Tag Archives: celtic

Bloody, bold and resolute?

My understanding of what Druidry might be, and how I might manifest it, is an ongoing project. I doubt I’ll ever settle into a state of thinking I have it figured out. It’s complicated, because we don’t have the details of ancient practice, and if we did it probably wouldn’t translate well into another setting. There are many things influencing the varied approaches to modern Druidry, too. Rationalism, Christianity, eastern religions, and shamanic traditions from around the world can all be looked to for ideas and inspiration. What is my Druidry? How am I doing it?

Meditation has always been an important part of the mix for me, but western approaches tend to stand on the shoulders of eastern ones. I don’t do well with the meditation of the empty mind. Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time exploring the possibilities of calm, unattached, in the moment and the like. Occasionally I find it helpful in small doses, but as a direction to move in, I find it unsatisfying, and it makes me uneasy. My emotions are part of how my body works, my body is a manifestation of nature, and anything that moves me towards tidying up my emotional responses reduces my experience of inspiration and by extension my creativity.

Some weeks ago I saw something that affected me profoundly. I saw Robin Herne at Leaping Hare, telling a tale from Irish mythology. It was a very human story, full of pride and ambition, and jostling for position in a complex society. It was also a story about wisdom, courage and mostly avoiding either violent or cowardly outcomes. Robin laced the tale with ribald humour, and he told it with passion, bringing to life the intensity of characters for whom pride, honour, status and action all matter more than death. The story, and the manner of its telling left me thinking about who I am, and who I want to be. It’s taken me a while to process that, but coming out of a depressed patch, it’s something I want to think about.

So often, the very idea of spirituality seems to be about resolving ourselves into peaceful, unconflicted, uncomplicated, at one with everything, able to take anything calmly in our stride sort of people. Either by letting go, or by faith in deity, or the calming influences of the right practices, we can free ourselves from trouble and discomfort. I’m not that. Too much of my identity is tied up in being a bit unseelie, mournful, gothic. I’m passionate by nature and passion is not reliably peaceful. I think too much and feel too much for such a path, and I have no desire to relinquish that for a spiritual idea that not feeling what my body feels would somehow be a good thing.

I have a confession: I like trouble and discomfort far too much to want to get rid of them entirely. Not because I enjoy being ill or hurting, but because on a good day, I can respond to a challenge. Trouble tests my wits, skills, honour and abilities. Trouble is when I get the chance to do something heroic, to be more than I had thought possible. Discomfort pushes me to learn and adapt, to take onboard difficult things, to open myself to the world or to protect myself from it, depending on the lessons. Peace, comfort and stability may seem nice, but if I seek those states and try to hang on to them, how am I also to be open to the pain of others and to their challenges? I can’t get freedom from pain for terminally ill friends, I can’t magic peace for the heartbroken and depressed. I can at least be there for them and try to understand, but I have no sense this is possible unless I am willing to share their distress, and be uncomfortable too.

Do I want to offer everyone else a simple, peaceful, untroubling and uneventful sort of tranquil life? I admit that I do not. I would prefer to be the grit that makes pearls, the spur to action. I love the primal figures who step out of myths with challenges and trials for mortals. Such beings I hold as sacred. Bloody, bold and resolute seems like a good way to go.


Celtic bragging culture and stuff I did

One of the bits of Celtic tradition that I struggle with is the boasting culture. It’s not the done thing these days to leap on a table and proclaim just how bloody awesome you were recently. We may, on the whole, be a lot the poorer for this. Bragging and talking up our achievements is a joyful sort of thing to be doing if the people around you get stuck in, either cheering or offering their own counter-brags.

But then, our Celtic ancestors, by the looks of it, were not afraid to be theatrical, or full of themselves. How many of us grew up being told that modesty is a virtue, and not to be too big for your boots, and that showing off is a shameful thing and that it isn’t nice to draw attention to your own brilliance?

As an author, this is a doubly complex dance. Like every other author out there right now, I have to work to sell books. It doesn’t matter how big a name you are, how famous or how good, your publisher will expect you to get out there and sell your work, and your sales figures will drop if you don’t. People are attracted to success, will pick up books that are popular and authors who have a readership. It’s the buzz, the sense that if a lot of people think someone is good, maybe it’s worth checking them out. And so authors, and other creative folk have to go up against a culture that often says ‘be modest and self effacing’ and wave their credentials, achievements and wins about like bait in the hopes of being able to earn enough to live on.

