Candide

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

Why can't people just call me by my name?

This seems to have struck a chord with people - my frustrations with people who translate or ignore non-English names…

Celtic Reconstuctionism - A Reply

one-handful-of-earth:

candide94:

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

*Celtic Reconstructionism.  

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 wouldn’t doubt that there are Anglo-Saxon Reconstructionists out in the world, but I’ll set that aside for the moment, because I think you’ve misunderstood the Pagan religions.

I am an American. Specifically, I am European-American, with a mix of predominantly Celtic and Germanic heritage. Members of my family immigrated from Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Belgium to come seek a better life in the United States because of the war, violence, injustice, and famine that they had been confronted with on their native soil. With them, they brought as much of their culture as they could (considering that they were scraping for a living, like pretty much everyone else of the time, things were tight) to here in New England and other parts of America.

I am proud to be an American. If Mitt Romney wins the election I will consider fleeing elsewhere, but until that happens I will be perfectly content to be American. One of the great things about New England is the mix of cultures that we have brought with us: my primary encounter with these has been through Irish culture festivals. I live right outside of Boston, and grew up hearing people around me chatting excitedly about what was going on in both the US and Ireland / England / Germany / Belgium / Scotland / France and so on, based upon each person’s particular connection to and familiarity with that nation. We have items and photographs of family members who made the jump from the British Isles and Europe to America; some of them are in different languages.

As someone who has always found language and linguistics compelling, I have never not wanted to learn all of these languages, or visit all of these places. Like most people who are several generations removed from immigrant families here, I felt a disconnect between who I was and what my family was: it’s easy to get lost in the melting-pot, you see. And there’s always the sense from your grandparents that this family is losing something important, vital,and we need to encourage them to keep it right now.

So when I grew old enough to realize that Christianity wasn’t going to work for me, I was naturally drawn to other options, and Paganism was the one that spoke most to me.

Paganism, the movement, is not about denying or vilifying modern culture, and it is not about creating a “dreamworld” where we know all Ye Olde Majyck and Mystyk Things. It’s just not. 

Paganism is first a foremost a religious path, but one that offers, particularly with Reconstructionism, an opportunity for the serious student to marry an interest in his/her heritage and culture with a spiritual path, particularly an nature-incorporating spiritual path, creating a whole that speaks to many levels of being. It is a mix of the precious little knowledge of what we have from ancestors long ago

As you can imagine, there is a lot of research involved. A lot. I cannot stress this enough — as a Reconstructionist, as a Pagan, you will always been studying, always be investigating, always be re-evaluating, always be researching, and always be reading something or other, from reports from archaeological finds while you take a morning walk to articles written by your fellow Pagans.

With all of this research, though, it is true that you will probably never know exactly, 100%, how the gods were worshiped. My response to this is that worship and religion are holistic, living creations — they grow, they shift, they change, because the people and culture accommodate the changes around them into their relationship with the divine, however we may name or envision that. Look at Christianity — Christian worship and practice in 300 C.E. was vastly different from Christian worship and practice in 1300 C.E. which is vastly different from Christian worship and practice today.

Paganism is about integrating your toolkit of religion, which addresses a heritage that you are exploring and studying and connecting to as well as a spiritual path that answers your spiritual needs, with modern life. 

That includes supporting, joining in with, celebrating, and helping modern-day cultures.

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.

I’ve answered these points above, but I’ll reiterate here. 

  1. Pagans are seeking out a religion that addresses who they are as a person on several levels, and one of these is cultural heritage. I find more authenticity praying to a figure from Celtic and Germanic mythology than I do praying to a figure from Abrahamaic mythology (mythology here understood as the archetypal narratives which religious ritual interpret). This is a valid desire — in fact, I can’t think of anything more natural. Christianity is what I object to because of my personal values, but I acknowledge that Christianity is a part of living Celtic — indeed, living Western — culture, and, as Celtic Reconstructionism has pointed out, co-existing peacefully with Christianity is a part of being a modern Pagan.
  2. Part of engaging in Paganism is valuing living culture and making every effort to support, help, continue, and engage with living Celtic culture, either in the pockets of Celtic culture brought to other nations or directly within Celtic nations themselves.
  3. “No culture, no religion, is monolith.” Correct. That’s why we change, grow, invent, re-invent, tell our sacred stories and retell them. This is the history of humankind. Do you think that the old pre-Christian myths and legends and practices existed in just one form, with one right way? Modern Pagans are adapting a religion that they connect to to the needs of modern-day living. Hence the name “Reconstructionism.”
  4. We want to understand old Celtic culture to better inform religious practice and personal knowledge, as much as we can from what we have available to us, through written sources and archaeological finds. This does not equate to valuing dead culture over living culture, because we, by joining in and supporting modern culture, are bringing out efforts and voices to the effort of keeping it alive. 

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.

Although many thoughtful, studious teenagers and even younger children are drawn to Paganism and Reconstructionism, the religions do not exclusively include these.

Yes, there are always people who are not as thoughtful and studious and respectful as they should be. But if these people invalidate an entire movement, then every single human effort in history is guilty of invalidity.    

