The Contemporary New England Witch

The Contemporary New England Witch
Ms Faith

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Celts

 Good Evening,

Let's start the discussion tonight with a message that was emailed to me regarding our last discussion


 Yira wrote: "Hello, I have just read your blog about the Druids, I have been always interested in their story and will like to know some more, such as more about the origins and practices, do you recommend a book in particular? That I can get with more of this subject."


Thanks for asking Yira. I can't recommend a particular book as there are just so many of them. Many of them are quite good.  When it comes to such a vast topic as Celtic culture and history, magick and beliefs I can't recommend one title or author. It really depends on what you are looking to read about. I will advise what I tell my students. Look at the books available and choose the ones that speak to you. Read the covers, the introduction, skim through the chapters. Definitely read a few paragraphs and make sure the writing style of the author agrees with you.  Although I will tell you, I prefer the published hard copy over Internet available information.  I've found just more credibility in the published works. 

Though having said that I will recommend one book that should be on your bookshelves if you are at all interested in Celtic culture.  "The Mabinogion" is a collection of stories or fables from the Welsh culture.  These stories are considered the some of the earliest verbally passed on stories which, which was finally written down in a small book sometime in the 14th century.  "The Mabinogion" gives us examples of early Celtic myth, culture and folklore.  Reading this little book will be a great start to your Celtic education.

For tonight allow me to tell you some of what I know about this topic.

The culture of the Celtic people is ancient and goes back thousands of years and its origins, as we briefly discussed, come from a vast region of Eastern, Central and Western Europe. As a nomadic culture, slowly migrating westwards over thousands of years, it is expected that enculturation occurred as they traveled. Enculturation is the socialization, the adoption of the behavior patterns of the surrounding society.  The indigenous people who lived in the areas would have adopted cultural practices that were considered improvements. The Celts being an inventive and industrious people brought their inventions and innovations with them as they conquered.  I mean really, when someone introduces soap into your society, whose going to object?!


The Celts were known for their warriors and their war tactics.  They were known to have painted their bodies with blue woad, a natural plant dye and what today we recognize as a war paint most likely designed to generate fear in their enemies.  It is recorded in early battles between the Romans and the Celts, that when encountered, the Celts would create a cacophony of noise, from carnyx horns being blown, clanging spears against shields, giving banshee cries and wailing and singing as they ran in no particular formation at the Romans, which resulted in the first few encounters to cause the Romans to turn and run for their lives.  This crazed behavior in comparison to the tight, disciplined formation style of warfare practiced by the Roman Legion,  was unusual and freaky enough that the Celts had the initial advantage. 

Yet the Celts as a fighting race favored and considered the strength of the individual warrior superior to the war machine the Romans used of a mass of well trained men fighting as one unit. In initial contact the 'scare factor' gave the Celts an edge, but the well trained Roman soldiers soon returned and this time they weren't startled and the mighty mass of the Roman Legion took over and eventually conquered all Celtic inhabited lands. 

The Celts and the pagan Romans, (all Romans were pagan before the edict of Milan passed by Constantine in 313 c.e.) all had similar views when it came to worship. They may invade your lands and conquer your people, for both the Romans and the Celts were warrior cultures that frankly went where they wanted and fought those who objected and won.  They didn't care though who the conquered people worshiped or how they worshiped. Both the Romans and Celts had their many gods and goddesses and worshiped many different ones within each pantheon, so had little concern about other peoples gods. It was only with the unification of the Christian Church in Europe started by Constantine and completed by Pope Gregory that not only was one religion considered accepted, but others not so.

What happened when the Romans finally overtook the Celts was the last two great warrior nations finally found themselves facing no one but the other, and eventually one had to win out. In this case the Romans and Christianity. Yet the Celts did not die out, the Romans occupied Great Britain for 400 years and in this time both the Romans and the Celts learned to live with each other and soon became one with the other. 

