Are you guys like the SCA?
No. We are not interested in recreating the Iron Age. We dont call ourselves Lord or Lady or try to claim any royal or noble titles for ourselves. Were interested in the early Celtic cultures for what they can teach us about the spiritual nature of humanity, and in applying that in our very modern lives.
Those who follow a warrior path do so for the same reasons people study Eastern martial arts to develop our bodies, minds and spirits within a particular philosophical framework.
Similarly, those who are reconstructing the path of the druid or file, or that of the CR householder (to name only a few examples) are finding the ways these ancient roles, and their associated practices, fulfill our current spiritual and emotional needs and the needs of our communities. We are seeking to integrate these findings into a modern life that is spirit-suffused and functional, rather than recreating an Iron Age context.
While some CR individuals may also participate in recreational groups such as The Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) or renaissance faires, that is seen as a very separate and distinct part of their lives and not a part of their spirituality. CRs are no more or less drawn to historical re-enactment groups than are any other segment of the population.
So youre a Satanist?
No. CR doesnt have any deity concept even vaguely equivalent to Satan. You cant worship whats not a part of your religion.
Many CRs dont view the spirits or Deities who may be unfriendly to us as evil but rather as a variety of Outsiders. Perhaps these beings are hostile, perhaps just unfriendly and unknown, but they might also be spirits or Deities who are friendly to others. For example, many Irish Reconstructionists might consider the Fomorians adversaries of their Deities. However, for those following Tory Island traditions, Balor, a prominent Fomorian, was revered. This does not make the Tory Islanders a CR equivalent of Satanists, by any means. They are simply people who live in a different place and have different alliances. Similarly, some CRs with a connection to the sea make offerings to Domnu, Who is seen as a primal Goddess of the deep, and Who also gives Her name to the tribe of the Fomorians, who are sometimes called the Túatha Dé Domnann. While the Fomorians might have had conflicts with the Túatha Dé Danann in particular tales, this enmity may only apply to that conflict; it does not make all the Fomorians inherently evil.
It is also clear that one can only generalize so far about the Fomorians, or any other beings who have at times been at conflict with other beings. The old tales are clear that some of the Túatha Dé Danann are part Fomorian, or were raised by Fomorian foster-parents. Like humans, spirits and Deities are not limited by their race or upbringing, and can change over time, especially if it is in their best interests to form new alliances and let go of old conflicts.
It is also clear in the lore that many Deities and spirits can act as tricksters. Even a Celtic Deity Who is usually helpful may decide to try and trick a human, either because They feel its the best way for that human to learn a lesson, or because They are testing that person. Therefore, in CR, it is important to remember that we are expected to be strong and smart, and not be gullible. Just because some spirit may claim to be a Deity, or may even be a Deity, we dont agree to do things that go against our ethics simply because some being we perceive as wiser appears to be suggesting that we do so.
So youre Wiccan?
No. Wicca and CR have no real resemblance to each other. Rituals are not conducted in the same ways. The worldview is very different, as is our view of the Deities. Some branches of Wicca refer to themselves as Celtic, but for the most part all theyve done is borrow a few Deity and holiday names, neither using any of the early or modern Celtic forms of worship, nor the basic cosmology that is shown in the source texts and archaeological sites.
See also: What is the difference between CR and Celtic Neo-Paganism?, Why do CRs hate Wicca and Wiccans? and 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?
If theres no Rede you must not have any ethics.
The Wiccan Rede is just that Wiccan. It has been widely accepted across many eclectic Neopagan traditions, but it is not the only model for ethical behavior, even within the larger Pagan community. It is certainly not a Celtic model for ethical behavior in any historical sense, nor do CRs adhere to it beyond the fact that its usually a good idea to minimize the harm you do in the world.
Christianity doesnt follow the Rede, but it has its own ethical structures, as do Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, and all the other religions of the world. CR ethics are based on the virtues illustrated in the tales, instruction texts like The Instructions of Cormac, the Triads of Ireland where they address ethical situations, and the Gaulish ideal that the people should worship the Gods, do no evil, and exercise courage.
