THE CELTIC WORLD
In Celtic legend, a white doe or stag often serves as a guide
to the invisible portals, or "thin places," between the realms.
(Art taken from John Matthews' The Arthurian Tradition.
Element Books, Inc., 1994:16. Unfortunately, Element neglects to name the artist.)
[Added 2 October 2003]: This is an exquisite page of rich, well-chosen, beautifully organized, and unique links from Anniina Jokinen's Luminarium. The page focuses on Irish literature, mythology, folklore, and drama. You could spend days here.http://www.watson.org/%7Eleigh/celts.html
[Added 5 October 2003]:This is Celtic Europe, "An online resource for students by Leigh T. Denault." The page is very well written and clear. The Table of Contents covers: An Introduction to Celtic History; Evidence from the Past: Texts, Linguistics and Archeology; Celtic Mythology; Online Resources for Celtic History; and a lengthy bibliography of Sources for Further Study. For a fine overview of the Celts, start here. An excerpt:http://www.wsu.edu:8080/%7Edee/MA/CELTS.HTM...The Celtic people have mystified anthropologists and historians for generations. They were a non literate culture whose history and literature was preserved through oral tradition. The only written records of their civilization are the texts left by classical authors, the first of which appear circa 500 BCE. These accounts, inaccurate as they may be, are important in that they demonstrate that the Celts came into cultural contact, and sometimes competition, with the Greeks as well as the Romans.
In recent years, modern archeology has been successful in reconstructing an echo of the "voice" of the ancient Celts. Facets of Celtic society, economy, and religion completely ignored by Classical texts have been brought to light. The classical image of Celtic life describes barbaric men and women dressed in uncured animal skins in primitive villages, people who worshipped strange deities and whose lives were consumed in blood feuds. Because of the authority of the classical authors, these ancient misconceptions were pervasive. They are visible, for example, hundreds of years later in some of the Shakespearean characters that people Cymbelline and King Lear....
[Added 5 October 2003]: This is Richard Hooker's excellent survey of Celts in medieval Europe. From his opening:http://www.ancientquest.com/deeper/2000-krm-celticchurch.htmlWhile textbooks stress the descent of Europe from classical culture, the face of Europe throughout most of the historical period was dominated by a single cultural group, a powerful, culturally diverse group of peoples, the Celts. By the start of the Middle Ages, the Celts had been struck on two fronts by two very powerful cultures, Rome in the south, and the Germans, who were derived from Celtic culture, from the north. Through the period of classical Greece (corresponding to the La Têne culture in central Europe) to first centuries AD, most of Europe was under the shadow of this culture which, in its diverse forms, still represented a fairly unified culture.On Irish Christianity:...The most important legacy that the Irish bequeathed to Europe was Irish Christianity. When Patrick came to Ireland in the fifth century, Christianity had spread across the face of Celtic culture but hadn't really penetrated the various Celtic cultures. It was spread very thin and practiced by a perishingly small minority in Gaul and Britain. It was also assuming a new, distinct character among the Celts, who combined Christianity not only with native Celtic institutions and religions, but with a plethora of eastern mystery religions. (Much of what we call modern "paganism" which points to Celtic sources actually originates in eastern, mystery religions that had been imported into Celtic culture.) It was this Celticized version of Christianity that Patrick brought with him to Ireland.
The Saxon invasions, however, wiped out Christianity in England, but not in Wales or Ireland or Scotland, where the religion had been introduced by Columba, an Irish saint. It wasn't until the late sixth century that Christianity was reintroduced into Britain; this brand of Christianity, more aligned with the practices of the Roman church, came into conflict with Celtic Christianity and its unique practices. By the tenth century, the unique Celtic Christianity of Britain had largely been subordinated to Saxon Christianity.
It was in Ireland that Celtic Christianity thrived during the Germanic invasions and then the later subordination of Celtic Christian practices to Saxon practices....
[Added 15 October 2003]:This is a fascinating account of "The Celtic Church" by my e-friend, Dr. Karen Ralls (also see link below on Celtic "Otherworld" music). Here are some excerpts:http://celt.net/Celtic/celtopedia/indices/encycintro.htmlCeltic Christianity, and the early Celtic church, is a subject of growing interest today, along with increased interest in the Celtic saints and, especially, the places of pilgrimage relating to early Celtic monasteries or churches, such as Iona, Kells, Whithorn, or St. Illtud's Church in Wales. This is a very complex and multi-faceted topic, so this particular article will focus on one of the famous Celtic saints of Scotland - St. Columba of Iona....