So on one side, I’m by nature a touch shy and retiring and I find it hard to announce that I’ve done a thing, much less ask people to buy it. That habit of playing down success is hard to break, but it affects my own relationship with my achievements, and I’m interested in changing that.

So, here is a thing I did (it’s free, you can just listen online) http://nerdbong.com/nerdbongs-splendiferous-stories-slumber-s01e03-skin/

And here is Philip Carr-Gomm saying things about me that caused me to make happy squealy noises.

http://www.philipcarr-gomm.com/skyclad/


No martyrdom in Druidry?

I have on a number of occasions described Druidry as a tradition which does not reward or encourage martyrdom. There are no tales of Druid martyrs, and there is no encouragement to suffer. Except…

I’ve also been thinking lately about how many Celtic stories feature heroic death. Heroism was celebrated in many of our ancestral cultures – the Germanic and Scandinavian peoples were big on it too. Proper heroes risk death, for a cause, for the tribe, for glory, to uphold their honour… and may well encounter it.

Martyrdom and heroism both work on the same basic principle that acting well and upholding your beliefs regardless of the risk or cost, is more important that whether you suffer or die. We tend to see martyrdom in religious terms and heroism as more worldly, but when your spiritual path doesn’t separate the spiritual from the physical, that division isn’t worth much. Heroism suggests personal glory, martyrdom is supposed to be more self effacing… except I think we know that doesn’t hold up because religions with martyrdom elements celebrate their martyrs.

It’s not even clarified by the issue of death – yes, martyrs normally die for the cause, but the Celts invented the White Martyrdom – leaving your ancestral community for the church, which was such a huge personal sacrifice that it counted as a form of martyrdom.

In fact, regardless of which term you favour, ‘sacrifice’ or the willingness to be sacrificed is definitely part of the deal.

‘Martyr’ can be flung as an insult where ‘hero’ lends itself far less. Calling someone a martyr can imply needless suffering, a form of attention seeking, smugness, holier than thou attitudes and other less desirable things. To make ‘hero’ an insult depends on using it ironically, and does not come so easily, I find.

Both are social constructs. If no one is looking who cares as you bleed to death, you will be neither hero, nor martyr, just corpse.

I realise that I would like to be heroic. I would like to do potent, risky things for good causes. I would gladly risk my life to protect others, or to make the world a better place, but there’s just not much call for that where I am. I know other parts of the world could use heroes, but my lack of language skill, physical prowess and political insight are something of a barrier. Dying uselessly for a cause has never seems that appealing. And so, unable to express anything heroic, I step up to things that look a lot more like martyrdom. Things that come into my life as slow exercises in being stripped of skin and bled dry. It’s not proper martyrdom, because there is no one to celebrate it, the way (for example) the quiet martyrdom of many mothers of small children goes unnoticed. The martyrdom of those who go without in small ways so that others can have what they need.

It might, on the whole, be a lot easier for me if Druidry did offer a martyrdom tradition that would allow me to feel differently about what I end up doing. The concept of martyrdom can, at least, convey a degree of dignity and nobility to situations that are otherwise entirely devoid of those things.


Pagan pondering the Mediaeval

I’m in the process of reading Cervantes’ Don Quixote, and I think it has implications for the mediaeval texts beloved of modern Pagans. I’m very aware that I’m wading in to a topic I barely know about, so, I’m just waving a thing because it may need waving.

The first section of Don Quixote was published in 1605. It’s a satire on what was at the time a popular genre across Europe, namely the chivalric romance. By the looks of it the chivalric romance goes back to the 12th or 13th century, easily. There were enough texts and readers for a satire of it to make sense. The premise for Don Quixote is that the man has been driven out of his wits by reading too many of these things, and has come to believe they are true.

