Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism (CR) is a polytheistic, animistic, religious and cultural movement. It is an effort to reconstruct and revive, in a modern Celtic cultural context, pre-Christian Celtic religions.
Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism originated in discussions among amateur scholars and Neopagans in the mid 1980s, and evolved into an independent tradition by the early 1990s. CR represents a polytheistic reconstructionist approach to Celtic Neopaganism, emphasising historical accuracy over eclecticism such as is found in Neo-druidry. Currently, "Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism" (CR) is an umbrella term, with a number of recognized sub-traditions or denominations.
Many of the people who went on to establish CR were involved in Pagan groups in the seventies and eighties. Often these groups contained many Celtic elements that eventually found their way into core CR practice. Much of the dialogue in the 1980s took place at workshops and discussions at Neopagan festivals and gatherings, as well as in the pages of Neopagan publications. This period, and these groups, are often referred to in retrospect as "Proto-CR". Later, with the establishment of the Internet in the late eighties and early nineties, many of these Proto-CR, or early CR, groups and individuals came together online. This began a fruitful period of sharing of information and experiences, and led to a rapid growth of the movement.
The first appearance in print of the term "Celtic Reconstructionist", used to describe a specific religious movement and not just a style of Celtic Studies, was by Kym Lambert ní Dhoireann in the Spring, 1992 issue of Harvest Magazine. Ní Dhoireann credits Kathryn Price NicDhàna with originating the term “Celtic Reconstructionist”; however, NicDhàna credits her early use of the term to a simple extrapolation of Margot Adler's use of the term "Pagan Reconstructionists" in the original, 1979 edition of Drawing Down the Moon. Though Adler devotes space to a handful of Reconstructionist traditions, none of those mentioned are specifically Celtic. In chapter eleven, while describing his Neo-druidic group, New Reformed Druids of North America (NRDNA), Isaac Bonewits uses the phrase "Eclectic Reconstructionist. However, by the time CR became a recognized tradition, this pairing of terms had become oxymoronic, as "Reconstructionism" in the Pagan/polytheist sense had now been defined specifically to exclude "Eclecticism".
Initially only a few dozen people were involved on the Proto-CR and CR listserves. These included the PODS:CELTIC Echo on PODnet (a FidoNet network "othernet"), the Celtic and Occult forums on networks like GEnie and CompuServe, and later Nemeton-L in 1994 (founded and initially moderated by Erynn Rowan Laurie). But over the 1990s many hundreds of individuals and groups gradually joined the discussions online and in print, and the movement became more of an umbrella group, with a number of recognized sub-traditions.
Though some CRs do have survivals of Irish or Scottish folkloric customs in their families of origin, CR does not make any claim to being a linear or direct descendant of any intact, completely polytheistic
, ancient Celtic religion
. The polytheistic religions of the ancient Celts were lost or subsumed by Christianity
. However, CRs believe there is much to be found in the living Celtic cultures
, the archaeological record
, and the early manuscripts. Many folkloric
practices never completely died out, and all that is needed in some areas, such as community celebrations, is a bit of dusting off and "back-engineering". Other aspects of ancient Celtic religion are more difficult to reconstruct.
CRs openly acknowledge that some aspects of their religious practice are, by necessity, modern creations. However, they state that, as much as possible, these practices are based on and inspired by early Celtic beliefs found in early texts and the work of scholars and archaeologists, and are rooted in an understanding of, and participation in, the living Celtic cultures. Any innovations or elaborations are based upon sound historical precedents. Feedback from other scholars and experienced practitioners is sought before a new practice is accepted as part of the tradition.
CRs believe it is important to lay aside elements of some ancient Celtic cultures which would be clearly inappropriate practices for a modern society. It is clear that some of those early Celtic societies practiced human sacrifice, slavery, and had strong patriarchal elements. CRs strive to find ethical ways of integrating their historical findings and research with their daily lives.
