Friday, November 21, 2008

Gallimaufry in Traffic

¶ So M. and I are in traffic behind a Cadillac SRX with the vanity license plate "S-N-M" and a custom-painted "Sanguine Addiction" above the license-plate holder. That's a Colorado metal band, but the driver did not look like any of the musicians. Here is what we were arguing about: Did the big wholesome Denver Broncos logo in the vehicle's rear window add or detract from the overall effect?

¶ The Colorado Springs Gazette ran an autumn equinox story on the alleged Ogham writing in Crack Cave and other SE Colorado sites. For videos of this and other sites, see Scott Monahan's video page. (Yep, that's me in one with Martin Brennan.) Am I a "believer"? Not exactly. I remain perplexed -- and perplexed at how Colorado Pagans ignore these sites too.

¶ Anne Hill, on my blogroll at Blog O'Gnosis, is now also blogging about dreams at the Huffington Post.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Invention of Scotland...

... or why the kilt was invented for the benefit of factory workers.

Ronald Hutton told some of this story in Witches, Druids And King Arthur, but here is a review of a new book on the invention of Scottish-ness, the late Hugh Trevor-Roper's The Invention of Scotland: Myth and History

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Knee Deep in the Bloody Ford of History

Sometime around age 15 I took home Vol. 49 of the Harvard Classics from the Fort Collins (Colo.) public library and read for the first time Beowulf and The Destruction of Dá Derga's Hostel. (The Ring saga is in there too, but I had already encountered it.)

is an understandable story, while The Destruction at least introduced me to the concept of geis, which is actually fairly troublesome when you are that age and trying to figure out where the walls are.

Not until my undergraduate years did I discover The Gododdin, which is totally different from the above. Like petals on a blood-soaked daisy, it is a series of short elegies for warriors who fought and died (more or less to the last man) at the battle of Catterick, c. 570 CE in what is now Yorkshire. (Poetic samples are at the link above.)

There is no narrative; it is as though you had short poems about Paul Revere, Molly Pitcher, George Washington, Daniel Morgan, Benedict Arnold, Baron Von Steuben, John Paul Jones, etc., without needing to tell the reader about the American Revolution.

Many critics as well as authors of fiction based on the poem tend to create dichotomies about it such as these:

  • It's the Romano-Celtic (mostly Christian) British versus the (Pagan) Anglo-Saxons, with the Celts carrying faded remnants of Imperial Britannia and the Saxons representing ignorance and barbarism.
  • It represents a nonlinear "Celtic" way of thinking versus the linearity of, say, Beowulf.
  • It is typical of how glorifying "beautiful losers" is part of the Celtic soul or something.
  • It demonstrates the tactical deficiency of mounted fighters without stirrups against the Anglo-Saxon "shield wall." (But cf. Battle of Hastings.)

Recently I picked up John Koch's The Gododdin of Aneirin: Text and Context from Dark-Age North Britain (University of Wales Press, 1997).

I have no background in the Welsh language, so I cannot really follow his discussions of changes in phonetics and orthography over many centuries, nor the 24 types of medieval Welsh poetic meter, for example.

But I do appreciate the point he made about 6th century versus medieval nationalism. In the 6th or 7th centuries, there was none. What is now England and Scotland contained many little kingdoms -- and yes, some were ruled by Old Welsh-speakers and some by Old English-speakers, but they did not line up neatly on ethnic lines.

He argues that there were other Celto-British forces, allied with the Saxons, on the winning side at Catterick, and that another Old Welsh poem represents their heroic versifying about their victory. So much for beautiful losers.

Later, by the Middle Ages (13th century), when the line between England and Wales was drawn on the map and a greater sense of separation existed, The Gododdin was cast as Celts versus Saxons and used to reinforce that sense of separation.