Chivalric fiction, as far as I can make out from this book, is all about your knight errant, who has to have some largely unrequited love interest and run around performing impossible feats in her name. The Arthurian myths are specifically referenced by the Spanish author, as being examples of this. I was aware of Chretian de Troys, (is that how you spell it?) and that Lancelot came to the Arthurian tradition from the French authors, but had no idea why. The answer, it would appear, is because this is a genre and it was happening across Europe. It’s like superhero fiction and romance combined. There’s magic in it, and mighty feats. There’s also a drawing on actual historical figures and events such that many romances of this genre are a tangle of the two, again, from what I can make out.

There are so many texts beloved of Pagans that were recorded in the Mediaeval period, and that purport to represent something older. I’ve read The Tain, I’ve failed to get through Le Morte D’Arthur, there’s all the wondrous Welsh stories, and they exist in a context. A genre that spanned the continent and centuries, full of heroes, epic fights, marvellous heraldry, lavish descriptions of costume, unlikely speeches, magic, impossible acts… and a tendency to draw on history for inspiration. Of course this does not rule out drawing on myths as well, authors are seldom averse to stealing good material and recycling it.
When we come to these texts as Pagans, it is often with our eyes to the ancient past, and what might be revealed, and not to the context of the stories themselves. I suspect the context matters. Genres tend to shape the ways in which stories are told, the elements you play up, the things you skip over. In this case it may explain both Lancelot and the grail myths, which always struck me as a bit shoehorned in. Maybe they were. But what else owes to literary habits of the time and not to the ancient Celts?

It occurs to me that we might have a better shot, as a community, at finding the truly old stuff in these stories, if we went in by first pinning down the rules, conventions and normalities of the chivalric romance genre, and then looked for what doesn’t fit. Giants and wizards, princess and challenges, they all fit the genre, from what I can see. I’m not sure we’d have much left. Of course that a thing fits in a time and place does not rule out its being older, but it does raise questions.
I know I have neither the time nor the skill to do the work that might be useful on this score, and I have no idea if anyone out there is working on this stuff, and from a Pagan perspective. So, I’m waiving and waiting to see what anyone else comes up with.


Druidry and western philosophy

I find myself once again thinking about the relationship between philosophy and Druidry.

Modern philosophy grew out of a tradition that goes right back to the ancient Greeks. Not the ancient Celts. Most of what we know about ancient Celtic philosophy comes from what we can extrapolate from Roman writing and mediaeval texts. At best, it’s an inexact science, but I think it would be entirely fair to say that whatever Celtic (and therefore ancient Druidic) philosophy looked like, it did not look like the history of philosophy that we now have. There’s plenty of Roman writing to suggest that the Celts had their own philosophers, and that the Druids were the thinking classes. But what did they think?

As a modern Druid, I felt pretty much obliged to poke around in philosophy. I did not enjoy the experience. To me, what I encountered felt too sterile, too abstract. That which pre-dates science is in many ways proto-science, trying to make sense of reality. In many ways the models we have now, based on empiricism, research and observation, are better models than the random guesswork of the ancients. So, while there’s an element of academic interest, it does feel a bit pointless to me getting bogged down in the history of human guesswork and confusion. I would rather turn to psychology research to ponder the workings of the human mind, than to philosophy, which depends almost exclusively on introspection and self reporting to try and make sense of mental phenomena. Again, philosophy was the proto-science for psychology. I am not at all fascinated by all the debates spawned by Christianity. I am sad about the history of fear that goes with how the church responded to thinking, I feel it’s useful to know the gist, but I have finite time, and learning the ins and outs of who burned whom when and for what bit of heresy, does not inspire me.

My feeling, undereducated in this area as I am, is that philosophy as a subject rapidly gets bogged down in its own language and habits of thought. To someone who is not an initiate of the mysteries, encountering it is often bewildering and frustrating. I ask this, what does it achieve? Are the dominant thought forms of our times driven by academic philosophy? Or by the mentality of the marketplace? Are we driven by a desire for truth, or political expediency? There seems to me to be a horrible gap between where academic philosophy goes, and where the unconsciously held philosophies that guide us all, get their power from.  I guess that makes me more interested in social science, some kind of anthropology of the here and now.

Being able to think, question and reason are liberating, powerful tools that can help us fight superstition, stupidity, short term thinking and self destructive behaviours. Most people will not turn to Plato or Spinoza for that.

