Keltria Journal: Sat-Navs and Seanchchaís

EXCERPT: Sat-Navs and Seanchchaís

Finding your way through stories and landscapes

— by Isolde Carmody and Chris Thompson
The Story Archaeologists

Ireland has an international reputation as a nation of writers and storytellers, and it forms a large part of our national identity.  Is this an empty statement of patriotic pride, an outmoded stereotype or a deeply engrained thread of Irish culture and consciousness?  We, the Story Archaeologists, would argue for the last of these options.

From contemporary literature to ancient tradition, the Irish stories are embedded in the Irish landscape.  They are, in a very real way, written into the land itself, and generations of storytellers have read and retold those stories with minute local detail.  When we refer back to descriptions of the types of learning expected of the professional poets, the fili,1 we encounter the term dindshenchas.  The literal meaning of this term is “history” (senchas) of “prominent places” (dind), and it is hard to find a pre-existing English term to convey the concept.  There is a considerable body of explicitly dindshenchas texts, such as The Metrical Dindshenchas edited and translated by E. Gwynn,2 the “Bodleian Dindshenchas” and the “Prose Tales of the Rennes Dindshenchas.”3

However, many tales and poems, from both literary (written) and oral sources, have strong dindshenchas elements to them.  To identify a dindshenchas episode, one need only see whether it answers the questions which St. Patrick repeatedly asks of Oisín and Cailte in the Acallamh na Senórach, “The Colloquy of the Ancients”:4 What is this place called; how did it get that name?

It seems clear that these stories have their origin in a pre-literate oral tradition, although that is, by necessity, unprovable.  We can only build a case for their oral origins through analogy with other cultures.  They have particular resonance with the indigenous Australian stories of the Dream Time, which tell of the shaping of the land and the landscape’s meaning to those who inhabit it.  Some of these stories are demonstrably ancient, with one story from the Queensland area describing a lake which, it has recently been discovered, dried up about 35,000 years ago.5  Unfortunately, we have not yet found such an unequivocally  ancient story from Ireland, but we can postulate and listen to the stories themselves.

What we do have is a written tradition dating back to the 7th century, with later manuscripts containing sagas, poems and legal texts whose language places their literary origin as early as the 8th century.6  Many sagas placed in the mythological cycle, such as Cath Maige Tuired, “The Battle of Moytura”,7 and the Ulster Cycle, such as Táin Bó Cuailgne, “The Cattle Raid of Cooley”8, have many passages in Old Irish (7th - 9th centuries CE).  This includes one of the rémscéla, “pre-stories,” to the Táin Echtrae Nerai, “The Adventures of Nera,”9 which we discuss below.

Continued...

[This excerpt is from a five-page article was published in Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magick, Issue #42.  It is available in its entirety to members of the Henge of Keltria until the next issue of the Journal is published via the Members Home page.  It is available to the public in both electronic and print form via Mag Cloud.]

 

The Pelegian Heresy

EXCERPT: The Pelegian Heresy

A Possible Druidic Survival?

— Brendan Myers

Photo of Brendan Myers

Brendan Myers

Allow me to introduce to you an unorthodox form of early Christianity, which I think everyone who practices modern Druidry should get to know: The Pelegian Heresy. Named for its chief promoter, a British philosopher named Pelagius, it grew in popularity in Britain during the fourth and fifth centuries, around the same time that Roman Christianity was spreading there. I’ve no doubt that it was a form of Christianity, and not a form of Paganism, but there is some evidence which suggests that it inherited some of the teachings of the Druids. Pelagius’ opponents described his teachings as “full of Irish porridge”, and accused him of attempting to revive “the natural philosophy of the Druids”. This of course is not unequivocal proof of paganism, but it certainly suggests the possibility. Pelagius’ use of triads, in the old Druidic fashion, to explain some of his core teachings is also not definitive proof, but it is another potential indicator. A stronger way to detect the pre-christian thinking in the Pelagian world view is by looking at which of its teachings most enraged the Catholic bishops from the continent. Here’s one that stands out:

“In the year of our lord 394, Arcadius, son of Theodosius, forty-third in line from Augustus, became joint-emperor with his brother Honorius, and ruled for 13 years. In his time, the Briton Pelagius spread far and wide his noxious and abominable teaching that man had no need of God’s grace...”1

I think one cannot stress enough the enormous importance of the idea that ‘man had no need of God’s grace’. It is the idea that it’s possible to achieve salvation, however defined, by means of one’s own effort, and without direct assistance from God. This is an affirmation of spiritual freedom, and also enormous personal responsibility. A few fragments of Pelagius’ own letters to his friends have survived history, and with them we can learn a little bit of his mind with them. Here’s a place where Pelagius specifically rejects the claim that we human beings are too weak to achieve salvation on our own:

Continued...

[This excerpt is from a three-page article was published in Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magick, Issue #41.  It is available in its entirety to members of the Henge of Keltria via the Members Home page.  It is available to non-members of the Henge via Mag Cloud.]


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Review: Celtic Visions

Celtic Visions: Seership, Omens and Dreams of the Otherworld

by Caitlin Matthews

Reviewed by Autumn Rose

Celtic VisionsTypically for this author, Caitlin Matthews’ newest book is a blend of information and practical suggestions.  On the information side, she gives us nine meaty chapters describing and interpreting the psychic practices of our druidic Irish and Welsh ancestors.  The descriptions go well beyond dictionary definitions and are illustrated by quotations mostly from original sources.  In addition, Matthews offers in some cases interpretations not previously encountered by this reader.

For example, she touches on the corrguinnacht, the crane posture.  In this posture the practitioner stood on one foot, with one hand raised and one eye closed, while performing a spell.  According to Matthews, the aim was to “cancel” one side of the body in the physical world so that it could appear in the Otherworld, thus allowing the practitioner to exist in both realms simultaneously.

Another such interpretation involves the ancient Irish custom of imposing geasa, or taboos.  Matthews describes geasa as soul contracts, designed to protect the soul for as long as the contract was not broken.  If the person in question was a king, the protection extended to his kingdom.  Violations of geasa chipped  away at the soul, and successive violations weakened it progressively.  Thus, in the tales of Cú Chulainn and of Conaire, when each had violated all his geasa, he became vulnerable to death.  It’s interesting to note that this interpretation links the strength of the body to the integrity of the soul.  In the case of a king, again, the health of his soul determined the health of the land.

Beyond these and other explorations of ancient Celtic psychic beliefs and customs (e.g., the bull ceremony , the Three Cauldrons, poetic inspiration and so on), Matthews seeks to help readers adapt these customs for personal use today.  To quote the author herself, “This book will not make you a seer, but it will help you become better attuned to your instincts, imagination,  insight, and inspiration.”  When an author makes a claim like this for his or her work, it should always be understood that fulfilling the promise depends almost entirely  on the effort the reader/practitioner puts into it.  Reading the book is not enough by itself.  Nobody gets from Point A to Point B by reading a map.  One has to undertake the journey.

Matthews gives the reader plenty of help along the way.  At the end of each chapter she provides a suggested exercise intended to put the practitioner in closer touch with both the proximate world of Nature and the Otherworld.  For example, after the chapter titled “Omens and Divination” she shows how readers, by habitually observing their natural surroundings and noting events that follow, may learn to recognize omens that can inform and guide them.

The icing on the cake of this book is a pronunciation guide---always a gift to those not versed in Old Irish.  I recommend Celtic Visions, especially to beginning students, for its wealth of  information and  its usefulness as a guide to personal development.

[amazon_link id="1780281110" target="_blank" ]Celtic Visions: Seership, Omens and Dreams of the Otherworld[/amazon_link]

  • Hardcover: 242 pages
  • Dimensions: 7.5 x 5 inches
  • Publisher: Watkins Publishing, 2012
  • ISBN: 978-1-78028-111-7