Celtic History and Mysteries
Presentation to the Melbourne Interfaith Philosophers, May 14, 2012
1. Who Are The Celts?
Before one can engage in any sensible discussion of Celtic "histories and mysteries", one needs to establish a working definition of who the Celts are. As with all definitions of nationalism there are three main approaches. The first recorded use of the word "Celts" (Keltoi) to refer to an ethnic group was by Hecataeus of Miletus, the Greek geographer, in 517 BCE.
1.1 "Blood and Soil"
One theory of nationality derives itself from a genetic lineage ("blood") and homestead ("soil"). From the outset it must be mentioned that these principles were espoused politically as a conservative racial nationalism. The title derives from Nazi ideology and was the slogan of the Third Reich's Ministry of Food and Agriculture ("Blut und Boden"). It is also use in Malaysia ("bumiputra"), where it is used for legal discrimination; in that particular case it is usually also tied to members of the Islamic faith. Such an association physical differences lend themselves very quickly to race theories which are largely discredited, both as a method of social differentiation and scientifically due to the lack of sub-speciation in humans (clinal distinctions are more accurate). Genetic association of a Celtic migrant ancestry from central Europe is almost non-existent (see Brian Sykes, Blood of the Isles, 2006) in the British isles, although there is some contributions from the Atlantic coast. The genetic makeup of Britain and Ireland is overwhelmingly what it has been since the Neolithic period and prior, with modest contributions from Anglo-Saxon and Norman colonisation.
Under the non-racial definition a Celt is a person who has lived in a Celtic region for at least several generations. This areas would include Ireland, the Isle of Man, Wales, Scotland, Cornwell, Brittany ("the Celtic nations"), and sometimes western Engalnd or Chubut Province in Argentina. It is notable that contemporary state-governments use birth, ancestry, or conversion (i.e., naturalisation) as a legal method of defining nationality as belonging to a sovereign jurisdiction.
Almost as an antithesis of the physical approaches to national identity, others argue that language, shared symbolic values and interaction, is representative of a national identity. In this case primary nationality is determined not necessarily by lineage or location, but by first language ("mother tongue"). It also presupposes that one can, through choice or circumstances, change their nationality, or adopt some part of another nationality into their mental universe.
The philosopher Gottlieb Fichte expressed the unity of language and nation as follows in 1806: "The first, original, and truly natural boundaries of states are beyond doubt their internal boundaries. Those who speak the same language are joined to each other by a multitude of invisible bonds by nature herself, long before any human art begins; they understand each other and have the power of continuing to make themselves understood more and more clearly; they belong together and are by nature one and an inseparable whole."
Taken by this definition however, we are certainly living in the peroid of the Celtic twilight. Highly differentiated, there is only 1.4 million native speakers of Celtic languages throughout the world, and approximately twice that number with a working level of competence. This number would include about 750,000 Welsh (600,000 in Wales., 150,000 in England., 5,000 in Argentina., 2,500 in the United States of America., and 2,200 in Canada), 1,900,000 Irish (1,700,000 in Ireland., 95,000 in the United Kingdom., and 18,000 in the United States of America), 200,000 Bretons (all in Brittany), 90,000 Scots Gaelic (all except c1,000 in Scotland, nearly all the remainder on Cape Breton Island, Canada), 3,000 Cornish (all in Corwall), and 1,700 Manx speakers (all on the Isle of Man). Existing alongside these are Celtic creole and traveller's languages, such as the Irish Shelta ("the Cant") and the Scottish Beurla Reagaird.
Language is roughly differentiated by mutual understanding. Linguistic classification attempts to reconstruct a history of this intelligibility, and therefore establish potential vectors of understanding between language speakers. All the Celtic languages are independent, that is, they are not mutually intelligible. Therefore, there is several, rather than one, Celtic nationalities (which theoretically could be suitable for a federal system of government). These languages have a common ancestor as Goidelic (Scots, Irish, Manx) or Brythonic (Welsh, Cornish, Breton). Whilst the least popular definition of a nationality, the use of language as the primary determinant has the most rigorous criteria.
Another alternative is to associated the practises of a people as a national identity, or at least part of an identity-forming process. This is something of an extension of the language model, insofar it includes symbolic actions and habits as well as symbolic values as part of community formation.