...The "heyday" of the Celtic church was from the early 5th through the 8th centuries. Some monasteries, such as Iona in Scotland, Kells in Ireland, or Lindisfarne in northeast England, are renowned for their beautiful, illuminated manuscripts. Lindisfarne is often misrepresented as having been an exclusively "Celtic" church community when, in fact, it was an important part of the Northumbrian church, which had its own distinct identity. However, Lindisfarne received many ideas and monks from Iona, making it a key community of the time in an extensive network - Glastonbury, too, has connections with St. Patrick, for example....
...The very idea of a single, organised "Celtic Church" is actually quite misleading, implying a uniformity throughout the Celtic parts of Europe, which was not the case. It does not properly acknowledge the considerable organisational differences between the various early Celtic churches and their diverse communities. To simply lump them all together does great disservice both to their sophistication, and to their complexity as a field of study....
...Several...early manuscripts exist about Columba. The Cathach of St. Columba, part of a psalter dated around 600 AD, is among the oldest examples of Irish Latin in existence. Its style is unique, in that the initial letters are sometimes surrounded by red dots, a feature earlier found in Coptic manuscripts. The Coptic Church is Egyptian, leading one to ponder about possible "desert father" connections with the early Celtic saints, who seem to have used them as a monastic model....
[Added 5 October 2003]:This huge site is the Encyclopedia of the Celts, compiled and edited after decades of work by a Danish lover of Celtic traditions, Knud Mariboe. I checked at random under "M" and "S" and was amazed by the comprehensive entries, the lore and tales, and the large supporting bibliography. There's even a search engine to help in whatever you're looking for. One may not always agree with the data (the entry on the Sheela-na-gig, for example, reflects older scholarship and doesn't mention more recent work on the Church's role in deliberately using "exhibitionist" carvings of both genders as a warning against the deadly sin of lust), but the research and use of literature is first-rate.http://www.britarch.ac.uk/ba/ba.html
[Added 5 October 2003]:This is the online version of British Archaeology. All the issues (without artwork) are freely available online -- no subscription needed unless you want print versions! This is a real treasure-trove. Don't miss the May 2003 article on human habitation of Britain.http://www.britannia.com/history/index.html
[Added 2 October 2003]: This is Britannia, an e-zine covering many aspects of British history, including Celtic topics of interest. The site's range is made clear in its opening statement: "Britannia's History Department has the internet's most comprehensive treatment of Britain's history from the prehistoric era to modern times."http://www.britannia.com/celtic/wales/: [Updated link 10/3/03]
Again from Britannia, this collection of articles from Peter N. Williams, Ph.D. includes great data, especially on Wales (literature, linguistics, pronunciation guide, etc). Williams also has two fine papers on the World of the Celts and the Traditions of North Celts (with excellent data on Avalon ["Apple Isle"], holy wells, traditions of the Outer Hebrides, and fascinating lore on festivals from Christmas to Samhain). I've double-listed this URL under "Arthurian Themes."http://archaeology.about.com/science/archaeology/library/weekly/aa102900a.htm
[Added 4 October 2003]:From K. Kris Hirst, the archaeology guide at about.com, comes a short essay on Mount Sandel, an early Mesolithic site in Ireland, the earliest inhabited by humans, c.7000 BCE. Excerpts:http://www.ancientquest.com/deeper/2000-krm-music.htmlOn a high bluff overlooking the River Bann, the remains of a small collection of huts provide evidence of the earliest people resident in Ireland.... Although preservation at the site was not terrific, one hearth included some bone fragments and hazel nuts. A series of marks on the ground are interpreted as a fish-drying rack, and other diet items may have been eel, mackerel, red deer, game birds, wild pig, shellfish, and an occasional seal....
"Celtic Otherworldly" Scotland: Glen Mallie
Photo © by John Mac Pherson (all rights reserved -- used with permission)
See his website for more exquisite photos of Scotland.
[Added 15 October 2003]:"The Spiritual Dimension of Music" is a lucid, lengthy, and lovely essay by my e-friend, Dr. Karen Ralls, based on data from her excellent book, "Music and the Celtic Otherworld" (Edinburgh University Press/ St. Martin's Press, 2000). She writes:http://www.danann.org/library/arch/tapestry.htmlFrom the beautiful, enchanting music of the fairy harp to the sacred singing of the choirs of angels, Celtic literature, especially that of early medieval Ireland, has many references to a spiritual or supernatural dimension of music. Referrred to as the Celtic Otherworld, music is often featured prominently in this sacred dimension. There are many examples of fairy harpers, the songs of mermaids, the power of the saint's bell, the singing of angels in Heaven, musical trees, and so on.I highly recommend both her website as well as her book, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
The enchanting, alluring music of the Celtic Otherworld is portrayed as being heard from a dimension not of this world, that is, as something beyond ordinary reality and one's normal, everyday life experience here on earth. In some cases, beautiful, ethereal music is heard, yet no musicians are seen, for example the haunting, ghostly music heard from an empty monastery at the moment of birth or death of a saint. In others, a mortal may be "abducted" by the fairies (sidhe) or angels, taken to the Otherworld, or Heaven, and then returned to earth with special musical gifts. There are many descriptions in Celtic literature of music having a powerful, and often highly unusual effect on the listener. These references are widely distributed, being found in early tales, myths, the Saints' Lives, folklore accounts, ballads, poetry, place-lore and proverbs, and even early law tracts, in both Christian and pre-Christian contexts....