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.

True Pagans do not pretend to worship. True Pagans worship. It’s as simple as that. And although we do not know everything — we never will — we have archaeological and written evidence that communicates to us a certain amount of information about who was worshiped when, and how. And if someone connects to that? Then it’s not your business.

Celtic Reconstructionists should be serious about engaging in the preservation of Celtic language and culture. I’m studying modern Irish myself (I started before I was a Pagan, truth be told).

Also, I would not judge an entire community by its Tumblr presence. 

And what about the cheek of Celtic Reconstructionismts who want to learn our modern languages in order to make their experience more genuine? See  http://www.paganachd.com/faq/whatiscr.html#lcc They actually want to use Celtic Languages “to develop” their (invented) tradition.

… Are you objecting to a community’s desire to engage with, support, and actively continue Celtic language and culture? Is not having a community interested in pursuing the study of Celtic languages and passing them on to future generations a good thing? Learning the language of your family’s heritage and culture is another way of connecting to and valuing that heritage and culture. 

There’s a psychological component to praying and practicing in a different religion; it creates a sure separation between mundane and divine, for one thing, and it works in the mind to engage the body while freeing thoughts from fixating on words. Why do you think Latin was used for centuries, and still continues to be used today?

Is the prayer I say in Latin any less genuine than the one in English? Is the prayer I say in German or Dutch any more genuine than the one in English? Is the prayer I say in Irish any less genuine than the one I say in English?

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.

You are entitled to your personal opinion, but I am entitled to point out that:

  1. All religions, to one extent or another, are reconstructed. Even religions with continuous lines have been reconstructed to fit an ideal, earlier stage. The entire history of medieval Christianity, for example, is a history of people looking back to the “original” church and reforming according to that ideal. Additionally, all religions change as the years go by, accommodating religious innovation and shifting culture. 
  2. Paganism is not “fixating” on the past. Paganism is incorporating traditions and innovative, modern practices based on evidence from the past into a modern life. Kind of like, you know, every other religion on the planet.
  3. You can absolutely be a) a Pagan, a Celtic Reconstructionist, a Heathen, a Wiccan, a Druid, a member of Ásatrú, and so on and so forth, and b) science teachers, poets, innovators of modern Celtic languages in poetry, song, and literature, and in general work to assist the survival and evolution of endangered cultures.
  4. Celtic Reconstructionism is not a cult by the modern definition of “cult.”
  5. Celtic Reconstructionism is not dangerous to you, my friend. 

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.”

I am happy to see a Gaelic biology textbook. The Celtic languages ARE capable of embracing new ideas and concepts, and Paganism, which looks towards the future, is compatible with this.

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…

  1. Reconstructionisms are not apathetic to the future. Where are you getting this idea? Have you ever actually spoken to a Reconstructionist or a Pagan in general?
  2. Celtic Reconstructionism specifically involves being interested and enthusiastic for both past and present Celtic culture and language, and in directing this enthusiasm and interest towards saving a living, breathing way of life.
  3. You can be a Pagan and also be a functioning member of modern society. I know this is a hard idea to grasp, but, yes, it’s true.
  4. You do realize that most of European culture as a whole became Christian largely through forceful invasion, violence, and oppression, right? Go read some accounts of Saints’ lives that detail the destruction of sacred groves, the burning of figurines depicting gods and goddesses, and the wholesale slaughter of people who refused to give up non-Christian identities and practice. “Moved on,” indeed.

I’m reblogging this because its a worthwhile critique of my original post. I enjpyed reading it. Thankyou for taking the time to go through my post point by point. I’m going to answer some of the objections below because I think quoting you quoting me will just make everything look muddled and confused!

First things first, my post was written as a rant - my own political and emotional reaction to Celtic Reconstructionism. Normally I’m a science blogger, and its frankly dispiriting that a late night rant garners me more reblogs that, say, an essay on the FOXP2 gene. As a native Gaelic speaker from the Western Isles of Scotland, the last heartland of (Scottish) Gaelic culture and language, Celtic Reconstructionism does offend me for reasons detailed in the original post. Now thats out of the way, I’ll move on to more substantial issues as opposed to my own  subjective feelings.

Your first paragraph seems to me to exemplify the exact problem with Celtic Reconstructionism. You talk about your interest in your ancestors and their culture, specifically the Irish community in Boston. You then talk about the oppression and famine that sent them to America in the first place. This is all true, and I applaud you for taking an interest in.

But the point is - the Irish, Scots Gaels and Welsh who emigrated overseas during the age of the British Empire were not pagans. They weren’t oppressed because they were pagans. The Irish in the 1800s were disenfranchised and denied lands rights due to their Catholicism. Many people believe the Potato Famine was allowed to occur because the colonialist British Government didn’t give two shits about the poor Catholic Irishman. Similarly, the Scottish Gaels who were cleared in the 1800s were a mix of hardline Protestants and Catholics. They were forced out of their land mostly for economic reasons and because of supposed overpopulation. The oppression inflicted on Scots Gaels post-1745 was because some of them supported a Catholic claimant to the throne. Finallly, at least one of the reasons underlying English attacks on the Welsh lanaguges was because the majority of the Welsh population belonged to secessionist and radical churches.