It does allow for a continuum of cultural identities. Some of the strongest community practises associated with contemporary Celtic culture include various festivals, such as the Scottish Mod or the Breton Fest Noz, Beltane, May day, celebration of Celtic Saint's Day (e.g., Saint Patrick's Day, Saint David's Day, Saint Andrew's Day) etc. Associations with musical styles and particular instruments, the bagpipes and the harp, clothing styles (e.g., kilts and tartans), jewelry and adornments (brooches, thistle brooches etc), and supporting or participating in sports such as hurling, shinty and Gaelic football. It can also include literary pursuits, associating one's reading preferences (e.g., James Joyce, Robert Burns, Dylan Thomas, André Breton), aesthetic preferences (the tartan, the Celtic cross, knotwork illustrations, carpet pages), even companion animals (Manx and Scottish fold cats, Scots and Welsh terriers, Scottish deerhounds, Irish setters, Brittany spaniel, & etc), and of course cuisine (Irish stew, potato and kale dish, barmbrack, haggis, porridge, Scotch broth, cock-a-leekie, shortbread, whiskey and chouchen, & etc).
The problem with association of nationality with practises is the lack of rigorous in evaluation, and can lead to culturally insensitive appropriation or stereotypical presentations.
"[A] Celt is someone who uses a Celtic language or produces or uses a distinctive Celtic cultural expression (such as art or music) or has been referred to as a Celt in historical materials or has identified themselves or been identified by others as a Celt or has a demonstrated descent from the Celts (such as family history or DNA ancestry)."
Raimund Karl, "Celtic From the West: Alternative Perspectives from Archeology, Genetics, Language and Literature", Oxbow Books, 2010
2. What Is Their History?
2.1 Urnfield to La Tène
The earliest archaeological evidence of proto-Celtic is the Urnfield culture of central Europe in the late Bronze Age (c1300 - 750 BCE). They are so named for the burial ritual of cremating the dead and burying the ashes in urns in fields. There is some archaeological evidence of human sacrifices and even cannibalism. As there are no written records, it is unknown what language the people of the Urnfield cultures spoke. However based on some place names, there is some secondary evidence that they spoke a proto-Celtic language. The Urnfield people often had fortified settlements on hill-tops, a practise carried through to later times, and wattle-and-daub residences. Among their artworks, there is strong indication that Urnfield cultures thought highly of water-birds.
The Urnsfield culture was overtaken by the Hallstatt culture with the advent of the iron age, c700 - 500 BCE, the name taken from the lakeside village in contemporary Austria, a model example of the culture. The burial rites were elaborated to incorporate tumuli and extensive grave goods. These grave goods suggest two sub-cultures; in the western zone, leaders were buried with sword or dagger, where as in the eastern zone with an axe. In the western zone there are examples of chariot burials, whereas in the east, warriors are often buried in full armour. One necropolis in the contemporary Sulm valley in Australia had over one thousand tumuli.
Evidence exists the Hallstatt culture engaged in extensive trade with Hellenic regions to the south, and toward the end of the period, Etruscan luxury goods. It is from the latter the spectacular La Tène culture emerged, with its vibrant, naturalistic expressive art. La Tène was a European Celtic Iron Age culture named after the archaeological site of La Tène on the north side of Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland, which was notable for the richness of the find.
The strength of this culture is not to be underestimated. La Tène groups expanded in the 4th century to Hispania, the Po Valley, the Balkans, and even as far as Asia Minor. An Gallic army led by Brennus of the Senones captured Rome in 390 BCE. Others expanded in Greece, and others into Galatia in contemporary Turkey, who remained there with their capital Ancyra (i.e. Ankara, today the capital of modern Turkey). The Galatians were the subject of book of the Bible, Pauls' Epistle to the Galatians. There is evidence that the Galatian Celtic language was still being used in the seventh century of the common era. It should also be mentioned that the Gallic tribes also settled elsewhere in Europe in places that share this name; Galicia of north-western Spain, and western Ukraine.