I confess that I’m not that interested in who exactly came up with what about where ideas come from when pondering the issue thousands of years ago. I care about how people here, and now, think, and don’t think. I don’t see any place for Druidry, modern or historical, in the tradition we’ve got, and I wonder about the potential for new lines of philosophy. What happens if we take what we know, and start asking all the basic questions about how and why again, looking at now, looking at the future not the past, looking at need, and what would help rather than throwing energy into pondering impossible intangibles that do not help us to be better people, live richer lives or take better care of what is around us. I don’t give a shit about Kant. I don’t think he can tell me how to turn public thinking away from short term profit towards long term survival.

We need a Druid philosophy stream that is not about mainstream academic philosophy, but is about us, here and now. Maybe all that means is that we need to keep asking awkward questions in public places and challenging each other to come up with something resembling answers.


The hero who was not a Celt

I love the work of author Lord Dunsany. He’s an interesting figure and nothing like as well known as he deserves to be, and his relationship with Celtic nationalism/revivalism is interesting to say the least. I’m rubbish at dates, but, Dunsany was writing up to and around the time of the First World War, making him contemporary with Yeats. He was an Irish Lord, at a time when Irish national identity was being constructed in part, through literature. W.B. Yeats being a fine example of this. I’ve read letters, I think, or excerpts of letters from Yeats to Dunsany in which he complains bitterly that Dunsany does not tap into the rich heritage of his nation, for the good of the nation.

So much of our modern notion of ‘Celtic’ nations owes everything to the nation building at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. But Dunsany wanted no part of it. He wrote about the Gods of Pagana, instead, who were wholly of his inventing. He’s one of the great grandfathers of the fantasy genre, with The King of Elfland’s Daugther far pre-dating the more famous Tolkien elves. With his lyrical style, dashes of humour and wild imagination, I think he’s brilliant. I wonder to what degree his lack of widespread current fame is due to him not being caught up in the political agenda of his day, though.

I can’t point at Lord Dunsany and claim him as a proto-Druid in the way that we like to claim Yeats retrospectively, and all those other folk working with mediaeval ‘Celtic’ myth at the time. But read his work and the love of landscape, the sense of magic, and the biting religious satires are thoroughly resonant. He reads like a pagan, to me.  Bits of more personal writing give me a sense of Dunsany as rather alone and isolated in his life and his work. There’s a mournful longing to his stories that result in me picturing him staring into the middle distance from high windows, utterly and totally alone. That may of course just be me, and not him at all, but it’s what I get.

Every time I read his work, I come away with the desire to be able to make him a nice cup of tea and say ‘well I get it, and you’re not on your own.” He writes like a man who has glimpsed the colours of faerie, who has heard the last, drifting notes of a song from the otherworld, and who would risk life and limb to see a unicorn for himself. Or anything else otherworldly for that matter.

To the best of my knowledge, Dunsany did not associate himself much with any traditions, new or old. He satirised religion, especially the Church. He was not afraid to mock gods, but not as an atheist might, more as a man who has seen the nature of small gods, and knows their terrible limitations. Whether he would have liked it or not, Dunsany gets me as a creative descendent. He also gets Neil Gaiman, which is probably far more cheering and much less complicated.

He chose not to be an overtly Celtic, druid revivalist type at a time when to do so would probably have done his writing career an abundance of good. Instead, he kept dancing to his own tunes, and to those echoes of otherworldly tunes that were so evidently in his ears. He was true to his awen, and I love his work. Having Dunsany as an ancestor of tradition, given where I stand as an aspiring druid and author, is an interesting place to be. Of all the people I would like to sit down and talk with, he’s one at the top of my list. And like most ancestors of tradition, his opinion isn’t available and he has no scope to rein me in, tell me off or point me in the right direction. This is usually part of the nature of ancestry.

If my own passions are not in tune with the zeitgeist, and are not tapping in to the next big commercial thing, then so be it. Like Dunsany, I can’t be what I am not, and I’d rather follow my inspiration than shoehorn it into a shape that feels unnatural to me. And for all that he did that, Dunsany was, in his own time, prolific and successful and while he may not get the attention he deserves, he’s not lost in the mists of time yet, and hopefully never will be.