So you worship the Triple Goddess, the Maiden/Mother/Crone?
The idea that all, or even any, Goddesses fit into a Maiden/Mother/Crone structure is not Celtic. Graves made it up when he was writing his work of poetic imagination, The White Goddess. Celtic Goddesses appear in the traditional lore as a variety of ages, in a variety of different guises, as it suits Their purposes. To the extent that They can be categorized at all, They are categorized by function, not age. They are seen as well-rounded individuals, with Their own preferences, relationships and activities, much like most of the humans youll meet. That said, there are a number of Celtic Deities who are known to be threefold. Brighid and The Morrígan are two of the best-known, but they are usually described as three sisters, and not of radically different ages.
So you dont worship the Lord and Lady?
Again, we are polytheists. The idea that all Goddesses are one Goddess (or all Gods are one God) comes from the early twentieth century British occultist, Dion Fortune, and from some of the ideas of late Hinduism. It is not a part of Celtic tradition.
So you think God is a woman then? Isnt that what all that mumbo jumbo feminist witchcraft crap is about?
The Celtic ancestors worshipped both Goddesses and Gods. As polytheists, we believe the Divine takes a variety of appearances, and can manifest as any gender.
The Celts were basically a patriarchal society, and this is reflected in the lore. However, there is reason to believe that they placed more emphasis on the Goddesses than did the other Indo-European (IE) cultures. For instance, it has been noted that in other IE cultures, the line of derivation of Sovereignty is from the Sky Father, while in Celtic societies it seems to derive from the local Land Goddess. This is not merely a cosmetic difference, but is rather a fundamental difference in philosophy. While they were far from being egalitarian in a modern sense, the Ancient Celts were more egalitarian than most other IE-derived peoples, with some women owning property, fighting, and having more rights than women in other cultures of the time. It is also possible that some Celtic societies were matrilineal in structure, though this was probably not the norm.
Due to this patriarchal history, many CRs believe there has been too much focus on Gods in the past and that the Goddesses have been neglected. So they seek to rectify this in their personal practice. Others dont really think much about gender and simply focus on the Deities of whatever sort Who call to them. Either path is valid. Sometimes the Christian monks chose to record a great deal of information on a God, and a Goddess will be simply dismissed as that Gods wife, mother, or daughter. Given this historical trend, there is sometimes more reconstruction work to do for Goddesses than there is for Gods. This process of reconstruction can involve weaving disparate threads from a variety of different manuscripts and tales until a more complete picture emerges. In other cases, such as Brighid or the Morrígan, we have a great deal of information on some of the Goddesses. This may be one of the things that contributes to Their ongoing popularity.
Do you cast the circle and call quarters in your rituals?
No. These ideas come from the late 19th century Ceremonial Magic conception of how to delineate and sanctify sacred space, and as such are based on some very questionable interpretations of books from the Medieval and Renaissance grimoire tradition, combined with ideas of no known provenance (but which seem likely to have derived from the imaginations of the people who created the 19th century Ceremonial Magic tradition). When Gardner created Wicca, he incorporated these ideas into the Wiccan ritual format. However, they are not part of Celtic tradition.
On the other hand...
It should be noted that there has been some recent vigorous debate regarding a similar issue within CR. One camp posits the validity of a system of directional attributes from a story called The Settling of the Manor of Tara, in which the four or five directions, based on the provinces of Ireland, are attributed to certain broad concepts (like wisdom or prosperity), and the characters in the story are ritually seated in accord with their homelands and, by extension, those attributes. However, no one has tried to come up with cosmological/spatial associations for other texts that include similar seating charts, including Fled Bricrenn and Togail Bruidne Da Derga, even though Fled Bricrenn has thirty-four seating sections, the exact same number of seating compartments that were found in the forty-metre structure at Emain Macha.