Extensive literacy was not a feature of the Celtic world and as a result, much of what is known of the early Celtic populations comes from Greek and Roman sources. The Greeks associated Celts as the culture to the north and the west, whereas the Scythians were those to the east. Centuries later the Romans treated the Celts as synonymous with Gauls. Nevertheless, there was some minor inscriptions, starting from the Lepontic from the 6th century BCE and Insular Celtic from about the 4th century CE in ogham inscriptions. It is between those two days that the Celts reach their height, and at the same time, are also broken up as political entities in the European continental peninsula. It is perhaps the most critical period in Celtic history and is worth spending some additional time discussing.
In the last century BCE, the final years of the Roman Republic, the various Celtic tribes extended from the British isles and Ireland, most of contemporary France and the low countries, Switzerland and parts of the Balkans, as well as Galatia in Asia Minor. In comparison the Germanic tribes stretched throughout contemporary Germany, Denmark and Poland. The Dacians, Thracians and Dalmatians controlled the contemporary Balkans. Finally, the Romans held all of Italy, part of contemporary southern France, Spain, Greece, the Adriatic coastline, western Asian minor, and some of the coastline of northern Africa.
In 58 BCE, as a proconsul and general Julius Caeser, invaded Gaul. With the Gaulish tribes split into competing factions, he established alliances and conquered the entire territory with the fall of the Arverni tribe, led by Vercingetorix, in the Battle of Alesia (the stories of Asterix notwithstanding). The extent of the Gallic Wars was absolutely devastating to the continental Celts. Approximately one million Gauls died, representing about 20% of their total population. Most of the deaths were non-warriors, butchered by the plundering Romans and their allies. Another million were enslaved. No less than three hundred tried were subjugated and eight hundred cities destroyed. A rebellion by the Eburones a few years later, was suppressed with complete extermination of the tribe. After the invasion the continental Celts were completely taken over by the Romans. Latin was adopted as their primary language, especially among the upper classes, their governance completely changed, their religion changed, even the Roman tunic was taken up. Eventually, the Gauls became Roman citizens. One can mention however the Romans took barrel design and chainmail from the Gauls. In 486, Gaul ceased to be a Roman state by the Franks at the Battle of Soissons. From then, Gaul came under the rule of the Merovingians, the first kings of France.
The insular Celts fared somewhat better. Julius Caesar engaged in extensive campaigns in 55 and in 54 BCE, but it wasn't until Emperor Claudius in 43 AD that a significant conquest was attempted. Caledonia, what we know as Scotland, was never put under complete control and in 128 CE, Hadrian's Wall was completed marking a border of Roman and non-Roman Britain. One particular moment was the rule of Carausius, a Belgic Gaul, who usurped power in 286 CE, declaring himself emperor in Britain and northern Gaul. Carausius appealed to British dissatisfaction with Roman rule and issued coins with legends such as Restitutor Britanniae (Restorer of Britain) and Genius Britanniae (Spirit of Britain). Other coins bore the slogan "Expectate veni", 'Come long-awaited one', a famous line from Virgil, suggesting a messianistic leadership, and others bear the legend RSR and INPCDA, also from Virgil "Redeunt Saturnia Regna, Iam Nova Progenies Caelo Demittitur Alto", meaning 'The Golden Ages are back, now a new generation is let down from Heaven above'. It is perhaps not surprising that Carausius is associated with the King Arthur legend; in reality he was assasinated by his treasurer Allectus. With increasing raids from Picts, Irish, Scots, and internal revolts, the rule of Rome in Britain famously came to an end in 410 with the Emperor Honorius replied to a request for assistance telling the Romano-Britons to see to their own defence (Rome was sacked by the Visigoths that year).
2.3 The Last Celtic Nations
With the collapse of the Roman empire, the only viable Celtic nations were the insular Celts, and those in sub-Roman Britain, as it is called, were in for a less than optimal period. From the fifth century to the eleventh, Britain was invaded by a succession of Germanic peoples; Angles, Jutes and Saxons. These people pushed the Romano-Celtic peoples westwards, and indeed, a large number fled across the Celtic Sea to settle in contemporary Brittany and a lesser number to Iberian Gallacia. For those that remained, there was massive population decline, and they lived under conditions reminiscent of twentieth century apartheid under their Anglo-Saxon overlords. There was one significant success of the Romano-British, under Ambrosius Aurelianus, in 500 CE, who is also associated with the Arthurian legend. The Norman conquest of England in 1066 did not improve matters for the insular Celts. Replacing the Anglo-Saxon ruling class with a Norman French ruling class, did nothing for the remaining Celtic people. The Normans also proved themselves to be more capable and organised, making more thorough incursions into Cornwall, Wales, Ireland and Scotland, the remaining Celtic lands in Britain.