Guest Blog: Fairies and the Soul

By Nukiuk

“Would you not like to be a fairy?…and live with me in this garden where the sun never ceases to shine and where it is summer all the year?”

Queen of the Fairies offering to make a girl a fairy

Although the above quote comes from a Greek, rather than a Celtic Tale the offer and opportunity for the human soul to become a fairy was a common belief throughout all of Eurasia. Even the breeze which stirs the trees causing the leaves to rustle and the wood to creak was once believed to be the sounds of ancestral spirits speaking to us, for it was in the trees, rocks, rivers and waterways that the human soul resided. The Celts believed that the souls of the dead would go into trees planted near their graves. The  Altaic peoples who gave the Celts their words for horse among things, believed that the human soul became the spirits of the lands, rocks or trees when they passed on and that these spirits could later be reincarnated as humans. Thus we see people’s souls become nature spirits(fairies)  and that these nature fairies  become human souls.
It is more than nature spirits that human souls can become when they pass on, however, for the “Faces of friends and relatives, long since doomed to the battle trench or the deep sea, have been recognized by those who dared to gaze on the fairy march. The maid has seen her lost lover, and the mother her stolen child, and the courage to plan and achieve their deliverance has been possessed by, at least, one border maiden.” In other words the souls of the dead continue to live on among the fairies. The banshee were the souls of ancestors which appeared as beautiful maidens in order to help their family, as they were originally as much about blessing infants and giving advice as they were about giving warnings and meeting the spirits of those who had died. “There is a legend told of the Macleod family: (that) Soon after the heir of the Macleods was born, a beautiful woman in wonderful raiment, who was a fairy woman or banshee, (there were joyous as well as mourning banshees), appeared at the castle and went directly to the babe’s cradle. She took up the babe and chanted over it a series of verses, and each verse had its own melody. The verses foretold the future manhood of the young child and acted as a protective charm over its life. Then she put the babe back into its cradle and, going out, disappeared across the moorlands.” In another tale, the banshee of Grants Meg Moulach would stand beside the head of the family and advise them on playing chess. (F.S. Wilde, 1887)
So although people tend to associated banshees with death, they are really about life, for they are the souls of those who love a family so much that they continue to give it aid and inspiration. It was their place to inspire poets and artists, thus ancient Celts believed that such skills were gifts of the fairies, gifts of one’s ancestors. Thus when Christians claimed that fairies were the souls of the unbaptized dead it may have been true in part that many fairies were indeed those who had passed on in centuries passed.
What this means is that at least one human soul, if indeed the ancient Celts believed that humans have multiple souls (a point which, I argued here )is the same soul which resides in fairies. This seems even more likely when one considers that there are tales of fairies becoming human when they live among humans and eat human food for long enough. Further there are many Celtic tales of a person bringing a loved one back from the fairy court. In other words the Celts believed that the door could under special circumstances, that fairy and human souls were interrelated enough that one could become another.

 

Nukiuk is a folklorist and artist who is using Eurasia’s folk tales and beliefs to better understand the ancient folk religions. You can read more about his thoughts on tree fairies at http://fairies.zeluna.net/2011/11/tree-spirits-are-fairies.html. The References for this and other articles are at http://fairies.zeluna.net/p/resources.html.


Guest Blog: Water Fairies

By Nukiuk

 

Cool grey and green lichen covered stones surround the small pool which reflects the sky above, a small slash disturbs the crystal clear waters and a coin drifts down to join hundreds of others, each representing some wish, each a desire. For hundreds, even thousands of years people have cast votives into this well as an exchange to aid in their hopes. Such wells dot the Celtic landscape, and are perhaps some of the last remnants of the first religion of the Celtic lands.

Down the hill a ways the river bends and flowing water saturates the ground allowing the trees to grow a little thicker as they seem to stretch just a little ways out into the farms. Once these trees would have been decorated with cloth in the spring, offerings for the fairies of the water which lived within the river. For water fairies were the most important of all fairies among the Celts according to Briggs. Such fairies granted wishes and fertility, they aided in the growth of crops and kept people safe for thousands of years. When Julius Caesar was planning to invade the Celts he received reports that they primarily worshipped water fairies. Further among the Irish Danu, the mother goddess of the Tuatha De Dannan was associated with rivers. Among the Gauls Deo Matrona who was associated with the river Marne was the “Mother Goddess.”