The other camp believes that the Tara arrangement holds little use for ritualistic activities, since it is little more than a seating chart in the story in question, it is only mentioned in that one story, and one could just as easily posit a system of thirty-four directions from these examples. They also feel that it is unrealistic to limit the qualities associated with entire areas of the country, and even less appropriate to then transfer these directional qualities to other diverse lands in the diaspora. This camp believes the Three Realms cosmology is more authentically Celtic it is mentioned far more often in the lore, and ancient Celts swore their oaths by land, sea and sky. Adherents to the Three Realms system also tend to believe that the recent, limited popularity of the four (or five) directions structure is due to a desire among some for something that feels similar to Wicca, or that will appeal to those more familiar with Wicca and Wiccan-influenced traditions like most Eclectic Neopaganism. However, as CR was begun as an alternative to non-Celtic traditions such as Wicca, they see no reason for structures that cater to that desire. The Three Realms camp is the older one in the CR community.
We freely note that there is archaeological evidence of some ritual structures with four posts aligned with the compass points around a central post. However, other structural patterns also existed, and the mere existence of this structural pattern does not automatically mean that they used this to invoke the directions and the qualities they may or may not represent. It may reflect the five sacred trees that are noted elsewhere in the lore. For all we know, they may have considered those trees to be what supported the world. However, that last is supposition and barely qualifies as UPG. It could also simply mean that this was a convenient way of building any structure, be it for sacred or secular use.
There is evidence that, among some Celts, the winds (gaoithe) were associated with qualities or colors, as seen in the Saltair na Rann and some of the Irish and Scottish poetry. However, winds from many directions generally twelve winds and sub-winds were sometimes named, and even the attributes of the main four were based on local geography and seasonal weather patterns, not on any rigid, universal, nor astral conception of directional qualities. CRs who acknowledge the winds, or look to them for omens, usually follow this localized approach and so adapt the various traditional associations to their local environments.
Marian McNeill does include a brief mention of someone drawing a circle on the ground with a dirk or branch, as protection against evil spirits, and with the utterance The Cross of Christ be upon me! However, this was recorded in fairly recent times, and there is no way of telling whether this was only a post-Christian practice, or based on something older. Nor is there any indication of how widespread this practice may have been, especially as McNeill seems to be the only mention of it. But even if this was based on some pre-Christian precedent, it does seem clear that it was seen only as a form of emergency protection from evil, not a standard ritual form, nor was it a way of interacting with beneficial spirits.
Though opinions on these bits of lore differ, all CRs do agree that the Ceremonial Magic and Wiccan concepts of casting a circle and calling quarters, and the cosmological justifications thereof, are completely alien to the practices of any of the Celtic peoples. Since some persons who wish to further specific agendas have seized on these mild controversies as proof that Wicca is derived from Celtic traditions, or that Wiccan ritual forms can be used in CR, they deserve to be addressed here.
Why dont you want me waving my knife at the spirits?
The Insular Celtic lore is very clear that cold iron is offensive to the Aos Sí. As the Aos Sí are variously seen as the Goddesses and Gods, the ancestors, and/or the spirits of nature, it is a bad idea to anger them. The idea of walling out spirits and attempting to command them with knives and swords is derived from Ceremonial Magic, and the traditions influenced by it, like Wicca. However, CR is built upon Celtic traditions like the living Fairy Faith, where we form relationships of mutual respect and hospitality with those spirits who are willing.
For some ideas of how we deal with spirits who might be disruptive to us during ritual, see also You talk a lot about the role of the Outsiders. What do you mean by that?
What is the difference between CR and Celtic Neopaganism?
By the English dictionary definition of Neopagan, CR is a form of Neopaganism; this is because no one now living has inherited an unbroken, thoroughly polytheistic, ancient Celtic tradition. Some aspects of our practice are by necessity revivals of older practices or modern creations based on historical precedent. However, there are now many common associations with the words Neopagan or Celtic Neopagan that are diametrically opposed to the values and beliefs of CR.