In Cornwall's case the Anglo-Cornish landowning class was replaced by a a Breton-Norman lords, and eventually a a new Cornu-Norman lords. Between 1300 and 1750 regions with a Cornish-language majority gradually shrunk on the peninsula. A particularly event was the Prayer Book Rebellion in 1549 where Cornish speakers (along with economic woes) violently objected to the enforced introduction of the English-language Book of Common Prayer. The English responded by putting down the rebellion, killing thousands of Cornish rebels. This was a crisis point for the Cornish language, which declined almost to extinction died out by the late eighteenth century. In the twentieth century there was some revival, and today there is some two thousand fluent speakers, and a strong movement for increased Cornish autonomy within the UK.
Wales, which had remained largely independent from the Anglo-Saxons with the Celtic kingdoms of Gwynedd, Powys, Dyfed and Seisyllg, Morgannwg, and Gwent. Whilst the Normans succeeded in taking over most of Wales, with a major rebellion in 1211 CE led by Llywelyn, a treaty concluded that the English kings would have minimal control over Wales. This remained in practical force until the Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542 whereby the legal system of Wales was annexed to England. The translation of a Welsh bible (Morgan's, 1588) and dictionaries stabilised and strengthened the sense of nationality. Indeed, it wasn't until the industrial revolution with the influx of English workers to Wales that there was a dilution of the culture and language, helped by legal advantages enjoyed by English, especially in education (e.g., the Welsh not). In the early 20th century the status of the Welsh language declined into a minority, and by 1991 was spoken only 18.5% of the population. The introduction of public sector and legal equivalence in 1993 (Welsh Language Act 1993), has led to a slight revival.
In the late twelth century the Normans also launched an invasion of Ireland. Although subject to waves of Viking raids from the ninth century onwards, who also established ports which became Irelands main towns, it must also be noted that Ireland had remained independent from Roman and Anglo-Saxon rule, and homogeneously Gaelic. The Norman invasion of 1169 led to many Irish kings to accept overlordship of the Norman king and Norman feudal law gradually replaced the Gaelic Brehon Law. There was a surge of relative independence after the Black Death as the Norman rule went into decline. In the sixteenth century the Tudors saw the need to re-invade Ireland, resulting in a succession of wars, rebellions, and various conflicts over the next two hundred years, the most brutal being the reconquest of Ireland by Cromwell's English Commonwealth. During this period the population fell from 1,500,000 to 600,000 in a single decade, with tens of thousands being sold into slavery. The defeat of the Jacobites in the late seventeenth century to the Williamite English and Protestant forces cemented the rule of an Anglo-Irish ruling class, eventually resulting in Union with Great Britain in 1801. Whilst a majority language even at this stage, those who continued to use the Celtic language were particularly hard-hit in that century with the Great Famine, where approximately 25% of the populated were lost to emigration or starvation, with losses particularly heavy in Irish-speaking areas. By the end of British rule, the language was spoken by less than 15% of the national population. Since independence in 1922, there has been serious efforts to revive the Irish language, although this has also come into conflict with the anglicised civil service. Overall, the percentage of people speaking Irish as a first language has decreased since independence, while the number of second-language speakers has increased.