Once again, the lesson is to be careful about projecting our categories backwards on the past, especially on the distant and mostly unrecorded past.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

A Day for Desk Work

It is a damp, grey day here on Hardscrabble Creek, with the temperature struggling to climb out of the 40s F. It's a good day to be indoors editing Pomegranate articles. Were the weather warm and sunny, I would want to be doing chores outdoors--all the little jobs that built up over the winter.

Meanwhile, some links:

¶: Articles on Pagan infiltration of Quaker meetings and other creeping Paganism from Christianty Today and Modern Reformation. Via Cat Chapin-Bishop, who is quoted in the former, being one of the infiltrators.

¶ Beyond mere steampunk: Building a Victorian computer. Via Mirabilis.

¶ Bablestone posts on the difficulties of deciphering Ogham inscriptions. What looked like a description of a battle might in fact be a simple grave marker.

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

DNA, the Celts, and Roman Britain

I have started reading Stephen Oppenheimer's The Origins of the British, which I referenced earlier in my series of "Who's a Celt Now?" posts.

From a genetic analysis -- his main tool -- buttressed by linguistic studies and ancient written sources, he appears to be making these points:

  • The people of Ireland, Wales, western Scotland, western England, and the Atlantic coast of France came north from Iberia and southwestern France after the ice melted. These people spoke Celtic languages.
  • Conversely, they did not come from central Europe and are not connected to the so-called Hallstatt and La Tene cultures.
  • After the ice melted, eastern England did receive settlers from the Continent--but remember that back then, people could walk from what is now France to England, until the sea levels rose.
  • During the 400 years of Roman colonization, many (or most) inhabitants of the province of Britannia were probably speaking a Germanic language (related to Dutch or Frisian), not a Celtic language. If true, that is the biggest revelation for me.
  • The subsequent Anglo-Saxon invasion was not a genocidal "wipe-out," but was more like the Norman Conquest of 1066. One ruling class replaced another, but life for Jane and Joe Commoner went on as before.

I will post again after finishing the book.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Gallimaufry with Big Rocks

¶ My copy of Fire Child: The Life & Magic of Maxine Sanders, 'Witch Queen' arrived, and I will post a full review soon. Short version: Better than I expected.

When the Goddess Ruled the Earth is a new quasi-documentary film on hypothesized Neolithic religion. The trailers are all shots of ancient megaliths with a "voice of God" (sorry) commentary. Looks like orthodox Gimbutas-ism.

My point is that you cannot necessarily tell by looking at a structure the religious views of its builders. You might be able to make an educated guess by analogy with known cultures, but without extensive, obvious archaeological evidence -- and better still, written evidence -- you cannot say. Is the "Venus of Willendorf" a religious artifact or a Paleolithic Barbie doll? Will we ever know?

¶ Fiacharrey, "the Bayou Druid," is making YouTube videos on Celtic Reconstructionism. Here is one.

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Wind that Shakes the Pine Trees

It's a sunny day with a brisk wind blowing. Pine needles are in the air. M. and I both slept in a little last night after returning at midnight from one of the Spanish Peaks International Celtic Music Festival concerts.

We went to one last year too, to hear Kim Robertson's harp and to watch Jerry O'Sullivan fight the uilleann pipes and win.

It's truly a little odd to hear stars of the Celtic music scene play in the old coal-mining town of Walsenburg, which is definitely in the non-fashionable part of Colorado, for all that they are trying to promote it now as "gateway to the Southwest."

Last night the harpist was Lynn Saoirse, while Seamus Connolly played fiddle and emceed. Add cellist Abby Newton, her fiddler daughter Rosie, Connolly's Maine neighbor Kevin McElroy, John Mullen, and the duo of Kim McKee and Ken Willson, who have moved to the area and whom my Celtic music-loving colleague wants to bring to campus.

Now: house-cleaning, cabin-cleaning, desk-cleaning, and somewhere I there I have to read essays from my creative-nonfiction class.

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Sunday, July 29, 2007


Time to dump some hot links in the stew pot:

¶ Crikey! Ambulance Driver has done it again! The man's a bloody bloggin' gawd.

