Do you worship The Goddess?
As polytheists, we worship a number of Goddesses. And even some Gods!
Actually, this question is based on the common Neopagan (and especially Wiccan) concept that all Gods & Goddesses are fractional parts of a greater Goddess and God, (or a single, monotheistic Goddess), and that these many, individual Deities are merely aspects of a greater archetype that can be swapped around willy-nilly. This goes completely against the CR perspective that the Deities are real and separate individuals. It also goes against our belief that different cultures have their own unique Deities and religious beliefs about Them. In fact, there are known conflicts among some of the various Celtic Deities, which would make no sense if they were all part of some über-Godhead.
So, in answer to the question, we do not worship The Goddess, as that is simply not the way we perceive the cosmos. It is not a Celtic theology (or thealogy) and we do not accept that any such all-powerful, monotheistic being, if one exists, has any meaningful existence in our sphere of worship.
Which Gods do you worship?
That depends a lot on the individual and the Celtic culture that draws them most strongly. There were hundreds of Celtic Deities from dozens of tribal cultures throughout the early Celtic period. Irish and Scottish Reconstructionists might worship Brighid or the Daghda, the Morrígan or Manannán mac Lir. Welsh Reconstructionists might worship Llew Llaw Gyffes or Cerridwen, or Rhiannon or Gwynn ap Nudd. Gaulish Reconstructionists would be more interested in Taranis, Epona, Belenus or Rosmerta. As a polytheistic tradition, most CRs will honor a number of Deities, though they may be closest to a particular one.
So you worship all the Celtic Deities?
Not exactly. Rather than being Pan-Celtic, CRs focus on a particular Celtic culture (Gaelic, Gaulish, Welsh, etc). Even within a specific cultural grouping, not all Deities are seen to get along with one another, at least not all the time. Also, given the hundreds of known Celtic Deities and the likelihood of there being more local Deities as yet unknown, honoring each one individually would be extremely time-consuming and entirely impractical. Most CRs will have a subset of Deities with whom they have strong alliances, while still offering respect to the broader spectrum of spiritual beings they may encounter.
So should I just pick a Matron or Patron from a list of Deities and swear oaths to Them?
Among CRs who are sworn to a particular matron or patron Deity, you usually find the belief that we dont choose these Deities, They choose us. Free will is still a factor, but there are clear examples in the lore of the misfortunes that can come to those who refuse this call.
Not all CRs are oathbound to a particular Deity or even believe that such an arrangement is a desirable thing. For others it is a core part of their spirituality and identity, a source of guidance and strength. Whichever view one holds, embarking on that sort of relationship without ample time to get to know that Deity, and understand what They ask of you, would be incredibly foolish. You wouldnt just choose a random stranger out of the phone book and marry them, now would you?
The Celts worshipped a huge number of Deities. Some were very local, perhaps only concerned with the members of a particular tribe or the inhabitants of a small bioregion. Other Deities became very popular and were worshipped by many tribes in many parts of the Celtic lands. No modern Celt even knows the names of all the Deities Who were honored by their ancestors, let alone worships Them all. So even among those who dont have a particular matron or patron Deity, they will have a smaller number of Deities with Whom they are on more familiar terms than others.
I want to do a ritual, which Deity should I use?
CRs dont presume to use Deities.
The idea, common among many Neopagans and Occultists, that Deities are just created thoughtforms, interchangeable archetypes, energy batteries or psychic pets, is generally derived from Ceremonial Magic or modern psychology, particularly the Jungian-influenced branches. It is not a part of Celtic Religion.
Rather than attempting to use or order around Divine Beings, we seek to know Them and build relationships of mutual respect and affection. Much like making a human friend, these things take time and the relationship must be maintained and treated with care. While the Celtic Deities like to see us take pride in ourselves and our accomplishments, and do not expect us to grovel, neither do They want to be taken for granted or treated disrespectfully.
Historically, some interactions with the Deities seem to have been of a contractual nature, involving some form of reciprocal transaction. For example, most of the surviving Celtic altars have inscriptions indicating they were placed there in fulfillment of a vow as a form of payment to the Deity for services rendered. This is not to say that all interactions with the Deities and spirits were, or are, on the basis of quid pro quo but, historically speaking, it does appear that many of them were.
What about this ancestor reverence and land spirit stuff?
There is a lot of good evidence that both ancestors and the various spirits of the land and waters were revered by the early Celtic tribes. Local rivers and springs were seen as the embodiment of the divine. Mountains and mounds were believed to be the abode of Deities and spirits. Offerings were left for land and house spirits well into modern times, and still are today in many Celtic areas as a part of the living folk tradition from which CR draws its best inspiration.
We believe that land spirits, ancestors and Deities are all part of a community and continuity of spirit, rather than being separate orders of being. Venerated ancestors may become guardian spirits of a particular place, or rise to a level of Deity at some point, while many Deities show signs of originally having been local spirits of rivers or other natural places. As mortal human beings, we are a part of that continuity as well, and our relationship with the ancestors, the spirits and the Deities is one of family and tribal affiliation, as well as mutual affection and respect.