Scotland also remained somewhat independent from Roman and Anglo-Saxon rule. The Caledonians (the Roman name for northern Britons) and the Picts resisted the Romans quite successfully, and despite incursions from Anglo-Saxon Bernicia, and then Norse Jarldoms in the isles, the most major invasion came from the Old Irish-speaking Scotti from the fifth century onwards, which eventually led to a united Kingdom of Alba in 840 CE which lasted until a Norman invasion. In particular the rule of David I in the 1100's saw many native institutions and personnel were replaced by English and French ones. The regional autonomy granted in this system was, however, attacked in the late 1200's by Edward I, known as the "Hammer of the Scots", who invaded, defeating William Wallace. Shortly afterwards however Robert the Bruce forced the English to recognise Scottish independence (albeit for a short time). Bruce was also a strong advocate for a Irish-Scottish united kingdom. In the 15th century, the English gained control of the Western Isles for the first time. In the 16th century the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France was overturned with the advent of the Scottish Reformation which banned Catholicism - with the French Catholic, Queen Mary on the throne. In the 17th century, James VI King of Scotland inherited the throne for the Kingdom of England, which remained separate, at least until 1707 wit the Union. From then Scotland developed in an industrial base and become highly integrated into the English imperial economy, despite an Jacobite movement led by Bonnie Prince Charlie. The economic opportunities of English, and the economic persecution of the Highland Clearances, had dire effects for Scots Gaelic, which declined from a probably majority language in the 18th century to a mere 60,000 people, or about 1% of the population today.
In the case of Brittany this was, of course, a Celtic region prior to the conquest of Gaul. Somewhat depopulated by the Roman presence, it proved an opportune location for Britons fleeing the Anglo-Saxon invasions. Apparently a scholarly group, the first book in the Breton language is dated at 590 CE. From the settlement three main kingdoms developed, Domnonia, Cornouaille, and Bro Waroc'h. These eventually became the Duchy of Brittany, which existed from 936 and 1547, following the explusion of Viking occupiers and resisting attempts to integrate them into the Frankish Carolingian Empire, and in into England. In the mid-fourteenth century, the early part of the One Hundred Years War, Brittany fell into a civil war with the House of Blois supported by the French and the House of Monfort by the English. Whilst Monfort succeeded in winning the civil war, the new Duke declared vassalage to the French. Just over one hundred years later, the French successfully invaded Brittany, which led to an edict of union in 1533. With the establishment of the French Republic in 1789, thousands of Bretons were in violent opposition (Chouannerie) due to the removal of legal autonomy and the anti-clerical positions. This reputation led to the deaths of several hundred interred Bretons in a concentration camp by the French during the Franco-Prussian War. During the second world war, a Celtic-inspired Breton National Party collaborated with the Nazi occupiers, although the area was also prominent for resistance. Interestingly, the Vichy regime split Nantes and the Loire-Atlantique département from Brittany, a matter of continuing debate. Also, since 1940, use of the Breton language declined rapidly. Only about 200,000 people speak Breton comptently, a figure down from more than a million in 1950. The French constitution and education system prohibits Breton-only language schools, although there has been a minor revival in recent years.
Finally, a few comments about the Manx, the smallest (geographically) of the last Celtic nations. It seems that originally the people of the Isle of Man were a Brythonic speaking culture. However around 700 Gaelic became increasingly dominant, whether by invasion, immigration, or assimilation. In the eighth century Viking settlers arrived and eventually dominated the island, becoming part of the Kingdom of the Isles. After the isles were ceded to Scotland in 1266, rulership was passed between Scotland and England, eventually settling in the later, and purchased by the British Crown in 1765. It is notable however that Mann is not part of the United Kingdom, but rather is a a self-governing Crown Dependency. There is a small movement on the Isle that seek to establish a sovereign republic. As for the Celtic Manx language, English influence from the late Middle Ages onwards saw it go into decline. Unlike other Celtic regions there was no literary promotion; there was no Manx language books until the beginning of the 18th century. Only 9.1% of the population claimed to speak Manx in 1901; in 1921 the percentage was only 1.1%. However in the second half of the twentieth century onwards there has been a revival movement, resulting in 2.2% of the population claiming knowledge in 2001.
3. What Was Their Religion?
3.1 Celtic Paganism
Celtic paganism is indeed mysterious, because the Celts did write anything down about their religious practises. What material exists is based on commentaries from Greek, Roman (interpretatio romana), and some Christian literature, derivations from primary archaeological evidence (such as the Pillar of the Boatmen) and so forth. As with other religions, it seems very likely that it began as a form of animism and then developed into a polytheism. Certainly, the theonyms of Toutatis, Taranis, Esus, and Lugus are prominent, and had at least some degree of universality among all the various Celtic tribes, with some variation in name. Overall, inscriptions of more than three hundred deities have been discovered, although most of these are local or tribal gods. Although, most of these are post-dated from the Roman invasions. This is also the case among the insular Celts as well, where many of the myths of Celtic paganism were not written down prior to the arrival of Christian monks. The Irish mythology, for example, includes five migratory invasions into Ireland by superheroic peoples, prior to the Biblical Flood, and concluding with the invasion of the Celtic "Milesians". Much of that Mythological Cycle involves the activities of the Tuatha Dé Danann ("peoples of the goddess Danu") and their conflicts with the Fomorians, both supernatural races.
