broken in fields of battle, or in the remains of dwellings. None of these things exist.

While there are some stone structures, especially in the Northeastern US, that are built in a "beehive" style common to Celtic cultures, there is absolutely no evidence that they are pre-Columbian. As the First Nations people of these regions state the structures resemble nothing from their cultures, it can reasonably be assumed that these stone structures were probably built by Irish or Scottish immigrants, who came in the usual waves of later immigration from those countries. None of these structures have anything resembling ogham carved on them.

Fell's "research" methods are deeply flawed and his conclusions are nothing more than fiction. For an in-depth discussion and debunking of his claims, including an analysis of how he comes to his "translations" of his alleged ogham texts, this article is extremely useful, along with the links at the bottom of that page. It should be noted that Fell was not a Celtic scholar and knew next to nothing about Celtic languages, archaeology, or history. He was a professor of Marine Biology -- a discipline quite useless in tracing language and inscriptions, or in dealing with archaeological sites. The fact that someone has a degree in one field is no guarantee that they actually know what they're talking about in another.

The most distressing aspect of Fell's assertions is the underlying, essentially racist assumption that the First Nations tribes were incapable of making petroglyphs of their own, observing the universal fact of solstitial and equinoctial solar phenomena, or of building any stone structures that might vaguely resemble European standing stones or other megalithic structures. It's akin to asserting that the ancient Egyptians were incapable of building the pyramids themselves and concluding that, therefore, aliens did it. Human beings are extremely inventive and capable, regardless of their origins. Let us give credit where it's due and leave the science fiction and fantasy for novels.

What about the Four Treasures and Four Cities, don't they go in the cardinal directions?

No, the Invasions of Ireland texts are clear that the four cities of the Tuatha De Danann are located "in the North of the world" or perhaps the sky. There was no correlation of the Four Treasures with the four cardinal directions or Classical four "elements" until the 19th century, when William Butler Yeats and others were trying to fit Irish mythology into a Golden Dawn-style system called The Castle of Heroes.

It should also be noted that the Four Treasures are really only relevant to Irish Reconstructionist Paganism, as they are not found at all in Welsh, Gaulish, or other Celtic mythologies.

Don't you all just read books and argue rather than practice real spirituality?

Most of us are very spiritual people in our private lives. We have altars in our homes and do personal and family-centered devotional work. Some of us do divination or healing, or perform ritual services within our communities. Reading doesn't mean we're not spiritual. In fact, for most of us, the reading we do enhances our spirituality and helps us understand what we are taught by other people and what comes to us through more mystical means such as in visions, meditations or dreams. Reference books, written by those who have devoted their lives to studying the words and traditions of the ancestors, help us sort out what is traditionally Celtic from what is our own internal voice. Both may be valid, but our inner voice may not be entirely accurate about what is Celtic, or what is communication from the Divine and what is our own imaginations. When we believe we are receiving information from a Deity or spirit, we go to the scholars to compare notes and see what's Celtic and what's not.

The CR community is diverse. Not everyone is an experienced scholar, and not everyone is inclined to deep mystical work. However, we believe both scholarship and experiential, ecstatic spirituality are necessary on the CR path. The presence of, and balance between, these aspects is crucial. Without both, it is not CR. But people will tend to move towards what is more comfortable and desirable for them. Sometimes the balance has to be found in community, where the mystics and the scholars can work together to help inform one another's practices. In this way, we can co-create a vibrant tradition that honors our personal experiences as well as those of our ancestors, that is ecstatic yet also rooted in the earth and in the history and living culture of the Celtic peoples.

So, you're like Eclectic NeoPagans or something like that?

No. CR is not eclectic.

Due to a clumsy phrase in an earlier CR document, a comment about the value of cross-cultural comparisons was misinterpreted as advocating eclecticism. This misconception then spread in some backwaters of the internet to such an extent as to later be repeated back to us as fact. It was surpising to hear this, to say the least, as we were accustomed to being accused of being too culturally focused, of having too high an academic standard and not being open enough to personal innovation for the tastes of many Neopagans.

CR was actually developed as an alternative to eclectic Neopagan traditions, and while we do allow for some innovation when there are gaps in the tradition, as much as humanly possible it is innovation based on sound, historical precedent.


as previously, comments, criticisms, or questions are welcomed and expected.

The above answers from The CR FAQ are copyright ©2006 the group of us co-writing the CR FAQ. All contributors retain the right to their individual contributions.
Kathryn of Nigheanan nan Cailleach: Bridge Crew Closeupcaitriona_nnc on May 8th, 2006 06:22 pm (UTC)
Tapadh Leat
Thank you for taking the Bridge and wrangling the cut-tags on this one.

More! FAQ! Misconceptions! RAR!!!!!
放縱瘋狂的結wire_mother on May 8th, 2006 11:09 pm (UTC)
Tá Fáilte Rómhat
no problem.

exclamation points are funny!
Madrun: toonmadrun on May 9th, 2006 08:47 pm (UTC)
I have one teeny little comment, and only because blackfyr asked. So it's all his fault.

In the first section it states:
"And as Celtic identity is a matter of language and culture, "blood" really has nothing to do with whether or not an individual or tradition is Celtic."

But in the second section:
"While many people of Celtic ancestry are drawn to CR, and respecting our ancestors is important to us, Celtic ancestry has never been a requirement. A significant number of people in CR don't have any Celtic ancestry at all."

What is "Celtic ancestry" anyway? Most American geneaologists don't know the difference between nationality and ethnicity, so when people hear they have "celtic ancestry", what they hear is "I have Celtic blood", when what is being referred to is nationality (my great-grandmother came from Scotland). This is very misleading, and I think is mainly what is to blame for the whole "but I have Celtic blood" thing or more commonly "I am a CELT because my grandmother was born in Ireland/Scotland/Scotland/Wales/whatever".

Am I being too nitpicky?
Kathryn of Nigheanan nan Cailleachcaitriona_nnc on May 10th, 2006 08:29 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
Not at all nitpicky, this is extremely helpful. We imported the rough draft of that section from an earlier document, and somehow that bit managed to slip by our red pens. We were sometimes tired or spaced-out when working on this, so it's good to have fresh eyes point out our mistakes. Off to tweak it.
alfrecht on May 10th, 2006 07:58 am (UTC)
Something else you might mention in the American ogham section:

In the Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis (The Voyage of Brendan), a text from the eighth century that was extremely popular in continental Europe, there is information which has been taken by Tim Severin--an experimental archaeologist--and many others to suggest that the Irish discovered North America before Columbus or the Vikings. Severin ended up building a large coracle (skin-covered boat) to the specifications he ascertained from the text, using the same materials and tools, and re-created the voyage from Ireland to Canada across the difficult North Atlantic. While this is an impressive feat, Severin and others have overlooked a major detail in the text. Brendan and his monks travel west from Ireland for seven years, essentially going in a circle that mirrors the monastic year, until finally they saw some more hellish wonders before being directed to the Terra Repromissionis Sanctorum ("The Land of the Promise of the Saints," which in Irish became Tir Tairngire). The directions they are given for this location places it EAST of their starting-point in Ireland, not to the west. Thus, even the main text which supposedly supports Severin and others contradicts the realities of geography!