Though some self-identified Neopagans are respectful of the cultures they are inspired by, there are, sadly, many other Neopagans who exhibit the worst examples of cultural appropriation and disrespectful eclecticism. In addition, Neo- means Un- or Non- in Scots Gaelic (Gàidhlig). As CR is definitely a Polytheistic/Pagan tradition, and a number of us are involved in Gàidhlig language communities, this is not really a comfortable fit for a multilingual community. Although the literal English meaning of the word "Neopagan" is not a problem for us, being associated with the rampant cultural appropriation and routine eclecticism of the general Neopagan community is. For these reasons, most CRs do not identify as Neopagans, preferring terms such as Polytheists, Pagans, or other terms in Celtic languages.
Therefore, in this document, when we refer to Celtic Neopaganism, we are not referring to any of the beliefs or practices of CR.
Celtic Neopaganism, which is usually eclectic Neopaganism with some Celtic elements taken out of context, relies primarily on the ritual and philosophical models of the larger Neopagan community. It includes casting circles, the use of the athame and other tools from Ceremonial Magic, a model of four elements and four directions, and often embraces the Wiccan Rede as an ethical construct. Within this model, Neopagans may call upon Celtic Deities, though those Deities are usually seen through the lens of eclectic Neopaganism triple Goddesses who are sisters in the original Celtic lore are frequently re-interpreted as Maiden-Mother-Crone triads. Gods are re-interpreted as solar and Goddesses as lunar, when this pattern is not actually a part of early Celtic belief. Antlered Gods are envisioned as Hunting Gods instead of Mercurial transfunctional deities associated with crossing boundaries. The modern eightfold wheel of the year is used rather than focusing on actual Celtic cultural and seasonal festivals.
Celtic Neopaganism relies more on magic and spellcasting than CR tends to. Where Celtic Neopaganism often employs language suggesting the Gods and Goddesses can be used or commanded, and images of invocation and dismissal, CR focuses on developing mutual tribal or familial relationships through practices of offering, hospitality and invitation. CR is more likely to conceptualize dealing with Deities as a process of prayer, appeal, and mutual affection rather than invocation and spellwork. Celtic Neopaganism often rejects the label of religion in favor of spirituality, while CR embraces both religion and spirituality as valid ways of approaching a human relationship with the sacred.
CR Paganism does not embrace Wiccan or eclectic Neopagan models for ritual or ethics, but looks instead to older, Celtic models. Our cosmology is different, our ethics come from a very different worldview, and our approach to the Divine is different as well. CR, in many ways, bears more resemblance to animistic tribal religions than to modern eclectic Neopaganism. In CR there is more emphasis on ancestors (wherever they may hail from) and local land spirits than in Celtic Neopaganism. Warrior paths are embraced rather than rejected. Sacrifice in certain contexts is accepted as a part of the religion where Celtic Neopaganism generally shies from the idea.
In Celtic Neopaganism, ritual tends to be seen as separate from daily life, performed at the seasonal days and on full or new moons. CR Paganism embraces the small, everyday acts of purification, devotion and focus as a part of an everflowing pattern of ritual that moves from rising in the morning to going to sleep at night.
Some CRs feel that Eclectic Neopaganism which incorporates Celtic elements is an acceptable part of the Celtic continuum, and that this diversity should be encouraged. Other CRs feel that eclectic, Celtic Neopaganism should never be called Celtic as it is only taking bits of Celtic culture out of context, and in this process sometimes obscuring actual Celtic beliefs and practices. Many believe that, even if unintentional, this misrepresentation of eclectic practices and beliefs as Celtic is a form of cultural imperialism.
See also Why do CRs hate Wicca and Wiccans?, 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? and Are you Gaelic Traditionalists? What is the difference between Traditionalism and Reconstructionism?
Is Celtic Christianity a part of CR?
Celtic Reconstructionists are dedicated to reviving ancient Celtic religion. The ancient Celts were polytheists.
That said, with its veneration of many divine beings (saints), and its reverence for nature and contemplation, early Celtic Christianity was not that different from the Paganism which preceded it. Whereas the Great-Grandmother of an early Celtic Christian may have prayed to Bríde, Manannán and Lugh, in praying to Saints Brigid and Michael, the Celtic Christians maintained a significant amount of the imagery and rituals sacred to many of the Déithe. Similarly, a modern CR may take the rituals and prayers their Great-Grandmother made to the Celtic saints and, through research in the manuscripts that preserved the older tales, back-engineer these nominally Christian practices to what may have been their original, Pagan state.