[Added 2 October 2003]: This is a site by Michael Ragan on the history, archaeology, and mythology of early Ireland. It's an attractive site, well organized, offers a brief bibliography, and if you're under 50-60, you'll probably enjoy exploring it. All the text, however, is in italics. I found this distracting and very hard on the eyes. I am therefore not taking the time to explore it in any depth.http://www.danann.org/library/library.html
[Added 2 October 2003]: This is the main "Library" link for the above site. The section on Herbs offers good sources and looks especially interesting, but the italicized text blurs when I try to read it so I'll leave it to you to explore this one further.http://www.danann.org/library/sochis/004.html
[Added 2 October 2003]: From the above Library comes Her Cloth-Beams and Her Thread-Beams by Willow Ragan, a lengthy historical paper on ancient weaving from the library of the above site. It is subdivided into the following topics: Cloth; The Fibers; The Spindle and the Loom; and Dyeing and Waulking. I happen to have a keen interest in weaving and a quick glance at these pages shows much promise. Unfortunately, as noted above, it's not worth the eyestrain to wade through the italics. Presumably, Willow and Michael Raglan are young enough not to have to be concerned with such matters.http://www.angelfire.com/fl/burntmounds/
[Added 6 October 2003]:This is an online version of an undergraduate thesis by Anne-Maire Denvir, now an archaeologist. Her focus, she writes, is on the purpose of mysterious Bronze Age prehistoric monuments named 'fulachta fiadh' or 'burnt mounds...':...A fulachta fian usually consists of a rectangular water trough that is lined either with slabs of stone or wood and there are generally hearths nearby. Near the trough you would commonly find a pile of stones in a horse-shoe shape that have been burnt and cracked by heat. The sites are usually located near water and sometimes the remains of a wooden hut are found nearby....Dating from 1400 BCE to early medieval times, scholars have argued that Ireland's 20,000-some fulachta fiadh were used as cooking pits, bathing tubs, saunas, laundries, textile production tubs, and even burial tubs. Denvir examines the evidence for such theories before arguing that, among other functions, they were used by Bronze Age weavers for washing, dyeing, and fulling. Her data is specialized and may not interest everyone, but if you're curious either about ancient weaving (she provides fascinating history) or daily life in early Ireland, this site is definitely worth a look.
ORIGINS, LANGUAGE, & GENETICS
From "Celtic Language" in Ireland's History in Maps -- see below
[Added 4 October 2003]:This is Ireland's History in Maps, a fabulous site from Dennis Walsh that looks at "History + Geography + Genealogy with a Special Focus on Ancient and Medieval Irish Tribes and Septs." I love maps and these cover Ireland's history, century by century, with great supporting information and texts. You could spend a long time exploring this one.http://www.rootsweb.com/~irlkik/ihm/celts.htm
[Added 4 October 2003]:This is a fine overview on "Celtic Language" from Ireland's History in Maps:http://ancienthistory.about.com/library/bl/bl_austriacelticroman.htm...It was during the late Bronze Age, roughly 1300-750 BC, that the Celtic language developed its recognizable characteristics in western Europe. By 600 BC "Celtic" was said to be spoken in Iberia, Ireland, and around the Italian Lakes, and it is reasonable to assume that it was also in use over much, but not all, of the intervening area. Although a matter of debate it is consistent with the archaeological evidence that the origin of Celtic lay within the Rhine-Danube zone late in the second or early in the first millennium....