It should come as no surprise then that Arthur’s greatest sword, the one which would not only help him keep his kingdom in tact but which also would not break was given to him by a water fairy. It was after all the water fairies which were people’s protection and comfort. In one tale a woman is forced to flee her home as she was tormented by horned witches. Eventually she collapses, weeping beside a well. It is here by the water that a voice speaks to her giving her the knowledge of how to rid her home of her tormentors. Such stories are typical of water fairies, which, being shy beings tend to avoid being seen by humans. Even so they do sometimes appear, most often in the form of an animal.

The Grimm Brother’s fairy tale of “Little Brier Rose” begins with a Queen and King who want a child and water fairy who grants them that wish.

“One day while the queen was sitting in her bath, a crab crept out of the water onto the ground and said, “Your wish will soon be fulfilled, and you will bring a daughter into the world.” And that is what happened.”

There are two pieces of knowledge we gain from the water fairy in the tale of “Little Brier Rose;” the first is that such fairies often take on animal form. In the Scottish fairy tale of “Gold-Tree and Silver-Tree” the water fairy which acts as an oracle appears as a trout. Other fee’s and water fairies appear in the form of giant eels. As I argued in Water Spirits as Fairies the tales of the Loch Ness Monster likely come from the tales of water fairies in eel/serpent form. Indeed the first written encounter with one of these creatures is of a Christian Missionary trying to banish it, not as a physical being but as a spiritual one.

The continuation of this tradition in “Brier Rose” with the appearance of the crab shows us that water fairies were important to people up into the 19th Century. Indeed in the other version of Sleeping Beauty the King and Queen actively go out to the sacred wells in order to gain a child.

The fact that the water fairy gave the King and Queen of “Sleeping Beauty” a child is interesting because water fairies can to some extent see the future. In other words the water fairy in the story of sleeping beauty was the only active being in the story, she was the one who set the story into motion, so it was she who could be said to be the author of the tale. The water fairy was most likely assigned this role in the story not just because she was the provider of fertility, but because fairies are lovers of art and beauty. Sometimes this means that humans, and the story of humanity are their art.

There are a few important things to bear in mind about water fairies, first is that they are lovers of the journey of the state betwixt and between one and another. In one tale a Welsh farmer falls in love with a water fairy and offers her some cooked bread but she claims it’s too hard, so he offers her some dough and she says it’s not done enough so he offers her some half cooked bread and she accepts this gift.

One must keep this in mind both when giving gifts too and receiving wisdom from water fairies, because while they seek to aid humans they never give a full answer, the picture they give humans is unclear so that the humans will have to take the journey on their own. It is only through the journey after all that a person is able to gain true knowledge and appreciation. This is the realm of water fairies to provide both knowledge and fertility.

As with all things done by the fairy in Celtic tradition continuing to work with water fairies wasn’t always so simple. They are after all enigmatic creatures, for they will providing water to drink and aid in the growing of fields but will also bring floods. This is why people worked so hard to develop and maintain a relationship with water fairies. Often travelling in procession every spring to the sacred waters, singing and praising it. Further they offered the water fairies gifts, most often of cloth but also of more valuable goods, for a relationship with water fairies as with all fairies is one built upon a bond which humans must foster.

 

Nukiuk is a folklorist who has been studying Eurasia’s folk religions and fairies, you can learn more about this at http://zeluna.net/.

To see the references for this article visit http://fairies.zeluna.net/p/resources.html.


Guest Blog: Origins of the Celtic Folk Religion

By Nukiuk

The greatest rivers have many source just as the Celtic Folk Religions which are some of the richest and most complex sets of beliefs in the world do not have a single source. The Celtic belief system comes from many lands and many peoples who exchanged ideas, philosophies and most importantly fairies and deities. Such exchanges in religious knowledge was common, thus Arito the Celtic Bear Goddess is likely of Ugric origin and Celtic Shamanism was likely greatly influenced by the Ugrics and Altaic peoples.
Such influences and origins provide those who are studying folk religions with advantages in better understanding a given people because while many aspects of the Celtic Folk Religions have been lost to Christian Raiders and the steady decay of time, some of the missing pieces to the puzzle that is the Celtic Folk Beliefs can still be found among those who once shared a religion with or influenced the Celtic peoples. Further the study of these related folk religions can aid those who are trying to build relationships with Celtic Fairies will gain insights into additional ways to do so.