Through this work, we are somewhat familiar with Celtic Christianity. Those of us who participate in the living Celtic cultures also interact with Christians regularly, as most people in the living Celtic cultures are Christian. Though Christianity as a religion is not part of CR, CRs and Celtic Christians value many of the same holy days and places of pilgrimage. It is not at all uncommon to find ourselves kneeling next to Christians at the same holy well. Though the particular prayers we say are somewhat different, as is the theology behind them, we are still able to see ourselves as travelers on related paths. Christianity may not be our religion, but we are able to find common ground and peace with many Christians.
Those of us who participate in the living Celtic cultures, or who belong to large, extended families, have often experienced events that combine Pagan and Christian elements. An Irish wake, for example, may have a section where a Catholic will say the rosary, then an agnostic will make a toast, then the Pagan will tell a story of the ancestors who have gone before and now welcome the deceased to the Otherworld. The Pagan may also make sure that some of the food is set aside in offering to the departed, and that some of the toast is spilled out in libation to the spirits. Obviously, these things work best when everyone involved is tolerant of a variety of religious approaches. But, in our experience, as long as these practices are situated firmly within the cultural context, it is rare for there to be any conflict between the approaches.
See also: Is this a religion, or a culture?
Do you practice Celtic shamanism?
Short answer: No.
Longer answer: Many of us find the use of the term shamanism problematic, as it is a term which refers to a specific spiritual/religious complex in a specific, non-Celtic, culture (Tungus/Siberian). The word shamanism came into common usage as anthropologists noted some similarities between the practices of a few differing and unrelated traditional peoples. They began using the term, loosely, to refer to these varying practices. However it has always been a rather superficial generalization that did not accurately fit many of the cultures described. That usage has travelled, and become even broader and less useful, into the Neopagan and occultist lexicons (largely due to the controversial work of Michael Harner).
To call any mystical practices which deal with the spirit worlds shamanism is unfair to the culture which originated the term, and to those other cultures which are subsequently lumped together and homogenized. It fosters a sort of spiritual laziness, where culture-specific practices are mistaken for universal, and which often prevents seekers from looking deeper to the actual practices of the culture in question.
While there are certainly mystical aspects to some parts of CR practice, and a strong tradition of work with spirits and the spirit worlds, CR practitioners generally feel that shamanism is an inappropriate and potentially offensive word to describe what we do. We have perfectly serviceable words for what we do in the Celtic langauges words which actually describe our historical practices and we prefer to refer to ourselves by those titles if and when we earn them. Some of these titles are Draoi, File, Awenyddion, and others.
Who do I pay to be initiated into Celtic Shamanism?
Nobody. We arent Celtic Shamans, nor do we actually believe there were Celtic shamans per se, so we cant offer you any initiations like that.
Are you Gaelic Traditionalists? What is the difference between Traditionalism and Reconstructionism?
If a tradition has to be pieced together from fragmentary survivals, books and folklore, it is Reconstructionism. If there is a community of people already following an intact tradition, complete with a full system of belief and practices they can teach you, that means you are joining an existing tradition.
In the early years of the CR movement, we probably tended to gravitate towards calling ourselves reconstructionists, not traditionalists, because of our commitment to accuracy and honesty, and our respect for the living cultures. While there are ancient manuscripts and books of 19th Century folklore that describe things similar to what we wanted, there was no living tradition that had preserved a complete, polytheistic Celtic religion as part of the living culture. There were Catholics with some easily re-Paganized bits. There were the piles of obscure books. There were some small survivals of practices, beliefs and attitudes in some of our families of origin, but no complete spiritual system. There was no polytheistic, traditional Celtic community to join. So, we began the process of putting the pieces back together reconstructing.