¶ I have always been fascinated by Ozti the iceman, whose body was found on an alpine pass between Austria and Italy. I think it was Konrad Spindler, an Austrian anthropologist, who suggested that Otzi was fleeing some kind of inter-clan or inter-village or inter-personal conflict when he died. That Otzi bled to death from wounds suggests that Spindler was right. This book probably applies".

¶ So you are interested in Celtic Studies? Here is your starter kit. Or maybe you just want this .

¶ Everybody wants to belong somewhere!.

¶ Having recently visited the Mendocino coast, M. and I are now watching movies filmed there. Last night it was The Russians are Coming the Russians are Coming!, a classic Cold War comedy with Carl Reiner (not one of my favorites), a young Alan Arkin, and Eva Marie Saint as a typical early-1960s perky female lead.

Its message is the eternal comic one since Plautus' day: "The grown-ups are silly, but love will conquer all." Arkin and Theodore Bikel, as the commanders of a Russian submarine, gesticulate and scream at each other like comic-opera Italians, nothing like the careful professionals aboard the Red October.

Next, Johnny Belinda with Jane Wyman. Just think, in a parallel universe she was our First Lady during the 1980s.

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Friday, June 29, 2007


¶ Is a Celtic bowl the Nazi holy grail? Probably not, but it might inspire a Dan Brown-wannabe.

¶ On Sunday we leave on a trip to the Mendocino coast. We are taking Amtrak most of the way. Some of our friends seem to think that we are eccentric for preferring cross-country trains. After all, air travel is so much smoother.

¶ You knew that chimps and elephants painted. But did you know that trees can draw? (Via Mirabilis.)

¶ Australian writer Glenys Livingstone has put her book on ecospirituality, PaGaian Cosmology, online at the PaGaian website.

¶ Jason Pitzl-Waters is blogging as he works on a book about Pagan music.

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Monday, April 30, 2007

What I Will Be Doing for Beltane

Yes, "will be doing." Some people look at the calendar and say that Beltane is this evening and tomorrow. Others celebrated last weekend, according to the "weekend nearest the cross-quarter day" rule. Only by that rule, it comes next weekend.

By the Sun, it falls on Saturday the 5th, as this archaeastronomical Web site will show you.

I plan to visit one of the archaeastronomical sites in southeastern Colorado of which I have written before. This one, the Sun Temple, as the contemporary researchers call it, will be new to me. Something is supposed to happen there on the cross-quarter days. I hope to post photos and/or video links next week.

Meanwhile, you may decide if Beltane and the other cross-quarter and quarter days is

a. Calculated by the solar/astronomical calendar.
b. Calculated by the secular calendar and celebrants' work schedules.
c. A week-long season, so the day does not matter.

If (a) or (b), is it better to celebrate early to get "rising energy" or as close to the actual moment as possible?

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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Martin Brennan at Anubis Caves

Boulder, Colorado, resident Martin Brennan is known for writing visionary books about ancient megalithic monuments, such as The Boyne Valley Vision.

A new video clip shows him discussing the mysterious carvings that appear to be synched to the equinoctial sunset shadows at "Anubis Caves," a site in the Oklahoma Panhandle. You can view them at filmmaker Scott Monahan's site or at the Mythical Ireland site.

The case for a Celtic connection was made by Barry Fell, Gloria Farley, and the late Bill McGlone, particulary in his book Ancient American Inscriptions: Plow Marks or History?

I have discussed this issue before. It truly baffles me. McGlone makes a plausible argument for the transatlantic origin of these symbols and writings, except . . . .

Why here? Why in far western Oklahoma and southeastern Colorado? There were no great trading cities here 2,000 years ago and no gold nuggets lying on the ground. According to conventional archaeology, there were only a few people here, living the simplest hunter-gatherer lives. They were probably similar to the people encountered by the Coronado expedition in the 1540s living along the rivers (little rivers, mostly) of the High Plains and hunting buffalo when they could.