The Indo-Europeans
The Celtic language is an Indo-European language which tells us that at least some of the Celtic faith has the same roots as the Roman, Germanic, Greek, Hindu, and Slavic faiths. Indeed many Romans were disturbed by the similarities between the Celtic and Roman philosophies as they could not understand how a people they considered to be ‘barbarians’ and developed not only such a complex and rich system but a system which was so similar to their own.
Forming on the Eurasian Steppes the Indo-European language came to dominate most of Europe and Southern Asia all the way to India. Initially the Indo-European peoples worshipped formless spirits and fairy like beings which they believed inhibited both natural and important manmade objects. Such beings were not worshipped in temples, but rather in the forests, mountains and along the waterways where they lived.
While today the Hindus of India and the Kalasha people are the only Indo-Europeans who are still primarily pagan, many records still exist of the beliefs of the Greeks and Romans, while folk religions and myths were recorded of the rest which gives us many more pieces to the puzzle.

The First Peoples of Isles
The Indo-Europeans were not the first people to inhabit the Celtic lands, many folklorists of the past have presumed that fairies were nothing more than a pre-existing people. While such notions are supported by the Irish belief that the Tuatha de Danann or the Cornish belief that Pixies had been driven underground by the coming of humans and powerful Druids the nature of things beings brings into question their previous relationship with humanity. What’s more as much as 85% of the DNA of the Welsh and Irish populations comes from pre-Indo-European sources, even in the modern era. In other words the Indo-Europeans might have supplied the Celtic language, but the majority of the Celtic people came from the first peoples of Europe. Thus the majority of the Celtic peoples’ DNA comes from the peoples who built Stonehenge. Although these people left no records I have argued that Europe’s Folk Religions which primarily focuses on the worship of water deities, Earth spirits, The Fates, along with the spirits of stones and hills gives us the best idea of what this early religion was.

The Etruscans
The Proto-Celts formed next to the Raetic people who are related to the Etruscans. These peoples paid greater attention to Banshee figures than were the other Indo-Europeans and so this could be the source for the Celts closeness to these fairies. Further the Etruscan peoples paid closer attention to portents than other European peoples with the exception of the Celts so it seems likely that the Celts were influenced greatly by the Raetic peoples’ faith.

The Ugric Peoples
The Ugric people include the Finnish and Estonians as well as the people who are often called ‘the last Pagans of Europe,’ the Mari of European Russia. The Ugric peoples believed in fairy-like beings which lived in the forests and could help or harm people. Their deities and peoples were often led by Merlin-like figures. As previously mentioned the Celts relationship with Arito the Bear Goddess was likely influenced by the Ugric peoples, as was Merlin, Shamanism and the general idea of magic.

The Altaic Peoples
The Celts get their word for horse from the horsemen of the Eurasian Steppes who became the Turkish, as well as the Japanese, Mongolian and Korean peoples. This shows us not only that the early Celts had contact with the Altaic people but that the Altaic peoples likely had big influence on the Celts conception of horses (some of the most sacred animals in Celtic Lore) and possibly on the Celts’ conception of war. The Altaic peoples were the peoples who developed the idea of the ‘Worlds Tree,’ they are also known for believing that the mountains and hilltops are an otherworld for spirits and fairy like creatures.
To better understand the Altaic Folk Religions one can still study the Japanese Religion which has its roots in the Altaic belief system as does Korean Shamanism, Tengriism, and many forms of Siberian Shamanism.

As previously mentioned these relationships to the Celtic beliefs can make it easier to fill the gaps left in our knowledge of this ancient religion. Further, just as the people who were related to the Celts were inspired by many sources so can the great scholars of today.

Nukiuk is a Folklorist who has been using fairy tales to learn more about Eurasia’s folk religions. You can learn more about his work at http://zeluna.net/.
You can learn more about the Indo-Europeans and the origin of Europe’s fairies at http://fairies.zeluna.net/p/origins-of-europes-fairies_14.html.