CR is not only about scholarly research. The founders and elders of CR believe that mystical, ecstatic practices are a necessary balance to scholarship, and that this balance is a vital component in determining whether a tradition is CR. They also believe that participation in, and respect for, the living Celtic cultures is a vital part of the tradition. Language study and preservation, and participation in other cultural activities such as Celtic music, dance and martial arts forms, are seen as a core part of the tradition.
Celtic Reconstructionists focus their religious reconstruction efforts on a particular Celtic culture, such as the Gaelic, Welsh or Gaulish. While they believe it is helpful to study a wide variety of Celtic cultures as an aid to religious reconstruction, and to have a broad understanding of religion in general, in practice these cultures are not lumped together.
Many CRs view each act of daily life as a form of ritual, accompanying daily acts of purification and protection with traditional, or slightly re-Paganized, prayers, chants and songs from sources such as the Scottish Gaelic Carmina Gadelica or manuscript collections of ancient Irish or Welsh poetry. Celebratory, community rituals are usually based on traditional community celebrations as recorded in folkloric collections by authors such as Marian McNeill, Kevin Danaher or John Gregorson Campbell. These celebrations often involve bonfires, dances, songs, divination and children's games. More formal or mystical CR rituals are often based on traditional techniques of interacting with the Otherworld, such as the act of making offerings of food, drink and art to the spirits of the land, ancestral spirits, and the Celtic deities. CR ritual structures are based on the ancient Celtic cosmology of the "Three Realms" - Land, Sea and Sky - with the fire of inspiration seen as a central force that unites the realms. These more formal rituals may also involve traditional songs and prayers from the living Celtic cultures as well as ceremonies and visionary techniques reconstructed from older, Polytheistic sources. Mystical practices are usually reconstructions based on accounts in the older manuscripts. Many CRs maintain altars and shrines to their patron spirits and deities, often choosing to place them at outdoor, natural locations such as wells, streams, and special trees. Some CRs practice divination. Ogham is a favored method, as are folkloric customs such as the taking of omens from the shapes of clouds or the behaviour of birds and animals.
NicDhàna and ní Dhoireann have stated that they coined the term "Celtic Reconstructionist / Celtic Reconstructionism (CR)" specifically to distinguish their practices and beliefs from those of eclectic
traditions like Wicca
and the Neo-Druidry
of the time. With ní Dhoireann’s popularization of Celtic Reconstructionism in the Pagan press, and then the use of the term by these individuals and others on the Internet, “Celtic Reconstructionism” began to be adopted as the name for this developing spiritual tradition.
While Celtic Reconstructionism was the earliest term in use, and still remains the most widespread, as the movement progressed other names for a Celtic Reconstructionist approach were also popularized, with varying degrees of success.
Pàganachd / Págánacht
Some CR groups have looked to Celtic languages for a more culturally specific name for the tradition, or for their branch of the tradition. There are groups who now described their traditions as Pàganachd
("Paganism, Heathenism" in Scottish Gaelic
) or the Irish
. Some Gaelic-oriented
groups use the two terms somewhat interchangeably, or further modify these terms to describe the CR sub-tradition practiced by their particular group, such as Pàganachd Allaidh
(“Wild Paganism”) or Pàganachd Bhandia
(“Paganism of Goddesses”),
both used by Gaelic Reconstructionist groups on the East Coast of the US.
Some groups that take a Celtic Reconstructionist approach to Gaelic polytheism call themselves "Gaelic Traditionalists". While there is agreement that a priority of Celtic Reconstructionism is to preserve the living traditions in Gaelic (and other Modern Celtic
) communities, there has been some controversy around the use of the term "Gaelic Traditionalists" by groups outside of the Gaeltacht
areas of Ireland, Scotland and Nova Scotia. Part of this is due to the fact that most "Gaelic Traditionalists" are actually Christians. As one of the founders of the Celtic Reconstructionist movement put it, "Gaelic Traditionalists" means "those living and raised in the living cultures and [who] are keeping their culture, language and music alive, not any of the American polytheistic groups that have been using it lately." Due to those in the Gaelic-speaking areas having a prior claim to the term, some CRs have been uncomfortable with the choice of other reconstructionists to call themselves "traditionalists". While this disagreement over terminology has at times led to heated discussion, the polytheistic “traditionalists” and the “reconstructionists” are taking the same approach to their religion, and there are generally good relations between the founders of both movements.