[Added 4 October 2003]:From N. S. Gill, the Ancient/Classical guide at about.com comes this entry-level, unillustrated, and very brief look at Celts, German tribes, and Romans in Austria's Danube region from c. 400 BCE to 493 CE.http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk/wales/newsid_2076000/2076470.stm
[Added 4 October 2003]: This fascinating look into genetics indicates that the Welsh Celts are survivors of "ethnic cleansing"done by Anglo-Saxon invaders in much of the rest of England. Since the report is from the BBC in June 2002, and might not remain archived much longer, I have taken the liberty of citing the entire text (sans artwork) before it disappears into cyberspace.http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk/wales/newsid_1256000/1256894.stmBBC: Sunday, 30 June, 2002, 15:31 GMT 16:31 UK
English and Welsh are races apart
Gene scientists claim to have found proof that the Welsh are the "true" Britons. The research supports the idea that Celtic Britain underwent a form of ethnic cleansing by Anglo-Saxons invaders following the Roman withdrawal in the fifth century. It suggests that between 50% and 100% of the indigenous population of what was to become England was wiped out, with Offa's Dyke acting as a "genetic barrier" protecting those on the Welsh side.
And the upheaval can be traced to this day through genetic differences between the English and the Welsh. Academics at University College in London comparing a sample of men from the UK with those from an area of the Netherlands where the Anglo-Saxons are thought to have originated found the English subjects had genes that were almost identical.
But there were clear differences between the genetic make-up of Welsh people studied. The research team studied the Y-chromosome, which is passed almost unchanged from father to son, and looked for certain genetic markers. They chose seven market towns mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 and studied 313 male volunteers whose paternal grandfather had also lived in the area. They then compared this with samples from Norway and with Friesland, now a northern province of the Netherlands. The English and Frisians studied had almost identical genetic make-up but the English and Welsh were very different.
The researchers concluded the most likely explanation for this was a large-scale Anglo-Saxon invasion, which devastated the Celtic population of England, but did not reach Wales. Dr Mark Thomas, of the Centre for Genetic Anthropology at UCL, said their findings suggested that a migration occurred within the last 2,500 years.
It reinforced the idea that the Welsh were the true indigenous Britons. In April last year, research for a BBC programme on the Vikings revealed strong genetic links between the Welsh and Irish Celts and the Basques of northern Spain and south France. It suggested a possible link between the Celts and Basques, dating back tens of thousands of years.
The UCL research into the more recent Anglo-Saxon period suggested a migration on a huge scale. "It appears England is made up of an ethnic cleansing event from people coming across from the continent after the Romans left," he said.
Archaeologists after the Second World War rejected the traditionally held view that an Anglo-Saxon invasion pushed the indigenous Celtic Britons to the fringes of Britain. Instead, they said the arrival of Anglo-Saxon culture could have come from trade or a small ruling elite. But the latest research by the UCL team, "using genetics as a history book", appears to support the original view of a large-scale invasion of England. It suggests that the Welsh border was more of a genetic barrier to the Anglo-Saxon Y chromosome gene flow than the North Sea. Dr Thomas added: "Our findings completely overturn the modern view of the origins of the English."
[Added 4 October 2003]: Even more exciting than the above BBC report is this one from April 2001 linking the Celts and the Basques, going back tens of thousands of years. (Note: genetic and linguistic data need not be interlinked.) Again, I am citing the entire text:Tuesday, 3 April, 2001, 13:11 GMT 14:11 UK
Genes link Celts to BasquesThe Welsh and Irish Celts have been found to be the genetic blood-brothers of Basques, scientists have revealed. The gene patterns of the three races passed down through the male line are all "strikingly similar", researchers concluded. Basques can trace their roots back to the Stone Age and are one of Europe's most distinct people, fiercely proud of their ancestry and traditions.
The research adds to previous studies which have suggested a possible link between the Celts and Basques, dating back tens of thousands of years. "The project started with our trying to assess whether the Vikings made an important genetic contribution to the population of Orkney," Professor David Goldstein of University College London (UCL) told BBC News. He and his colleagues looked at Y-chromosomes, passed from father to son, of Celtic and Norwegian populations. They found them to be quite different.
"But we also noticed that there's something quite striking about the Celtic populations, and that is that there's not a lot of genetic variation on the Y-chromosome," he said. To try to work out where the Celtic population originally came from, the team from UCL, the University of Oxford and the University of California at Davis also looked at Basques. "On the Y-chromosome the Celtic populations turn out to be statistically indistinguishable from the Basques," Professor Goldstein said.
The comparison was made because Basques are thought by most experts to be very similar to the people who lived in Europe before the advent of farming. "We conclude that both of these populations are reflecting pre-farming Europe," he said.