No descendant of Celts in America can claim their immediate ancestor was a pagan. While they did carry some traditional folklore with them, aren’t Irish Americans famous specifically for their Catholicism? Similary, the deep-south Bible Belt was settled originally by Protestant Scots-Irish farmers. The ancestors who were oppressed and cleared off the land suffered immensely due to their low economic status and due to their unestablished religions - their Christian religions. I’m not saying you should be a Christian (I’m an atheist). I’m just trying to point out that becoming a pagan as part of a spiritual path to understand one’s ancestors would completely bypass the most important ancestors - the ones who brought your genes to the Melting Pot in the first place! 

You’re right that Christian worship was hugely different between 300AD and 1300AD. But so was Celtic worship between 300AD and 1300AD. In that period, the  Q-cetic speakers went from being pagan to being Christian missionaries. It was Old Irish speakers who converted Ireland, all of Scotland, and most of Northern England to Christianity. Indeed the first Irishman to have supposedly set foot in the USA was St Brendan the Christian Monk! On my island certain old ‘pagan’ traditions have survived (daoine sithe, Oidhche Chalainn etc), but that doesn’t invalidate the fact that the vast majority of modern Gaels (and Celts, generally) are either Catholic, Protestant or Atheist. Druidism, paganism, Fingalianism were manufactured by colonialist interlopers e.g. James MacPherson and then sold as genuine religious tradition to the Galltachd, England and America. On my particular island, the likes of Amy Murray and Ada Goodrich Freer visited the poverty-stricken people in the early 1900s, stealing and rewriting their ceilidh stories to create the narrative they wanted. Namely, the romantic, pagan narrative.

Moving on, I accept your point I shouldn’t judge a community by its Tumblr presence. However, it is a depressing point that the Sorley MacLean tag stretches to barely a page (most of the posts being my own and selchieproductions) while the various Celtic gods have pages and pages dedicated to them. This strikes me as neglecting the modern tradition in favour of the old. Its great you’re learning Irish – but why not learn Irish to take part in the thriving irish literary and music scence: why use Irish as part of your religion in the first place? Modern Irish or Gaelic have nothing to do with Paganism, the conversion to Christianity predates their evolution!

Again, moving forward, I don’t believe Celtic Reconstructionsim is dangerous to myself. I simply think that it is dangerous to the survival of the modern Celtic tradition – because it distracts us from focussing on the present and future, by trying to recreate a culture which lies thousands of years in our past. The most important history to the present is always the most recent – the history we are most connected to. Why should Gaelic and Irish-speaking energy be redirected towards saving gods who were worshipped in Gaul two millennia ago? Why not focus on preserving and revitalizing what we have managed to cling onto in the last two hundred years, in spite of oppression and emigration.

Next point, in terms of Reconstructionists learning modern Celtic languages – the problem here is that they are learning the language for the wrong reasons, as detailed above. I want to preserve Gaelic, I want it to thrive. But I want the change to be organic, from within the community. When you learn an endangered language you commit a political act. Do you really think you can come in and become a Celt, using ideas derived from foreign, colonialist sources – namely, 19th century Romanticism.

A final point. Of course the history of Christianity is one of oppression and religious persecution. But much of this was commited by your ancestors and mine, often towards other Celts! The Gaelic-speaking Scots converted, oppressed and (some think) commited genocide on the P-Celtic-speaking Picts! And do you honestly think that interCeltic warfare didn’t involve desecrating each other’s sacred sites and objects? Or that Celtic-speakers must have done some pretty major oppressive shit to reduce the Basques to a tiny corner of Spain?

Regaring the Gregorian Calendar. The Calendar exists for many historical reasons. It has been foisted on many cultures who had their own. But to be frank, for the world to work properly we need to count the days alike in business and politics. It just so happens that the Pope’s calendar won in the end – there are far more important issues than worrying about the oppression inherent in the Calendar. Okay, its arbitrary and unfair that it was the Pope’s. But now that Gaels are more likely to work in tv or politics than farming, surely it seems reasonable that we abandoned the old calendar in favour of the standard used throughout the world?

To conclude. You can learn Irish. You can be a pagan. You can consider yourself a Celt. I’m not gonna deny anyone religious liberty. I simply believe that Celtic Reconstructionists should step and consider what effect their actions (or lack thereof) havr towards living, breathing Celtic cultures. I want to keep my Gaidhlig alive. I want it to thrive, I want it to evolve. The Celtic cultures don’t need to reconstruct anything – they need a construct a healthy, future for themselves.

P.S: I probably come across as pretty Gaelocentric – and that’s because I am. I don’t pretend to speak for the Welsh, Irish or Bretons. I as a Gael have an opinion, and that’s that.

(via ave-discordia)

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  http://www.paganachd.com/faq/whatiscr.html#lcc 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…