It's a hell of a long way to go for a Druidic vision quest.

Nevertheless, the other more contemporary puzzle is why these alleged Celtic inscriptions are so ignored by contemporary Colorado Pagans, most of whom have never heard of them. If you had Stonehenge only four hours' drive from metro Denver, wouldn't you go there now and then?

UPDATE: While I concentrated on the alleged Celtic presence in the Southern Plains, I should point out that other students of the inscriptions claim a Punic (Phoenician or Libyan) presence also. It is hard to discuss all this without getting into the politics of diffusionism and the turf battles between Old World and New World archaeologists, all beyond the scope of this blog.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Ogham Controversy, Now on YouTube

Selected bits of Scott Monahan's documentary Old News are now available on YouTube, including the trailer (above) or here in a slightly different version.

I tried to summarize this complex alternative archaeological theory of pre-Columbian Celtic explorers/traders on the Southern Plains before.

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Where are the Irish-speakers--in Ireland?

Now and again among North American Pagans, I run into an earnest student of Gaelic.

When M. and I honeymooned in Ireland (back when the Celtic Tiger was still a kitten), I learned to puzzle out the signage and to go through the door marked "Fir."

But outside of Co. Kerry, I never heard Irish Gaelic spoken conversationally. I did see posters from the Ministry of Something urging people to speak it. The very fact that these posters existed was probably a sign that they were not.

A fluent Irish-speaker recently decided to put his fellow citizens to the test, and the results were not hopeful.

In Killarney, I stood outside a bank promising passers-by huge sums of money if they helped me rob it, but again no one understood.

A century and a half at least have passed since Irish was the common language. Despite the compulsory schooling, I suspect that it is sliding into the antiquarian category. The goddess Bridget will be summoned in English.

Perhaps there is a parallel with the Gaelscoileanna (Irish-language schools) to something I recently heard in Canada. A friend in British Columbia said that she was sending her son to a special bilingual (French/English) school, not because he needed the French so much as because the normal English-language schools were so full of immigrants with poor English skills that the teaching was slower and dumbed-down. I wonder if the Irish parents likewise see these schools as better overall and that is why they choose them.

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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Who's a Celt now? - 7

A quirky translation of witches' chants

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3,Part 4, Part 5,
Part 6

Stephen Oppenheimer, the anthropologist who combines DNA, archaeological, and linguistic evidence to argue against any "glorious Celtic heritage" in England, further argues that Celtic languages were not widespread there before the Roman invasion.

His work reminded me of a quirky book that was published in 1973--a peak year for books on Paganism and Witchcraft, as I describe in the chapter "The Playboy and the Witch" in Her Hidden Children. That book was The Roots of Witchcraft, by the English writer Michael Harrison.

Harrison's approach to nonfiction (he was also a novelist) was "bisociative," as Colin Wilson kindly put it: "His mind suddenly perceives the relation between his thesis and some apparently unrelated subject, which gives his work a continued element of unexpectedness."

"Continued element of unexpectedness." In other words, how did he get there?

But Harrison's book is still on coven reading lists. He completely bought Margaret Murray's idea of "the Old Religion," protected by the 11th and 12th-century Plantagenet kings, and all of that, and refers to Gerald Gardner's adaptation of Murray as "usually correct." So people who want to believe in an unbroken continuation of the Old Religion from Then until Now love Harrison; I think that my old friend Evan John Jones was one of them.

This despite Harrison's casual "bisociative" assertions, such as the one that the Persians enjoyed electric lighting in the 5th century BCE. If that were true, I think that President Ahmadinejad would be using it to justify Iran's nuclear program. But I digress.

Intrigued with some alleged witchcraft chants and other words recorded during the Renaissance and early modern witch trials, such as the famous "Eko Eko Azarek" chant, Harrison set out to decipher them.

He decided that they had to be from a "pre-Celtic tongue." Now Oppenheimer is arguing that much of England was speaking a Germanic tongue before the Roman invasion, setting aside the former idea that most of England spoke some ancient variety of P-Celtic (a predecessor of Welsh) at that time. But what might have come before that?