Professor Goldstein's team looked at the genetic profiles of 88 individuals from Anglesey, North Wales, 146 from Ireland with Irish Gaelic surnames, and 50 Basques. "We know of no other study that provides direct evidence of a close relationship in the paternal heritage of the Basque- and the Celtic-speaking populations of Britain," the team write in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
But it is still unclear whether the link is specific to the Celts and the Basques, or whether they are both simply the closest surviving relatives of the early population of Europe. What is clear is that the Neolithic Celts took women from outside their community. When the scientists looked at female genetic patterns as well, they found evidence of genetic material from northern Europe. This influence helped even out some of the genetic differences between the Celts and their Northern European neighbours. The work was carried out in connection with a BBC television programme on the Vikings.
Detail of Brigit
[Used with permission]
© Sandra Stanton at Goddess Myths
[Added 3 October 2003]:This is Mara Freeman's lengthy Imbolc essay on Brigid. It is unusually rich with lore and history.http://druidry.org/obod/deities/goddesses.htmlShe is said to have had two sisters: Brigid the Physician and Brigid the Smith, but it is generally thought that all three were aspects of the one goddess of poetry, healing, and smithcraft. Elsewhere she is described as the patron of other vital crafts of early Celtic society: dying, weaving and brewing. A goddess of regeneration and abundance, she was greatly beloved as a provider of plenty who brought forth the bounties of the natural world for the good of the people....
[Added 3 October 2003]:From a British Druidry site comes this handsome site with detailed papers on six Celtic goddesses: The Cailleach (by Mara Freeman); Blodeuwedd (who was made of flowers); Epona, the Great Mare; the Morrigan; Arianrhod (no paper -- links only); and two great papers on Brigid (see below under "Traditions of Bards..."). I found the work excellent, well written, and carefully researched. The articles give a historical context and also provide photos of ancient artifacts and other illustrations. The paper, "Brighid & the Fires of Love," considers the goddess in the context of Southern Hemisphere pagan celebrations -- should the celebrations be reversed to suit the seasons? Or should they remain the same as in the Northern Hemisphere? The author argues that reversing works well enough with solar-based solstices and equinoxes but not with the Cross-Quarter Days:http://druidry.org/obod/deities/cernunnos.htmlThis is due to these festivals being aligned, not only to the cycle of the Sun in its waxing and waning, but more importantly, to the stellar aspects associated with the constellation which the Sun is passing through at the time of the ceremony. Each one of the four Lunar-Fire festivals is associated with one of the four fixed signs of the Zodiac: Imbolc - Aquarius; Beltane - Taurus; Lughnasadh - Leo; Samhuinn - Scorpio. When viewed in this light, it becomes more readily apparent that much of the symbolism associated with these four ceremonies is as much drawn from (and disguising) stellar meaning, in addition to the more apparent Solar import. By simply reversing the timing of these ceremonies the inner stellar connections are most definitely broken and in some cases, the festival perhaps becomes inappropriate - an example being the difficulty of honouring the Goddess in Her ancient and death aspect (Scorpio) under the auspices of Her fecund and sexual aspect (Taurus) - which is precisely what happens when Samhuinn is celebrated in May. A similar disjunction and disruption of the flow of stellar energy into a ritual takes place when Brighid's rite (usually an Aquarian influence) is celebrated in August (Leo)....
[Added 3 October 2003]:From the same Druid site as the above link comes another fine, well-researched paper -- this time on the horned god, Cernunnos, written by J. M. Reinbold. It opens beautifully:http://www.celt.drak.net/ceili_sidhe/deities.htmlAt the Sacred Centre, in the Grove of all Worlds, He sits with legs crossed beneath an ancient Oak. Entranced, connecting the three worlds -- Earth, Sea, and Sky -- and the worlds behind the worlds, the god and the Great Tree are One, His immense limbs widespread, stretching into distant sky and starry space. His massive trunk, spine of the Middleworld, is the heart of the Ancient Forest around which all Life, all worlds turn. His limitless root web growing deep into secret earth and Underworld. Above him the great turning circles of Sun, Moon, and Stars. All around Him subtle movements of the leaves in melodious, singing air. Everywhere the pulsing, gleaming Green awash in drifts of gold and shimmering mist. Beneath Him soft moss creeping over the dark, deep, moist of spawning earth....Speaking personally, I have a special love for Cernunnos because on 7 September 2002 I made the final decision to buy my first house, which I had only found two days earlier -- an ivy-covered house built in 1930 that I fell in love with and named Green Man Abbey. September 7th is the day an ancient antler-horn dance is danced in honor of Cernunnos, or Herne (aka "Robin Hood"), at England's Abbots Bromley (also see Horn Dance), a clear sign to me that his hand was on this venture.
[10/5/03, FYI: the 7th was the date given in a Pagan Book of Days that I use -- but I just discovered last night in researching Abbot's Bromley that the ancient dance is a movable celebration and was held the 9th, not the 7th, in 2002. However, my "belief" last year was that the 7th was the Horned God's day, and I know from experience that the "Invisibles" do sometimes make adjustments to fit <smile>.]
