catholic by birth; scientist by choice; sinner by merit. gaidhlig-speaking neuroscience student at oxford. likes to question everything! @di_macd

Celebrating "Sam-Hane" - the problem with Paganism

Celtic Reconstuctionism - A Rant

Lately I’ve been exploring celtic reconstructionsim. Not because I want a religion, just out of curiosity. 

As a ‘real-life’ Q-Celt, I’m of half a mind to start an Anglo-Saxon Reconstructionism Project - let’s ignore the achievements of modern English culture (inductive science, Modernism, the USA etc etc), and live in a romantic dreamworld where we pretend to have rediscovered the ‘true’ ways of worshipping Wotan. Oh things were so much better when we could just hop off with Hengist and Horsa a-raiding and a-plundering…

I feel angry when reading the Celtic Paganism/Reconstructionism tag. When Gaelic in Ireland and Scotland is dying, Breton is on its knees, Welsh is just surviving, Cornish/Manx barely exist, why on earth waste time trying to reinvent religions which died out over a thousand years and which you can never in any way recreate properly? If you want to be part of Celtic culture, join in with modern, living, changing Celtic culture and languages. No culture, no religion, is a monolith. Its damn right offensive that so many people value dead Celtic culture over the living.

Maybe if Scottish Gaelic dies by 2100, teens in 2200 will be dancing around the Cuilinn Mountains in Skye worshipping a whicker figure of the great bard-god Sorley.

When real-life Celts have to fight day and night to preserve their languages, most people on Tumblr (as evidence by the size/activity of the paganism as opposed to celtic language tags) are more concerned with pretending to be worshipping the gods they imagine the ancestors of those real-life Celts worshipped.

And what about the cheek of Celtic Reconstructionismts who want to learn our modern languages in order to make their experience more genuine? See They actually want to use Celtic Languages “to develop” their (invented) tradition.

People are entitled to worship whatever they want. Believing in poorly-reconstructed and half-invented Celtic gods from 2000 years ago is no more objectionable than worshipping Wotan or Thor. The only difference is that the modern Anglo-Saxon culture and language is healthy and thriving and can afford to have people fixate on the past - it won’t make any difference to the survival of English if a few kooks want to try and ressurect life in the 600s, instead of trying to create new English literature and art. But for a language like Gaelic or Welsh, this fixation on a fictional past is dangerous - these people interested in Celtic could be becoming Gaelic science teachers, innovative Welsh poets, mechanics working thru the medium of Irish. They could be working to assist the survival and evolution of endangered cultures, instead they endanger us with their Celtic Reconstructionist cult.

I’ll leave you with the wise words of Derick Thompson, a great poet and scholar, who among other things, ran the vibrant Gaelic literary journal Gairm for half a century and proved to the world that James MacPherson’s Ossian was a load of bullcrap. This quote is from his Gaelic biology textbook(!):

"Bha mi riamh gu làidir de’n bheachd gu bheil a’ Ghàidhlig glè chomasach air rudan ùra a thoirt a-steach thuice fhèin, agus gur h-e eachdraidh thruagh na trì ceud bliadhna chaidh seachad a bha gar bacadh anns an dòigh seo, ‘s gar stìuireadh cho tric gu beachdan is modhan seann-fhasanta.”

"I always strongly believed that Gaelic is very capable of embracing new ideas and concepts, and that it was the terrible history of the last three hundred years that prevented us doing this and that steered us so often towards old-fashioned ideas and styles."

Thankfully, the oppression of the last 300 years didn’t kill Gaelic - if we’re not careful, reconstructionism, and its resultant apathy towards the future, will cause Gaelic to atrophy, and die a slow, lingering death of neglect. Celtic Reconstructionism sucks up interest in and enthusiasm for Celtic culture and language that could be better directed at taking part in saving a living, breathing way of life. Its easy to prance around a wood celebrating a caricature of Lughnasa, its a lot harder to preserve the Gaelic culture and language that has moved on, embraced the Gregorian Calendar, and used An Lughnasdal as its name for the month of August…