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08 May 2006 @ 02:41 am
FAQ - Misconceptions - Part Three of Three  
Do you guys paint yourselves with woad?

No, not really. And our ancestors probably didn't, either. While it's possible woad was one of many pigments used for temporary body painting, it really does not work well as a body paint, and it fails miserably as a tattoo pigment. [1].

Tattooing does appear to be common among CRs, particularly tattoos of traditional Celtic designs. Others, especially those who cannot be tattooed for some reason, do seem to be fond of the occasional bodypaint for decorative or spiritual reasons, but again, this is a personal preference and not necessarily part of the religion.

Why would anyone want to try to bring back the Iron Age?

We don't. We're all very fond of indoor plumbing, central heating, modern medicines, eyeglasses and computers. It's the spiritual and philosophical ideals of Iron Age Celtic society that we're interested in, not recreating it down to the last parasite and drafty roundhouse. Even those who get asked this the most, the homesteader-types, are more than happy to explore modern sustainable technology rather than going back to how our ancestors farmed. There's a lot we can learn from Iron Age society, but what CR tries to do is understand what Celtic religions would look like now if they'd been uninterrupted since then, not to take society back to that point in history.

How can you practice a religion and still claim to believe in science?

Religion and science don't have to be in conflict. We take mythology and creation stories as metaphor rather than sources of scientific and historical fact. Mythology holds great spiritual and psychological truth where science often presents empirical, physical truths. That said, new theories are being developed in different scientific fields all the time, and science has yet to account for all phenomena in the universe.

Both psycho-spiritual truths and physical truths are necessary for an understanding of the universe we live in. Because CR doesn't have an investment in the literal truth of our mythologies, we can appreciate their spiritual truths without experiencing the dissonance of having to choose a spiritual truth over an empirical truth or vice versa.

Who can initiate me into your super-duper secret tradition handed down from the early mists of time? You are the "hidden children of the Goddess," right?

One of the most annoying theories that we face is the belief that Wicca was the secret stuff that the Celts were forbidden to write down and that anything remembered by the broader, non-Occult, living culture was only there for the "ordinary people" who weren't initiates of the hidden traditions. This is sometimes referred to as the "hidden children of the Goddess" theory.

This theory flies in the face of historical fact. Gerald Gardner created Wicca in the first half of the 20th century. It's true that he drew from earlier sources, but very little of what he used were Celtic sources. Wicca owes more to Hinduism and the Masons than to Celtic religions. In fact, the basic structures and expectations of Wicca and Wicca-based genero-Paganism conflict with Celtic cosmology.

While there are strains of occult belief or techniques that have influenced CR, that influence tends to be limited, and those beliefs or techniques only used as markers for what sorts of things we're trying to find in the ancient and living traditions of the Celts. Some of the mystics among us use techniques that are not always found in the mainstream of the living Celtic cultures, but if they are used it is with caution and without any inclusion of non-Celtic beliefs. This is discussed in more detail in the Do you borrow from other cultures to "fill in the gaps?" answer.

When Wiccans continue to insist that their non-Celtic traditions are actually Celtic, it can lead to a type of cultural imperialism -- with Wiccan beliefs and practices being adopted by well-meaning people and presented as Celtic, while the actual Celtic traditions and beliefs fall into obscurity. Even residents of the Celtic nations and the diaspora are not immune to this, and this unintentional cultural imperialism has sometimes even resulted in Wiccan misinformation being presented at Celtic cultural events as "the real deal."

Any "secret" tradition that is encountered that clashes with known Celtic cosmology, culture, language, tradition, etc., should be treated with skepticism. More on this can be found in the That's not how my (insert family member here) taught me to honor (insert figure of choice here)! answer.

I've heard that you are mean to people who have questions. Why is that?

Some CRs or CR communities may have acquired this reputation because we don't suffer fools, liars or the overly credulous easily. Everyone was a beginner in CR at one time. Lack of knowledge is understandable and expected. However, if someone pretends to have knowledge or experience they obviously do not have, they are rarely tolerated for long.