When we refer to the ancestors, we are not just speaking of our blood relations. We value the broader communities in which we live, and the many people who have had an important influence on our lives. Therefore, most CRs tend to refer to all of our beloved dead as our ancestors, not just those who are related to us physically. One piece of CR liturgy in use addresses the ancestors as,
You who have walked this land
(K.P. NicDhàna of Pàganachd Bhandia and Nigheanan nan Cailleachan)
In this spirit, most of us will find that, although we are approaching the ancestors in a CR style, not all the ancestors on our altars are Celts. Generally, ancestors are glad to be remembered, and not always picky about the exact format we use. However, other ancestors can become demanding, and be specific in what they want. In these cases, some CRs of diverse ancestry may find that their ancestor altar is the place where some degree of non-Celtic symbology and approach does come into play, if it is what their ancestors request of them. Others have found their ancestors to be so excited by the attention, that they have played a large part in pushing us to develop CR. Whatever our individual results, whatever our individual ancestry, CR is inclusive of all of our diverse ancestors, be they of the body, mind or spirit.
See also: What do you think happens when you die?
So where do the fairies and sídhe fit into this?
There are various otherworldly beings who, over the centuries, have been referred to as the Fairies, the Áes Sídhe, Aos Sí, or Daoine-Sìth, among other names. Opinions differ, but the living Fairy Faith from which we draw much inspiration has variously applied these names to the ancestors, the spirits of nature, or even later, literary versions of the Goddesses and Gods Themselves.
While CRs seldom use the English term Fairies to describe them, we do realize that this is a common term used to represent those who many of us know as the Aos Sí or Daoine-Sìth - the people of peace, or the people of the mounds. The fact that they are described in the lore as living underhill in the mounds is seen by some to indicate that they are indeed the ancestors, living in the burial mounds, and by others to indicate they could be some sort of chthonic Deities. We may also choose to refer to them as The Good Neighbors, The Good Folk or simply The Folk as is traditional in Gaelic areas, as it is believed that speaking of them might draw their attention and, if so, its best to imply that they might be kind. This practice may vary greatly, however, as some feel more comfortable speaking of them than do others.
The trepidation some feel about referring to them too openly, as evident in lore and SPG, is that not all the Aos Sí are particularly friendly towards us. Some might not want dealings with humans at all, others may be particular as to whom they want to deal with. Some spirits of nature may be hostile towards all humans for the actions of some, especially in cases where the earth has been harmed. In these cases they may be regarded as Outsiders. In order to co-exist peacefully with angry spirits, we might make treaty offerings as noted in, You talk a lot about the role of the Outsiders. What do you mean by that? For those who are friendly we may make offerings to them a bit closer to home and, by offering this hospitality, help strengthen that friendship.
While in the Celtic countries it may be appropriate to refer to all the land, nature and house spirits as some type of Aos Sí or Daoine-Sìth, many in the diaspora feel that using the term for all spirits in the lands where we now live would be presumptuous and inaccurate. Some of these spirits might be Aos Sí or Daoine-Sìth who came over with the human population, but others are more likely Native spirits or perhaps something else entirely.
Among those who believe the Aos Sí are a particular class of semi-divine being, many believe that there are strong connections between the Aos Sí and the Deities, with some Goddesses and Gods having Aos Sí bloodlines or actually being Aos Sí Themselves. To an extent this may seem to relate to the Christian belief that the Deities of the Túatha Dé Danann became diminished into the Aos Sí, however, it also dismisses the idea by noting that only some of the Túatha Dé Danann always were Aos Sí and that others are not and never were.
There are also those who believe that some of our ancestors might have gone underhill to join The Folk when they died, and that this is a seperate place than where most of the ancestors go. See: What do you think happens when you die?
Note: In many English-language sources, the fairy folk are referred to simply as the Sídhe, but this is incorrect. This oft-reproduced mistake probably resulted from English-speakers' attempts to abbreviate the Old Irish phrase Áes Sídhe, or similar nomenclature for the people of the mounds, without understanding Irish grammar. In actual Gaelic usage, only the mounds are called síd[h]e, síthe or sìtheananan, while the spirits who inhabit the mounds are referred to as the people of the mounds: Aos Sí or Daoine-Sìth. For more on this see the glossary.
What do you think happens when you die?
That depends on the individual CR practitioner. Many of us believe in reincarnation, and there is evidence in the source texts from within and outside of Celtic cultures suggesting that the early Celts of many tribes believed in reincarnation and/or transmigration of souls. It is said that the belief in reincarnation was strong enough that contracts could be made to be fulfilled in future lives. There is, however, no indication of a belief that not reincarnating was either possible or desirable, as is found in Hindu and Buddhist beliefs, where the spiritual goal is to get off the wheel of death and rebirth.