This is also true with the Celtic culture from the beginnings. If we look at the area of Europe where they had influence we can see flavors of so many cultures and this is found in the culture of the Celts. To assume they are 'Irish' or Scotch', Welsh' or 'British' is severely restricting and narrowing their scope. The culture is an amalgamation of so many cultures, traditions, beliefs and superstitions as to make it one of the most colorful and exciting histories of the earth's people.

The Celts were a very magickal people. I believe them to be so today, but we'll stick with the ancient culture and I'll let you discover for yourself the charm of the modern Celt, if you don't already know!  They saw messages in omens, symbols and natural signs.  They used many methods of divination to foretell the future such as divining the future by 'reading' the entrails of a sacrificed white bull.  After gutting the animal the internal organs and intestine were scrutinized and the druid priests would tell of the future for the Celtic tribe or clan. They believed that spirits resided in trees and that all living things had an energy or a soul.

They also had a belief of an eternal soul, and in reincarnation where we come back again and again to experience this life.  They believed in the natural world around them and in doing so the cycle of life that continues to go on even after apparent death.  

Some of their magick included sympathetic magick. They would run cattle between roaring bonfires so that the cattle would be purified by fire. Fire indeed purifies, and I can see why they would think this as a symbolic gesture which would magickally transform the purity and blessing onto the animal. Yet, having grown up on a farm and a dairy farm at that, I think it a far greater magick that any cattle herder had the control to run the cattle between roaring bonfires! Not an easy task I would imagine.  'Cause bulls don't go where they don't want to go.' At 2000 lbs or so for a full grown bull, you just don't force these animals to do what you want.  They must have had strong magick indeed, hmmm. 

The Celts more so than the Romans or other 'civilized' cultures at the time regarded woman as equals in most areas. Woman ruled while men battled and protected the tribes.  

"The whole nation is war-mad, both high-spirited and ready for battle, but otherwise simple, though not uncultured." ~ Strabo, 1st century A.D. geographer

"A simple but not uncultured" people that ha a fine eye for art and finely detailed and patterned fabrics.


 This is the Gundestrup Cauldron found in 1891 in a peat bog, by peat cutters in the hamlet of Gundestrup, Denmark.  It is thought to date to the first century c.e. (common era)-( now commonly used in lieu of B.C.)
The material is pure silver proven to have been made from silver coins. The boiling down of coins to fashion something else was a common practice of the day.  The detail is finely engraved and experts have determined that three different silver smiths worked to create this masterpiece of ancient art and religious artifact.

This image which is believed to depict Cernunnos, a horned god of the Celtic people shows him surrounded by animals. This cauldron is made up of several plates which were soldered together with a base plate and reinforced inside with metal tubing   It was determined that the craftsmen took each panel, covered the back with pitch to give it strength, pounded the images into the silver, with the pitch helping keep strength in the precious panels and after the images were finished, the panel was heated until the pitch melted away. 

These were not an unskilled or uneducated people. They were and in many ways still are today misunderstood and underestimated.  In addition to wool that the Celts used and were able to make waterproof, they also used linen and silks, furs and leathers.  They made complex, detailed patterns in cloth by using looms and a technique called card weaving.  This is an example of a modern piece of fabric using an ancient pattern, according to its manufacturer.  They are reputed by early r\writings from Greek and Roman reports to be a golden people. Tall, many were blond who wore gold torques around their 'milk white necks'.

The Celtic culture has influenced our modern magickal understanding and most of the 'traditional' Wicca leaned and practiced in the country has a strong Celtic flavor. Primarily because the earliest authors to write about the magickal world and make their works available in the United States were from Great Britain. Raymond Buckland and Stewart and Janet Farrar to name some of the first pioneers in writing about this subject.  I myself cut my magickal teeth on Mr. Buckland's work and all of his works available today are exemplary and truly worth reading. 

Because most of our early available texts came from the Celtic realm it makes sense that we use that as a foundation for the witchcraft we practice today.  I also was very influenced by the Celtic influence in my magick, but today I find my magick more of my own while still retaining that which works for me and I've kept much of the Celtic. I like it. Simply that. 

We'll talk next time more about the magicks of the Celtic people and  the magickal Priesthood of the Celts, The Druids. 

Peace and Happiness

 








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