[Added 2 October 2003]: This is "Some Irish Deities" by Nicky Ryborg & Erin Gough. It is an entry-level site with brief descriptions. More entries are yet to be added.http://www3.sympatico.ca/morgaine/celt_deity.html
[Added 3 October 2003]:This is another entry-level site with data on 25 Irish deities, partially excerpted from Celtic Myth and Magick by Edain McCoy.
FOLK AND FAIRY STUDIES
© by British artist, Bill Worthington
[Added 6 October 2003]: This is a paper from Folklore, one of my favorite scholarly electronic journals (published by the Institute of the Estonian Language and the Estonian Folklore Archives). The paper by Deirdre Nuttall looks at: "Witch and Priest Juxtaposed: Two Figures from Irish Traditional Narratives." Nuttall's overview of the parish priest as he appears in Irish folklore shows us a superhuman male protecting Catholic peasants from the Devil and/or Protestant gentry. There are few surprises here.http://www.chalicecenter.com/stories.htm
Much more interesting -- and tragic -- is what Nuttal has found on the witch of Irish folklore:Unlike the figure common in traditional narratives and ecclesiastical and legal records in much of Europe, the witch of Irish folklore is not depicted as posing any direct threat to the church or to other patriarchal institutions. Her interference is confined to domestic and economic areas, and in the legend type discussed below she is depicted stealing milk from cows while in the form of a hare.The legend mentioned refers to a farmer whose cows cease giving milk. Spying on them early one morning, he discovers a hare sucking their milk. In one version, his dogs chase the hare, who flees into a house. Then, as Nuttall summarizes: "A priest is called to the same house to attend to a sick woman. Inside the house an old woman is dying for want of food." In another version, the farmer shoots and wounds the hare, who flees into a house. Nuttall: "Inside the house an old woman is found, suffering from wounds identical to those that were inflicted on the hare." No sympathy is shown in the legends for the plight of the starving old woman.
More excerpts from Nuttall:...Most references to witches in Irish folklore refer to disliked and pathetic elderly single women, thought to have the facility of cursing, which may involve the use of formulaic actions or words.... The witch of Irish folklore does not take part in Satanic rituals, she is not shown engaging in group rites such as covens. Her malevolence is not such that it is necessary to juxtapose her with a mighty adversary such as the parish priest. [She] is usually represented as aged, pitiful, decrepit and weak, as a widow, or as an elderly, childless woman. She can be severely damaged or injured unwittingly or almost unwittingly by the farmer and the dog. The threat posed by her to society is nothing compared to that wielded by the Devil, and her presence is dealt with not by the priest, but by an ordinary man, doing ordinary things....I might add that Ireland never engaged in the horrific witch-burnings that swept the rest of Europe. Some sources say that not a single witch was burned; others name two or three women, but no more than that. I always assumed the mystical Irish had too much respect for their women to behave like the rest of Europe. In many ways, I still think that is true. Yet the chilling attitude revealed by Nuttall's research also suggests that some Irish, at least, had too little respect and saw no reason to waste a fire on such pathetic creatures.
...Feminine qualities that are not safely contained, invisible, in a domestic environment, become overt and thus offensive.... Feminine evil is represented, in the person of the witch, as elderly, unattractive and weak and, above all, subversive; failing to adhere to the correct models of feminine behaviour in Irish society, she is reduced to the form of a hare. To dismiss such a feeble character, it is clear, there is no need to call on an expert. A farmer with his dogs may do the job just as well. Feminine evil does not require ousting by one with supernatural or extraordinary powers....
[Kilpeck Sheela-na-gig].....This issue may also relate to Ireland's medieval Sheela-na-gigs, sometimes found in churches and usually depicted as bald crones displaying their vaginas. Some, like the famous Kilpeck figure, could (as Irish feminists and others argue) be interpreted as an earthy "subversive" goddess reminding the Irish of Her power even inside Catholic churches.
.[Cavan Sheela-na-gig] But others, such as the Cavan image, look far more like the pathetic, injured old witch-women of folklore. It may be that such emaciated figures, carved with twisted faces and ribs sticking out, were actually sisters to the starving old women of folklore.