Among those major deities mentioned, Toutatis etymologically represented the whole of the people (from the proto-Celtic teut?- meaning 'people' or 'tribe'), whilst the Romans associated the God with Mars. Taranis was the god of storms and thunder worshipped in Gaul, the British Isles, the Rhineland and Danube regions, typically represented as a bearded god with a thunderbolt in one hand and a wheel in the other. The Romans associated this deity with Jupiter. He was probably a merchant god, as numerous Celtic coins also depict his wheel. Esus was Gaulish god of the woodcutters, but usually represented with three cranes and three bulls. This is usually interpreted to represent sacrificial vectors, with Roman sources claiming that the Druids extensively engaged in human sacrifice, such as the famous "wicker man". Different gods apparently required different sacrifices. For example, victims meant for Esus were hanged, those meant for Taranis immolated and those for Teutates drowned. There is some archaeological evidence from the British Isles, prior to any contact with Rome, which indicate the veracity of claims of human sacrifice. Finally, there are few inscriptions to Lugus, but a number of placenames and an association with mythic narratives involving his later name, Irish Lugh Lámhfhada (Lugh of the Long Arm) and Welsh Lleu Llaw Gyffes (Lleu of the Skillful Hand). The Roman association in this case was with Mercury. As should be expected there was also religious iconography, but this was highly varied across the various tribes. For example Lugus was associated in Gaul by ravens and the cockeral, or horses, the tree of life, dogs or wolves; a pair of snakes (cf Mercury); mistletoe; shoes (especially in Wales); and bags of money. He is often portrayed armed with a spear.
Subsequent to the Roman Empire's conquest of Gaul and Britannia, Celtic religious practices began to syncretise with the Roman, developing numerous new deities, suich Cernunnos, Artio, and Telesphorus. The former is a horned god, whose iconography is portrayed with other animals, especially the stag, a ram-horned serpent, bulls, dogs, and even rats. Artio was a Celtic bear goddess, and Telesphorus was a dwarf-like figure apparently worshipped among the Danube and Galatian Celts and was associated with medicine. An apparently popular triple-Goddess was the The Matres (mothers) or Matrones (matrons), worshipped for the first five centuries of the common era, with Celtic and Germanic inscriptions, and worshipped by in Eastern Gaul, among the Germanic lands, upper Italy and with indeed elsewhere occupied by the Roman army. They were often represented with children - and nappies, no less.
As for the Celtic priestly class, the Druids, even less in known (Old Irish druídecht meaning of "magic", and the Welsh dryw in the meaning of "seer"). They certainly existed, and existed throughout the Celtic Europe and Galatia. However, they left no written accounts about themselves and, again, the only evidence is a few descriptions left by Greeks and Romans (such as Cicero, Tacitus, and Pliny), who had their own opinions on the matter. The archaeological evidence surveyed by the scholar Roland Hutton claims "not one single artefact or image has been unearthed that can undoubtedly be connected with the ancient Druids". However from the sources available quite clearly they held great power. There is multiple attestations that the druids performed human sacrifice, believed in reincarnation - which led some to describe their theory of the soul as "Pythagorean", engaged in divination, and participated in homosexual activity. The only known ritual is that of oak and mistletoe recorded by Pliny the Elder. According to one Roman reporter, druidic instruction was conducted in secret in caves and forests, with a large quantity of lore passed down orally over many years. The notion of the forest as a sacred space is very likely to be true as the 'sacred grove' was extremely common in such times, and can also be found in Hellenic, Slavic, and Germanic rituals. Others claimed that the druids were the equivalent of philosophers, moral leaders, and theologians, whereas diviners were ovates, and the keepers of lore were the singers and poets, or bards. There are several accounts of Roman suppression of Druidism; according to Pliny, it was Tiberius who banned it, however that may have followed from a claim that Augustus decreed that no person could be a druid and a Roman citizen, or by laws preventing the religious practises by Claudius.