At that point, it never would have occured to us to call ourselves any sort of Celtic or Gaelic Traditionalists. Those words already had meanings in the living cultures, especially in the Gaelic areas of Ireland and Scotland. Had it even occured to us to do so, adopting that name would have felt arrogant or, at the least, inappropriate especially as the approach we were taking to this was somewhat new.
The Neopagan communities have a problematic history of fabricated traditions being passed off as survivals of ancient religions. So, even as we began speaking about how our developing traditions relied on the older sources, we needed to make sure people understood that we were not pretending to be the secret keepers of vast, ancient, occult, Celtique mysteries that wed learned at the feet of our fictionalized Grandmothers or Grand Das. (See also 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?)
So out of this need for rigorous honesty, at times we overstated the point. For instance, in the CR Essay, we said things like, CR makes no claims to being a True and Authentic Survival of any Celtic tradition. We acknowledge fully and openly that what we practice are a set of modern creations, based in and inspired by early Celtic beliefs. We probably would have been better off to phrase that as, CR makes no claims to being a True and Authentic, Intact Survival of any complete pre-Christian Celtic Pagan tradition. We did not for a moment mean anything like, We make stuff up and call it Celtic, though, apparently, some misread it to mean exactly that. We meant that the way we are doing this, though based upon the ways of the ancestors and the surviving fragments in our communities, is not coming from a complete, unbroken line. It is old, in that we look to old sources and have some small pieces of intact survivals, but it is also new. As we live in modern times, it will not be identical to what our ancestors did. And as almost all the people in the living Celtic cultures are Christians, what we are doing will not be identical to their approach, either.
While the broader umbrella of CR includes people of all the Celtic cultures, it does seem that most CRs are reconstructing Gaelic forms of polytheism, or interested in participating in groups that have laid down some foundations in these areas. Those of us doing this also participate in the broader, traditional Gaelic cultures via language study/preservation, and participation in Gaelic traditional art forms and other cultural activities.
There are now also groups of polytheists who call themselves Gaelic Traditionalists (GT). In order to distinguish them from the Traditional Gaels in the Gaeltacht/Gàidhealtachd areas of Ireland and Scotland, or the traditional Gaelic cultural activities mentioned elsewhere in this FAQ, some Irish and Scottish observers of the phenomenon have suggested these GTs be called Modern American Gaelic Traditionalists (MAGT) as the modern, polytheistic tradition began in America, from similar origins as CR, and at around the same time as the CR movement was beginning to take shape. Another proposed name change, by some of the elders of the American movement, is Diasporic Gaelic Traditionalists (DGT). Using either of these names instead of GT helps avoid confusion with the older, Irish and Scottish groups, as well as some of the tension and misunderstandings that have arisen from the name Gaelic Traditionalists.
Many of those who identify as GT or DGT have practices and beliefs that are indistinguishable from CR, and the differing name is just a matter of personal preference. However, despite the common origins of our movements, our increasing visibility on the Internet has in more recent years attracted individuals who want to use our names but do not share our values or ethics. There are some who have recently called themselves GT but have created something that in no way resembles the values, beliefs, nor practices of CR, nor even those of early GT or DGT.
Right now, DGT is largely a different community from CR, with a different tone and flavor. However there is, and has always been, some overlap between the communities, as well as cooperation and mutual respect between some of the founders of both movements. There have also been some quite serious disagreements between the elders of CR and some of the newer MAGTs, usually over issues of ethical violations and dishonesty among some of the newcomers. However, those seem to have mostly involved fringe elements of MAGT, people who have at various times called themselves Druids, CR, or GT while in actuality sharing none of the core values of any of our communities. Thankfully, it appears those disruptive elements have now moved on to experimenting with yet another identity, and the core members of the CR, GT and DGT communities will continue to build solidarity and set limits on those whose beliefs and behaviours are unacceptable in our communities.
Just as we have no real control over who chooses to self-identify as CR, or over the behaviour of those who call themselves CR, neither can the GTs or DGTs completely control the use of their names. What we can do is state clearly what our principles are, what is and isnt acceptable behaviour in our communities, and take a stand when someone steps outside the bounds of acceptable behaviour.
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