[Added 3 October 2003]:From Mara Freeman's Chalice Center come her re-tellings of three traditional tales, "The Selkie," "The Prince, The Fox and the Sword of Light," and the touching "The Children of Lir." She also includes eleven links to tales on other sites.http://www.dmoz.org/Arts/Humanities/Mythology/Folklore/Celtic_Folklore/
[Added 3 October 2003]:These are fifteen well-chosen and briefly annotated links to a wide range of folk and fairy tales from the Celtic World.http://www.faeryshaman.org/
[Added 5 October 2003]: This is the homepage for the Society of Celtic Shamans (which includes information on a "Mystery School" on Faery Shamanism with Tira Brandon-Evans). Some of the homepage categories are for members only but if you click on "What's New," you'll find that the site's "Featured Article" is open to all and Earthsongs, the lovely quarterly online journal, is also open to the public (except for the "Special Features" section and some of the seasonal rituals in the archives). The scholarship is serious and the quality excellent. (Note: a recent paper I wrote on Ireland's Sheela-na-gigs will be published here for Samhain 2003.)http://www.ncf.carleton.ca/~bj333/faries.html
[Added 5 October 2003]:This is from the "Irish Studies" website, a big, sprawling, untidy site -- with no comprehensive site-menu that I could find -- but with some real gems, if you're patient. This particular page is on "The Irish Fairy Folk":http://www.ncf.carleton.ca/~er719/chaun.htmlThe Irish peasants left to fend for themselves in a world dominated by a corrupted church, oppressive landlords and an absence of local government and medicine turned to their own imaginations to understand and order the world around them - to make their peasant culture work....There's both charm and pathos in these brief descriptions of various types of fairies.
[Added 5 October 2003]:Again, from "Irish Studies," comes a page on leprechauns. The style is breezy, one might wish for better proof-reading, but it's still an interesting little page offering a few excerpts from the 1911 classic, The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries, by W.Y. Evans-Wentz.
TRADITIONS OF BARDS, DRUIDS,
& FILIDH [Seer-poets]
© by British artist, Bill Worthington
[Added 3 October 2003]:This "Well of Wisdom" page from Chalice Center presents a series of essays on magic and sacred traditions by Mara Freeman. Many of the essays were originally published in Parabola -- they are well-researched and beautifully presented.http://www.chalicecenter.com/wordofskill.htm
[Added 3 October 2003]:From the collection on Mara Freeman's above site comes "Word of Skill," a fine essay on the poetic tradition:http://druidry.orgFor centuries ago, many of these fireside tales were once the property of the Celtic aristocracy, recited in hall or battle-camp by men of the highest rank, known as filidh, These men were members of a learned order within the privileged class, guardians of an oral-based culture and living repositories of its history and mythology. They underwent at least twelve years of intensive training in developing memory and concentration, and learned literally hundreds of stories and verses, histories, and genealogies. A fili's repertoire had to include tales of Destructions, Cattle Raids, Courtships, Battles, Deaths, Feasts, Adventures in the Otherworld, Elopements and Visions. He was a composer,too, who had mastered the art of crafting verse in intricate metrical forms....
[Added 6 October 2003]:This is the homepage for the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. It offers many topics (some on deities are in my "Mythology" section -- also see below). The quality is uneven but there are some really fine pages. Try Dave Smith's Plant a Sacred Grove? No Problem!, for example, it's a delight. The purpose of the site is clear:http://druidry.org/obod/deities/brigid.html...In this site we aim to keep up to date with the growth and development of the modern Druid movement, in its many different forms, as well as conveying the timeless beauty and relevance of Druid wisdom....
[Added 5 October 2003]:This is "Brigid: The Survival of a Goddess," from the druidry.org site (see above). This particular essay interests me because of its comments on filidh, the "Seer-poets":http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Forum/7280/carm1.html...Brigid is the traditional patroness of healing, poetry and smithcraft, which are all practical and inspired wisdom. As a solar deity Her attributes are light, inspiration and all skills associated with fire. Although She might not be identified with the physical Sun, She is certainly the benefactress of inner healing and vital energy.
Also long known as The Mistress of the Mantle, She represents the sister or virgin aspect of the Great Goddess. The deities of the Celtic pantheon have never been abstraction or fictions but remain inseparable from daily life. The fires of inspiration, as demonstrated in poetry, and the fires of the home and the forge are seen as identical. There is no separation between the inner and the outer worlds. The tenacity with which the traditions surrounding Brigid have survived, even the saint as the thinly-disguised Goddess, clearly indicates Her importance.
As the patroness of poetry, filidhecht, the equivalent of bardic lore, are the primal retainers of culture and learning. The bansidhe and the filidh - Woman of the Fairy Hills and the class of Seer-poets, respectively, preserve the poetic function of Brigid by keeping the oral tradition alive. It is widely believed that those poets who have gone before inhabit the realms between the worlds, overlapping into ours so that the old songs and stories will be heard and repeated. Thus does Brigid fulfill the function of providing a continuity by inspiring and encouraging us....