CR very much has the motto of "Show me." If someone comes up with a new and novel explanation for historic or pre-historic Celtic practices, they should be prepared to provide some proof, either in the archeological record or through research. CRs do not accept "I say it's so, so it is so." CRs generally expect you to cite academic sources and present a reasoned argument for radically different interpretations of any ancient Celtic practice, society, or belief.

While personal inspiration is also an important part of CR, when something is not supported by the lore, it is necessary to indicate this as UPG.

Many people new to CR are surprised to hear this question, as they swear they've never received uncompassionate or harsh treatment from any CRs. It does seem that the attitude with which the new person approaches the community largely determines the reception they will receive.

Polite questions are always welcome. It's just when people are impolite or overly demanding that the folks used to fielding the questions can get cranky. But if we didn't like answering questions, we'd hardly be writing a FAQ, now would we?

Why do CRs hate Wicca and Wiccans?

We don't, but Wicca includes a number of fundamentals which are different from those of the native Celtic religions. These include differing conceptions of divinity, cosmological organization, and many other assumptions about the spirit world and methods of interacting with it. Some Wiccans have been taught that their religion is identical to ancient Celtic religion, and have made a number of claims which are simply not supportable in a Celtic context; when corrected on these misconceptions, some have assumed that meant that CR was perforce opposed to Wicca in some way. In reality, it is a complex situation.

As CR is about cultural focus and cultural cohesiveness, and Wicca was compiled from an eclectic combination of beliefs, and practices from a wide variety of cultures, it has also been common for some Wiccans to not understand why we are culturally focused, and to take our decision to not be eclectic as a judgement on the inherent human worth of individuals who do choose to be eclectic. Sometimes hard feelings have resulted when, for instance, one side feels the other is doing something that is offensive in their tradition. While we try to have good relations with those with whom we may disagree, sometimes deeply-held beliefs can make it hard to be accepting of individuals whose practices we feel are culturally inappropriate.

It should be noted that books about "Celtic Wicca" are very poor sources for Celtic information and lore. These books generally describe a Wiccan framework with Celtic Deity names and concepts inserted with little regard for the original Celtic culture and context. This leads to inevitable misunderstandings. CRs have often been frustrated by the misconceptions propagated by these books.

Do CRs believe all Celtic traditions should be "modernized"?

No, not all CRs believe this. CR is a diverse community. We do not all agree all the time.

For instance, there are diametrically opposed views in the community about whether it is acceptable to modernize the longstanding tradition of women flametenders for the Goddess Bríde (aka Brigidine Orders) to now include men. Of the CRs who have participated in writing the answers to this FAQ, a majority are adamant that this traditional form of worship must remain for women only, while others believe that the modern innovation of including all genders is acceptable. Other issues in the debate include the place of men in Bríde's worship, and what dedicants to Bríde can do in a structured situation aside from flametending.

A milder example of a modernization debate is the discussion about how much Celtic land-based traditions such as tree ogham or dindsenchas should be adapted to wildly differing climates in the Celtic diaspora. While Celtic tradition contains many examples of the importance of adapting to one's local ecology and nature spirits, there is also the question of how far these adaptations can go before the tradition simply isn't Celtic anymore. When a CR is living in Australia, Arizona, or some other place with a radically different ecology from the lands where Celtic culture originally developed, some CRs believe it is more appropriate to adapt traditions for the place that you find yourself, such as choosing native trees of your bioregion for tree ogham or moving the dates of festivals to coincide with local natural events such as "first frost", if indeed there even is one. Others believe that it is more accurate to maintain the original associations and their historical attributes, even if they don't fit the natural cycles or climate of the place that the CR lives.

Another issue that comes up is Romano-Celtic syncretism, and how much Roman influence is acceptable in Romano-Celtic branches of CR before it becomes Roman rather than Celtic. As with other issues of syncretism and eclecticism, it can be a problem of cultures of oppression versus native cultures, and of how history is read through various lenses.