A generation ago, Harrison thought that it had to be Basque, the enigmatic language that some believe is a relic of the oldest Neolithic language(s) of Western Europe. At least Basque would fit with an Iberian origin for most of the population of the British Isles, you have to grant him that. And he was writing before the DNA studies were conceivable.

Not knowing Basque, but possessed of a Basque-English dictionary, he set out to decipter the witches' chants and thus demonstrate that they were--he thought--in an ancient liturgical language that followers of the Old Religion knew by rote even after they had lost the sense of the words.

He had lots of fun, you can tell.

Unfortunately, sometimes his folk etymology--the idea that two words that sound alike must mean the same thing--leads him to some odd bisociative conclusions. For instance, "Alammani," sounds like "al yemen" in Arabic, so that Germanic tribe must have an Arabic origin!

But with his dictionary, Harrison proved to his own satisfaction that (a) the ritual language of the "Old Religion" was Basque, and (b) since the Basque language might well be Neolithic, then (c) certainly the "Old Religion" was indeed the Stone Age religion of Britain, as Gerald Gardner had proposed in the 1950s. QED.

"Eko Eko Azarek"? It means, claims Harrison, "Kill for the November feast," as in right about now, the feast of Samhain, when surplus livestock might be slaughtered. Don't tell your hardcore Gardnerian friends that you know that "secret" meaning.

As for me, "Ez dakit euskaraz hitz egiten."

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Who's a Celt now? - 3

"Celtic Spirituality" as religious outbidding.

During the recent Spanish Peaks Celtic Music Festival, St. Benedict Episcopal Church in La Veta, Colorado, took out a small ad in the program for their Celtic Spirituality weekend.

Yes, before the contemporary Pagan movement was underway, various Anglicans were pushing "Celtic spirituality" as a way to make an end run around the Roman Catholics. Their claim that the Church of England was rooted in the so-called Celtic church permitted claims such as this:

[The Church of England] preserved a tradition of [Celtic and Anglo-Saxon] scholarship which Rome had lost, together with a love of discipline which the Celt never had. The result was a vigorous, dignified, and self-reliant national Church.

Arthur G. Willis and Ernest H. Hayes, Yarns on Wessex Pioneers (1954)

Best of both worlds, you see. It's all about Celtic special-ness.

Whereas the Vatican may claim the keys of St. Peter, Celtic spirituality lets one claim a link to the ancient, noble Druids (one of several interpretations of Druids, as will be neatly enumerated in Ronald Hutton's upcoming book on them). See, for instance, this "Christ as Druid" prayer, attributed to St. Columba, but I wonder.

By claiming that Druids were peacefully converted and led their Pagan peoples into Christianity, the "Celtic church" casts itself as the irenic alternative to "convert-or-die" monotheisms.

Celtic Christians want to be like Druids, because one interpretation of Druids is as proto-monotheists. That interpretation came from writers who never met a Druid, as Stuart Piggott explained forty years ago.

Some Episcopal clergy became a little too enthusiastic about Druidry and learned the hard way where the borders were.

I do not want to be too hard on the American Episcopalians. That church has been slowly self-destructing since the 1960s, when it became infected with a bad case of Vatican II-envy.
More to come.

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Friday, April 21, 2006

Celts, Wine, and the Northern League

Northern Italy's wine industry may owe its origin to the Celts.

Let's remember, though, that "Celtic" most accurately describes a group of languages, not an ethnic group.

But this bit caught my eye:

Interest in all things Celtic -- from music to mystical rites -- took off in northern Italy in the mid 1990s, fanned by the Northern League party which rose to prominence with demands for independence for the north.

It's eerily parallel to the way that the neo-Confederate League of the South in this country, jumped on the (Anglo-) "Celtic" bandwagon a few years ago. In Italy, however, the Northern League has some degree of political clout.

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