3.2 Celtic Christianity
Initially it must be stated that there was no particular Celtic Church of the British Isles, or elsewhere for that matter. This is entirely a creation from the Romantic and Victorian era who wanted to presuppose the existence of a proto-Protestant Christianity that was more "true" than that which was practised by Rome. It is often argued that Celtic Christianity was more pastoral, more congregational, less sexist, more spiritual, and more accepting of Celtic paganism & etc, as is the Celtic nationalities were more modern, democratic and progressive that their contemporaries. Such claims have as much veracity as arguments that Jesus visited the British Isles , and whilst this does have some splendid aesthetic elements - such as the evocative lines of "Jerusalem" by William Blake - it must be also treated as a work of imaginative fiction. There is some evidence that the early Christians adopted as Saints some localised Celtic gods, the most famous being Ireland's patron Saint Brigid of Kildare, who is venerated on Imbolc, the 1st of February, a date approximately halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. As an aside, one of the most controversial aspects of Brigid is that there is little doubt that she, according to the stories of the time, performed an abortion through prayer. Despite Brigid being an unusual case of Celtic paganism crossing over to Celtic Christianity, there is however, certain features of Christian practise that were common across the Celtic-speaking communities up to the early medieval times. This includes a unique method for determining Easter, a particular type of tonsure, the idea of going into exile "for Christ", and a different form of penance. What is known about the rituals associated with Celtic Christianity exists in two books, the Bobbio and the Stowe Missals.
Christianity first arrived in the Britian in the third century, and to Ireland in the fifth. It was legalised by Constatine in the early 4th and became a moral and motivational centre in the monastic form, following the departure of the Romans. Pope Gregory sent clerics in the sixth century to convert the Anglo-Saxons, led by Augustine, who attempted to convert the Celts from their non-Roman practises. When the Britons rejected this, "Celtic" customs were often seen as conflicting with the Roman customs adopted in most of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. There was certainly some influence from the Pelagian heresy, from the British Culdee monk, Pelagius (b. 354 CE) who argued for Limited Depravity against Total Depravity, or, that original sin did not taint human being so comprehensively that they could still capable of goodness without divine aid, and were thus responsible for acts of good and evil. In the sixth and seventh centuries, Irish monks established monastic institutions in parts of modern-day Scotland, which encouraged the Celtic practises. This Celtic monastic tradition was responsible for great aesthetic achievements, such illuminated manuscripts, Celtic crosses and so forth. In the seventh century the Synod of Whitby was held to attempt to resolve the differences between the Roman and Celtic rite, which established Roman practice as the norm in Northumbria. From there was a gradual process of promoting the Roman "universal" rite, over that used by a group of windswept islands far from civilisation. The Gregorian Reforms of the twelfth century, in particular, strengthened the centralisation of religious doctrine governance in Rome and reduced the power of local bishops who may have been sympathetic to the Celtic rite, especially those in the north-western Welsh area of Gwynedd which had held quite strongly to an organisational structure orientated toward a localised, autonomous and rural monastic communities known as "clasu".