Senistrognata / Sinnsreachd
In the late 1990s, members of Imbas, a Celtic Reconstructionist organisation based in Seattle
, began promoting the name Senistrognata
, which they say means "the ancestral customs of the Celtic peoples" in reconstructed Old Celtic
In 2006, An Cónaidhm na dTuath Gaelach, an American group that does not call themselves CR, began promoting the name Sinnsreachd (Scottish Gaelic) or Sinsearacht (Irish), which they say is the modern Gaelic equivalent of the term. However, Sinnsreachd and Sinsearacht actually mean "ancestry", "seniority", or "genealogy".
- The Irish word for “polytheism”, Ildiachas, is in use by at least one group on the West Coast of the US as Ildiachas Atógtha (“reconstructed polytheism”).
- Aurrad, which came into use among members of the Nemeton mailing list in the mid 1990s, means "person of legal standing in the túath" in Old Irish.
Celtic Reconstructionism and Neo-druidism
Though there has been quite a bit of cross-pollination between Neo-druid
and Celtic Reconstructionist groups, and there is significant crossover of membership between the two movements, the two have somewhat distinct methodologies and goals in their approach to Celtic religious forms. CR practitioners tend to look to the whole cultural matrix in which the religious ideas were formed, while Neo-druids tend to prefer to focus on the specifically druidic
functions. Some Neo-druidic groups claim to be non-religious in nature, which is not the case with most CR groups. There are some CR philosophies which downplay the role of the druidic office specifically in preference to a more general view of Indo-European priesthood (making the argument that the druids may simply have been a very successful school of priest-craft, and possibly not even completely pan-Celtic), or to the successors of druids such as the filí
This is not to say that there is no connection between Neo-druid groups and CR. Some Neo-druid groups (notably, Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF), the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), and Keltria) have similar methodologies of reconstruction, at least some of the time, or have taken up CR methodologies recently. ADF, in particular, has long used CR-type techniques, but many CRs criticize them for their pan-Indo-European scope, which may result in unusual combinations such as "Vedic druids" and "Roman druids".
Some philosophical differences exist as well, especially in terms of what "druid" means. Some Neo-druidic groups call anyone with an interest in Celtic Spirituality a "druid", and refer to the practice of Celtic spirituality as "druidry", while CR groups usually use the older definition, seeing it as an office that requires decades of training and experience, which is only attained by a small number of practitioners, and which must be conferred and confirmed by the community the druid serves.
Despite these differences, there are generally good relations between Neo-druid and CR groups, with, as noted previously, a great deal of sharing of ideas and even memberships.
- Adler, Margot (1979) Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today
- Bonewits, Isaac (2006) Bonewits's Essential Guide to Druidism. New York, Kensington Publishing Group ISBN 0-8065-2710-2 Chapter 9: "Celtic Reconstructionists and other Nondruidic Druids"
- Fairgrove, Rowan (1994) What we don't know about the ancient Celts. Originally printed in The Pomegranate, 2. Now available online
- Kondratiev, Alexei (1998) The Apple Branch: A Path to Celtic Ritual. San Francisco, Collins. ISBN 1-898256-42-X (1st edition), ISBN 0-806-52502-9 (2nd edition) [also reprinted without revision under the title Celtic Rituals]
- Laurie, Erynn Rowan (1995) A Circle of Stones: Journeys and Meditations for Modern Celts. Chicago, Eschaton. ISBN 1-57353-106-5
- Laurie, Erynn Rowan (2007) Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom. Megalithica Books. ISBN 1905713029
- McColman, Carl (2003) The Complete Idiot's Guide to Celtic Wisdom. Alpha Press ISBN 0-02-864417-4
- NicDhàna, Kathryn Price; Erynn Rowan Laurie, C. Lee Vermeers, Kym Lambert ní Dhoireann, et al. (2007) The CR FAQ - An Introduction to Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism. River House Publishing. ISBN 978-0-6151-5800-6
- Telesco, Patricia [editor] (2005) Which Witch is Which? Franklin Lakes, NJ, New Page Books / The Career Press ISBN 1-56414-754-1, p. 85-9: "Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism"
Celtic polytheism and folklore
Celtic Reconstructionists rely on primary mythological texts, as well as surviving folklore, for the basis of their religious practices. No list can completely cover all the recommended works, but this is a small sample of sources used.