Some believe that we go to the land of the dead when we die, variously identified as the House of Donn (Teach Duinn) or the Land of Youth (Tír na nÓg) over the sea to the west of Ireland. These Otherworld lands would go by different names in different Celtic languages and cultures. There is evidence that it was believed the ancestors dwelt beneath the ground in the Síde (burial or fairy mounds) or perhaps under the sea with Manannán mac Lír. Given time, people might leave these Otherworld lands and return to the lands of the living, often as a descendant in a family line, or that of a beloved friend, but possibly also in a non-human form; for instance, as an animal or other creature.
Some CRs have developed death rites and have performed rituals to help departed souls move on. Our beloved dead are honored, remembered with a place on the ancestor altar and given regular offerings to help them progress. After they have been among the dead for a while, they are sometimes asked for help and guidance. It is possible some of the Deities were once human ancestors, and that an honored ancestor can rise to a place of considerable power in the spirit world.
What do you mean when you say that its not a dualistic religion?
Dualistic religions, such as Zoroastrianism and Christianity, hold the belief that there are opposing forces in the world, one good and one evil, who battle over Creation for dominance. We can find no evidence that pre-Christian Celtic belief perceived the spiritual realm in this fashion. Most Celtic Deities are depicted as being capable of both virtuous acts and destructive ones. Some of the figures in mythology are more prone to play the tester than others, such as Bricriu, but even he is not portrayed as evil.
Another sense of the word dualistic that is sometimes used could be better described as gender polarity, or the assumption that a God and Goddess must be invoked at each ritual of a certain level of importance in order for there to be a proper balance. This is not a Celtic belief. We are unaware of any evidence that, for example, An Daghda and An Mhor-Ríoghain were invoked by the druids to bless the bonfires every Oíche Shamhna, although some Neopagans have made that sort of assumption based on a tale where these two Deities had sex before one battle which took place at that time of year. We also do not see echoes of this fixation on gender polarity in what is known of other Indo-European religious rituals. It is a common pattern in many Wiccan traditions that is sometimes carried over into some peoples practices when they turn to Celtic traditions. It is, however, clearly borrowed from Wicca.
One duality that does exist in Celtic patterns is the concept of the light and dark halves of the year, often referred to as samos/giamos; that concept was generalized by some Celtic peoples into a larger philosophical model of revealed/active and hidden/incubatory things. There are indications that, in some strains of Celtic belief, there were gender assignments made to each half, but due to the different perspectives on gender modern Celts and CRs possess compared to their ancestors, these assignments are not as meaningful as they once were. As a counterexample to the idea that each half was always associated with one of the two genders, in Scotland the light and dark halves were assigned not to gender, but to age, with the Cailleach as Winter Hag ruling the dark half of the year and Brìde as the Spring Maiden or Summer Queen ruling the light. There are other possible examples of same-gender dualities of this sort, as well. Furthermore, it is the opinion of at least a few CR theologians that rigid gender assignment to the two halves is not necessary to understanding them, and in fact may impede a clear understanding of many common symbolic motifs.
You talk a lot about the role of the Outsiders. What do you mean by that?
When CRs refer to Outsiders it may refer to one, or both, of two things.
It could mean Outsider spirits and Deities, which has become for many a way to describe those Beings we do not worship or offer to in our own spaces. This may include any Gods or spirits that we simply do not worship, as they are from other cultures. It may also include Aos Sí, Fomorian or Fir Bolg beings who may be hostile to humans, as opposed to other Aos Sí, Fomorians or Fir Bolg who might be more friendly to humans or to particular humans. In some cases, the beings may be nature spirits who have an (often well-deserved) dislike of humans due to their past experiences with disrespectful people, or psychotic ghosts who are not capable of being healed. Some CRs strive to make treaty with such beings, usually at the boundaries of their property or some distance from a ritual site. This is done to make an agreement that if the Spirits take the offering, They are promising to not disrupt the home or ritual.
A significant number of CRs also refer to ourselves as Outsiders. Outlaw might be an appropriate name as well, but may be misunderstood in contemporary society. A number of us feel we would not fit as civilized adults into any of the categories of Iron Age Celtic culture and instead find inspiration in the Fianna lore and other stories of those who lived outside of mainstream society. We may identify more as mad mystics and warrior-poets living among other unusual people in the wilderness, even if for many it is an urban wilderness.
The liminal, the misty, the changeable, all are key factors in Celtic thought. Those who walk on the edges, or who participate in roles or activities others may see as polar opposites, are a traditional part of our history as well as important to modern Celts.
Some believe that at this stage in our history, most CRs could be considered Outsiders to one extent or another, as there is not yet a thoroughly CR society to fit into. This is in a way fitting, if one considers the idea that among the ancient Celts many adolescent boys (and possibly girls) may have spent time in outlaw warbands before attaining their adult status. CR as a movement and community is still in its youth and could be argued to be not yet fit for society, as it were. However, even as more structure develops over the coming years, there are some of us who will likely always see ourselves as Outsiders and prefer a highly individualistic existence to anything we perceive as overly codified and rigid.
Being Outside is also a matter of degree and often not clearly defined. The Fianna, for instance, were Outsiders who protected the society from far more dangerous Outsiders.
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Laurie, Vermeers and ní Dhoireann.
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