Following the gradual removal of a particular Celtic rite in Christianity for many centuries Celtic people followed, as with most people of western and central Europe, Roman Christianity. With the mid-16th century schism in the Church with the Protestant Reformation, there was also a split among the Celtic peoples. The Cornish resisted the imposition of an English-language Book of Common Prayer, although the overwhelming majority eventually became part of the mainstream Church of English, with a few secret Roman Catholics and others adopting other varieties of Protestantism, especially Methodism which dominated from the early nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries. In Wales, for contrast, the split between Protestantism and Catholicism was more equal with a slight advantage to the former. The largest Church is the Anglican aligned Church of Wales, followed by the Roman Catholics, followed by the The Presbyterian (Methodist) Church. The the non-conformist Protestant Churches were the primary body that kept the Welsh language alive and popular, when it was being legally suppressed. In Brittany, the region remains the most strongly Catholic in France. For the Goidelic regions, Ireland is also equally well known for its majority Catholicism and sectarian violence between the largely republican-independent Catholics and monarchial-unionist Protestants, the latter having particular powers in the north and east in the region, leading to the partition in 1922, and continuing "troubles" in that region, whereas in the Isle of Man, the diocese has not changed from 1154 to the present day, with a long-standing affiliation with the Church of England. Finally in Scotland, the effects of the Reformation were most strongly felt. There was a formal break with the Roman Church come following an insurrection 1560 with the establishment of the Church of Scotland and a banning of Catholicism, following a period of suppression of Luther's Protestant ideas and in particular the "English heresies" (Henry VIII had been excommunicated by 1535). Notably, the Scots Protestants, under the leadership of Knox, were more influence by Calvin rather than Luther. Politically, the Reformation of Christianity has been used as part of Celtic national independence movements, and has been used as an excuse to suppress these nationalistic inspirations.
3.3 Celtic Reconstructionism and Neo-Druidism
The unorthodox eighteenth century Anglican vicar William Stukeley (d 1765CE) declared himself as a "druid" and, in claimed in studies of prehistoric megaliths temples were built by the druids, when in reality they are of neolithic origins. From that point onwards however, there has been a revival in interest in Celtic paganism. John Toland founded the Ancient Druid Order in London which existed from 1717 until it split into two groups in 1964. The Romantics were in particular responsible for bringing Celtic paganism back to popular consciousness. Chateaubriand's novel Les Martyrs, 1809, told the story of the tragic love of a druid priestess and a Roman soldier. Vincenzo Bellini used a Druidic story in Norma in 1831. The Welshman Edward Williams, better known as Iolo Morganwg, has had published posthumously The Iolo Manuscripts, 1849, and Barddas, 1862, which whilst representing themselves as collected ancient knowledge, are certainly works of interesting imagination.
The Reconstructionalist method developed in particular in the 1970s and 1980s among modern pagan groups and stands in some contrast with less unscholarly, more speculative, popularist, and ecletic approaches - of which Wicca and Neo-druidism have been cited. In particular the Reconstructionalists take matters of authenticity very seriously, engaging in thorough reviews of archaeological and historical evidence, mythology, folklore, and faerie tales of the premodern era, and a cultural anthropology of the modern. Understanding a Celtic language and Celtic history is essential, as is participation in contemporary Celtic cultural activities, along with the active preservation of Celtic archaeological sites. It is typically not "pan-Celtic", but rather orientated towards a particular culture. Nevertheless, this is not just an academic exercise. The Reconstructionists do engage in personal, group, or community ritual, worship, prayer, and other practioner activities.
By way of comparison Neo-Druidism is described as a modern form of spirituality that promotes veneration towards nature, and often includes an animistic approach and ancestor veneration. The term "Druidism" used here, does not have any requisite connections to the living Celtic cultures (e.g., the introduction of sweat-lodges from Native American religion), although it most certainly does exclude such connections either, even when of questionable authenticiaty (e.g., the clothing used by neo-Druidic priests according to the style proposed by the 15th century poet Konrad Celtis). Like the Reconstructionalists there is no central religious text or religious organisation. Emma Restall Orr, for example, states: "Druidry connects with all the other Earth-ancestor traditions around the globe, such as the Native American, the Maori and Huna, the Aboriginal, the Romany and the indigenous spiritualities of Africa and Asia", although a review of Morganwg's works does emphasise that at least at the end of the nineteenth century, Neo-druidism was a monotheistic, goddess-worshipping ('mother-nature') religion. Like the reconstructionalists, they certainly correlate the the astronomical seasonal dates as points of significant worship.
Certainly both the Celtic Reconstructionalists and Neo-druids claim that folkloric practices never died out, and they seek genuine revival of various mythic tales. As with other similar traditions there are no specifically sacred texts, and there is an emphasis on personal research. It is also pleasing to see that scholarship is higly valued, recognising that much research and religious practise reconstructed, and are prepared to put aside religious practises which are inappropriate for a modern society with an ethical doctrine founded on universal human rights. This is also an issue for Celtic nationalism; after all, there is little point for most people in gaining national independence with a degrading of social and political rights.