References at http://fairies.zeluna.net/p/resources.html


Guest Blog: Folk Magic and Folk Religion

By Nukiuk

In folk religions respect is of the utmost importance because everything has a vitality, every thing has a life and so any action will have an impact on another soul which has its own powers and its own ability to impact the world. Thus a person’s interaction with the magical world must be about seeking to have respect for one’s fellow humans, for nature, for objects, and the spirits, fairies, kami, etc that inhabit all of these.  With this in mind there are three fundamental types of spells and prayers which people use in Folk Religions.

1-Respectful Actions.
Not so much spells as a way of interacting with the things around a person to ensure that they have good luck, while avoiding bad luck. In Celtic lore such respect meant asking permission before moving a stone or cutting a tree so that the fairy within wouldn’t be offended. In Japan such respect included warning the spirits that live within the earth before peeing on the ground so that they could move out of the way and wouldn’t grow angry and curse the one who had wronged them. To utilize respect people would think about what might be offensive to nearly every object/spirit and try to mitigate it. This doesn’t usually mean not doing something, rather it means giving fair warning that one is about to do something, while apologizing and or asking permission to do it. Such respect keeps a person safe while making more likely that their spells wills succeed.

2-Charms or Spells
Charms utilize a person’s own abilities and powers as well as those of other spirits in order to achieve a goal. There are two things one must keep in mind when crafting charms and spells. First that Celtic lore states that humans are related to the fairy, thus the Celtic Folk Religions tells us that we can potentially have great abilities and knowledge. Second one must keep in mind that everything has certain powers and so these powers can be used to enhance the impact of one’s own powers.
Thus charms involve a person utilizing certain objects, herbs and or short chants in order to gain help from other powers as well as well as a short set of words or actions designed to draw out a person’s own powers (such as sympathetic actions and poems). For example, one Cornish charm used to remove corns from one’s feet called for a person to show their bare feet to the moor while telling the corns to vanish nine times.

An interesting charm of Finnish origin to prevent wasp stings is as follows;

O Siilikki, woods’ daughter-in-law, pray discipline thy wee ‘winged bird,’ hide away thy ‘feathered chick,’ bind up its wings, confine its claws, to prevent it stabbing with its pike, to prevent it sharpening its steel. Kuutar, conceal thy children now, hide, Päivätär, thy family, and follow not a wizard’s wish, don’t be made jealous by jealous folk.

This charm is interesting because in not only makes a request of a nature spirit to keep wasps away, it makes a request of two other magical beings to keep wizards from using their magic to make wasps from stinging.

3-Closer Relationships and Contracts
The most complex of all three forms of folk magic involves both the development and utilization of a relationship with spirits which in many ways can be likened to a contract. Sutras, prayers, songs, offerings and similar things were done either to create a contract between a person and spirits, deities, fairies, etc; or to honour a pre-existing contract. Songs, feats, celebrations and sutras are useful to this end because they attract spirits and fairies to a place and allow these beings to enjoy the company of humans. This is a large part of what Samhain, Beltane, Yule and similar holidays were and are.
In many cases such celebrations involved things specifically designed to invite fairies to come among the people. Yule and Beltane both involved bringing trees and greens into the village and home so that fairies and similar nature spirits would have a place to reside among humans during the festivals. Other celebrations involved actually building figures out of straw or similar materials for the spirits to reside in so that people might dance with them or make offerings to them directly.
Not all contracts are so simple to honour as creating beautiful music and celebrating an event. Often such contracts require that those humans honouring them follow a very specific set of instructions involving; chants, songs, movements, specific offerings, and formulas which must be followed to the letter. It is these more complex contracts that required druids to learn for years, even decades to learn to fulfil.

Because folk magic is about relationships rather than formulas the exact nature of any contract, charm or respectful action is based not only one what a person is trying to accomplish but whom they are requesting help from. This is why understanding the nature of fairy and deity as well as the personalities of specific fairies and deities is the most important part of folk magic.

 

 

Nukiuk is a folklorist who has been studying the relationship between Eurasian Folktales and beliefs in order to better understand the ancient religions. You can find more of his research of fairies at http://www.zeluna.net/fairies. You can review many of his resources at http://fairies.zeluna.net/p/resources.html