[Added 5 October 2003]:This page, "Invocations," Part I of II, contains 54 prayers from the Pagan Carmina Gadelica, re-worked by Mike Nichols, a well known and serious pagan scholar whose essays appear frequently in my pages. About this project, he writes:http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Forum/7280/carm2.htmlNote: The original Carmina Gadelica was a collection of Celtic folk prayers, charms, rituals, and omens. They were collected in the late 1800's in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland by folklorist Alexander Carmichael and published in a six-volume set. Carmichael himself admits that many of these are Pagan in origin with only a thin Christian overlay. I have merely tried to restore them to something akin to their original [pre-Christian] charm, mystery and beauty.I have only explored a few at random, but the language and imagery are often breathtaking. This work is a special gift.
[FYI: The page offers #1-54 in sequence; at the bottom of the page is an index of the 54 so that if you have special favorites and wish to print them separately, you can click on the number and get a page containing only that specific piece.]
[Added 5 October 2003]:This page, "The Seasons," Part II of II, continues from #55-82 of the Pagan Carmina Gadelica (see directly above). One of my favorites is The Blessing of the Struan (78).
Winter Solstice Dawn
© Mickie Mueller, all rights reserved
[Added 5 October 2003]:This is Mythic Crossroads' extensive and serious collection of briefly annotated links on the British Isles. The entries are subdivided into British/Welsh, Cornish, England/Anglo-Saxon/Norman, Irish, Manx, and Scottish. Entries range from online translations of ancient epics to a wide range of information on daily life and history.http://www.ncf.carleton.ca/~bj333/folklore.html
[Added 6 October 2003]:This is a menu-page for a general "Irish Studies" site on folklore, tales, seasonal data, and links. There are some good things here if you're patient.http://ancienthistory.about.com/education/history/ancienthistory/msub13.htm
(For further comments see above, under "Fairy & Folk Studies,"for my annotations of two of the site's pages.)
[Added 4 October 2003]:This is a good collection of briefly annotated links from N. S. Gill at about.com.http://www.mythicalireland.com/
[Added 5 October 2003]:This is Mythical Ireland: New Light on the Ancient Past. It's a very "busy" looking site, thick with hypertext everwhere, which made me feel pulled in so many directions that it was difficult to focus. It's aimed at a general audience so the content tends to be a bit thin and "out there," as this rapid-fire passage from their opening statement suggests:http://www.geocities.com/Vienna/Opera/4747/Celtfile.htmlMythical Ireland is an exciting and comprehensive study of the ancient astronomers, along with their mythology and legends, their arcane carvings, and the astronomical meaning of the sites. Some interesting questions are raised along the way: Are there star maps at Loughcrew? Does Dowth have a connection with Taurus and the Pleiades? Is Fourknocks aligned with Newgrange and other standing stones? Why is the Winter Solstice marked at the Boyne Estuary? Is Knowth a complicated lunar construction? Is it aligned on the equinoxes? Did the ancient people see their gods among the constellations? Find out some of the answers at Mythical Ireland."O dear," I thought when I read that, "it's another one of those," by which I meant sites that are more flakey than serious. I randomly clicked on a few categories and in the Megalithic section I found solid data with great sketches and photos (especially for Fourknocks but Tara also looked good). That told me that the website could be useful after all. So, if you have time on your hands and feel like clicking away, give this one a whirl. And about all those star-connections, who knows, they may even be right <smile>.
[Added 15 October 2003]:This is a pleasant, no frills "plaid" page of unannotated links on Scotland, Wales & Ireland plus a handful of links to Celtic Arts and Music.http://www.primenet.com/~lconley/bookmarks.html: [Dead link 10/2/03, but I'm keeping the annotation in case it ever turns up again]
This is the Celtic and Saxon Homepage -- a handsome site with an exceptionally rich collection of links to archaeology, art, history, language & literature, mythology & religion, general topics, and tourism. (This is double-listed under Icelandic, Nordic, and Teutonic.)
[NOTE: my Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane, and Lammas pages
also have abundant Celtic material.
See my Search Engine for still more.]
A Handful of Recommended Books:
Bitel, Lisa M. Land of Women: Tales of Sex and Gender from Early Ireland. Ithaca & London: Cornell UP, 1996:229.
Condren, Mary. The Serpent and the Goddess: Women, Religion, and Power in Celtic Ireland. Originally published by HarperSanFrancisco in 1989 and newly re-issued the summer of 2002 by Dublinís New Island Books.
Green, Miranda. Animals in Celtic Life and Myth. London & New York: Routledge, 1992.
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