- Evans Wentz, W. Y. (1966, 1990) The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries. Gerrards Cross, Colin Smythe Humanities Press ISBN 0-901072-51-6
- MacCana, Proinsias (1970) Celtic Mythology. Middlesex, Hamlyn. ISBN 0-600-00647-6
- MacKillop, James (1998) A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-280120-1
- Rees, Alwyn and Brinley (1961) Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales. New York, Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0-500-27039-2
- Sjoestedt, Marie-Louise (1982) Gods and Heroes of the Celts. Translated by Myles Dillon, Berkeley, CA, Turtle Island Foundation. ISBN 0-913666-52-1Gaelic (Irish and Scottish)
- Campbell, John Gregorson (1900, 1902, 2005) The Gaelic Otherworld. Edited by Ronald Black. Edinburgh, Birlinn Ltd. ISBN 1-84158-207-7
- Carmichael, Alexander (1992) Carmina Gadelica: Hymns and Incantations (with illustrative notes on wards, rites, and customs dying and obsolete/ orally collected in the highlands and islands of Scotland by Alexander Carmichael). Hudson, NY, Lindisfarne. ISBN 0-940262-50-9
- Clark, Rosalind (1991) The Great Queens: Irish Goddesses from the Morrigan to Cathleen ni Houlihan. Savage, MD, Barnes and Noble Books. ISBN 0-389-20928-7
- Danaher, Kevin (1972) The Year in Ireland. Dublin, Mercier. ISBN 1-85635-093-2
- Dillon, Myles (1994) Early Irish Literature. Dublin, Four Courts Press. ISBN 1-85182-117-5
- Gray, Elizabeth A (1982) Cath Maige Tuired: The 2nd Battle of Mag Tuired. Dublin, Irish Texts Society
- McNeill, F. Marian (1959). The Silver Bough, Vol. 1-4. Glasgow, William MacLellan
- Nagy, Joseph Falaky (1985) The Wisdom of the Outlaw: The Boyhood Deeds of Finn in Gaelic Narrative Tradition. Berkely, University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-05284-6
- Patterson, Nerys Thomas (1994) Cattle Lords and Clansmen: The Social Structure of Early Ireland. Notre Dame, IN, University of Notre Dame Press (2nd edition) ISBN 0-268-00800-0
- Power, Patrick C. (1976) Sex and Marriage in Ancient Ireland. Dublin, Mercier
- Smyth, Daragh (1988, 1996) A Guide to Irish Mythology. Dublin, Irish Academic Press
- Walsh, Brian (2002) The Secret Commonwealth and the Fairy Belief Complex. USA, Xlibris ISBN 1-4010-5545-1Comparative European
- Davidson, H.R. Ellis (1988) Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe: Early Scandinavian and Celtic Religions. Syracuse, Syracuse University Press. ISBN 0-8156-2441-7
- Epstein, Angelique Gulermovich (1998) War Goddess: The Morrígan and Her Germano-Celtic Counterparts. Los Angeles, University of California
- Lincoln, Bruce (1991) Death, War, and Sacrifice: Studies in Ideology and Practice. Chicago, University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-48200-6