Such debates are a natural part of hammering out what it means to have a modern incarnation of a living tradition, and are not unexpected. Though in most things we endeavour for consensus, in some matters it is necessary to mention that there are differing camps on an issue, and that neither camp is perceived as speaking for the whole of the CR community.

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.
Cateriona: knot celticcateriona on May 11th, 2006 06:51 am (UTC)
Okay, I had to look the woad part up. Now, I'm feeling like a stupid American. And while I did try to add a bit of ancient lore into the newsletter of the Celtic Hertiage Society of Nevada, no one accused me of trying to bring back the Iron Age. The Jacobite Era, yes, the Iron Age, no.
放縱瘋狂的結wire_mother on May 11th, 2006 07:13 am (UTC)
mostly, i've personally gotten the accusation about the "Iron Age" from people in Ireland, usually Catholics (but occasionally Wiccan!), and usually along with a statement that they don't want to go back to the old, "pagan" or polytheist ways because it would, in their view, necessarily involve headhunting, slaveowning, etc. in fact, they've said these things as though polytheism is inseparable from those practices, something which would no doubt come as a surprise to many Hindus and followers of Shinto.

the other category of people who make the "Iron Age" accusation are less common, but are generally American Wiccans or related neopagans who are trying to convince me that Wicca (or generic neopaganism) is the future, and Celtic polytheism is a dead letter.

as for the woad issue, don't feel badly - many respectable scholars have fallen for that bit of misinformation. it's easy to do, since it hasn't had much actual testing until recently.
Cateriona: knot celticcateriona on May 11th, 2006 05:39 pm (UTC)
Never had the "iron age" problem with my Wiccan friends. It could be the difference between East Coast and West Coast pagans. A lot of the West Coast people tend to be members of the Society for the Creative Anachronism. However, I have had a problem with some of the Native Americans accusing me of "culture stealing." We might have brought Boar, Cow, Dog and Cat with us, but I'm pretty sure that Bear, Wolf and Eagle were here already. And of course Horse, well that's another story all together.
放縱瘋狂的結wire_mother on May 11th, 2006 10:35 pm (UTC)
the few American Wiccans i hear that from are generally ones i interact with online. i don't know where they are from, geographically. i've, happily, only known fairly tolerant First Nations people, and so haven't gotten much flack from that direction.

however, it occurs to me that we should probably address that issue in the FAQ.
(Deleted comment)
Caterionacateriona on May 14th, 2006 06:07 pm (UTC)
I specified "Bear, Wolf and Eagle" just because they seem to be as close to pandemic spirits as we shamanists get. Owl, on the other hand, is drastically different if you compare North American use to European though I prefer to think that is just two sides of the same animal. I generally have no problems with California, South and Intermountain West, Northwest and Plains Tribes once they get to know me. There is a general realization that tribal people tend to act the same way and have similar values. I generally have problems with members of the displace Tribes, but then again traditionalists generally do because their cultures were nearly destroyed by the US government and they tend to "borrow" a lot from other Tribes. The funny thing is that some of what they think is non-borrowed cultural things actually came from Celtic peoples (origin date circa 1810).
放縱瘋狂的結wire_mother on May 15th, 2006 03:18 am (UTC)
i'm not sure, specifically, that Wolf is very similar between Europe and North America. Wolf is a very complex concept among the Europeans, being widely associated with many concepts which are unrelated to the animal "wolf", such as wind.
Cateriona: knot celticcateriona on May 15th, 2006 05:58 pm (UTC)
Complexity is one of the hallmarks of Wolf in every culture were s/he appears. Nor am I saying that they are all the same. For instance even among the American Tribes Bear's intelligence varies greatly even when you take into account species variation. But there are others, well to say that they are similar in any way is just plain ludicrous.
Cateriona: knot celticcateriona on May 11th, 2006 07:00 am (UTC)
I tried to spell check and things did not work. The group was "Celtic Heritage Society of Nevada" or CHSN.