Interview with a Gaelic Polytheist
CC: You previously mentioned that you were a “Gaelic Polytheist.” What is Gaelic Polytheism, and is it the same thing as a “Celtic Reconstructionism?”
GP: Gaelic Polytheism is a branch of Celtic Reconstructionism. We recognize that the various peoples who are today called “Celtic” were, in fact, distinct societies, each with their own language, culture, and pantheon. As Gaelic Polytheists, we practice the Gaelic tradition exclusively; that is, the traditions of Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man.
CC: Does it primarily deal with the pre-Christian pagan traditions? (as opposed to focusing on all aspects of culture and history)
GP: Gaelic Polytheism is based in pre-Christian Gaelic spirituality, though it incorporates a great deal of living tradition from the Gaelic lands. We recognize that the Gaelic peoples have living cultures, and that much of what we find as folk traditions in those lands are survivals of pre-Christian traditions. We do not want to practice the religion as it existed 2,000 years ago; we want to practice it as we believe it would be today if it had never died out.
CC: Are you also a actual practitioner of some aspect of what is referred to as “Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism? If so, what specific tradition?
GP: Yes, Gaelic Polytheism is the Gaelic form of CR.
CC: How would you assess the power of the Druids in Western Europe, prior to Roman influence? Some people believe that they had tremendous influence.
GP: We find clues to the what the role of the ancient Druidh was in the Gaelic lore. I do not speak for the other “Celtic” traditions, but we see that in ancient Ireland and Scotland, the Druid was highly respected, often having a place of honor beside the king, and being his top advisor. He also was known for having powers of magic and divination. Unfortunately, most of this knowledge has been lost to us.
CC: Is the concept of a predominantly male-dominated Druidic system, and the predominantly female-dominated Cernunnos-based Witchcraft tradition, exaggerated, or even true?
GP: Cernunnos was not a deity known to the Gaelic peoples, so I really have no answer to this.
CC: You had previously stated how eclectic and historically inaccurate the Wiccan or neo-pagan movement is. Can you comment on that? Also, do you believe that these modern movements have served any type of modern psuedo-political agenda?
GP: Neopaganism is a new religious movement which is largely based upon post-modern philosophy, medieval ceremonial magic, and some ancient Pagan traditions. However, most of the actual Pagan tradition that has been blended in has been altered from its original form and made to fit into the Wiccan or Neopagan mold. This is nothing short of cultural theft, and while we must respect their right to practice whatever spirituality they wish, I do not condone the co-opting of Gaelic deities or traditions into Neopaganism when they are not accurately portrayed.
CC: What are some of the chief symbols used by Wiccans, which you do not attribute to a Celtic or European origin?
GP: The most common is the Pentacle, which had no place in Gaelic or any other Celtic culture. The Triple Moon symbol is a 20th Century creation and was unknown to any ancient people.
CC: The Wiccan Revival of the twentieth century seemed to have been brought about by Freemasonic men in the UK. Might this initial Freemasonic influence, itself eclectic, Eastern, and universalist, have rubbed off on modern Wicca?
GP: Wicca certainly seems to have been influenced by such movements as Freemasonry and, without doubt, by ceremonial magic.
CC: Historically speaking, both spiritually and in social relations, how would you describe the interaction between the “Gaulic, Gaelic, Druidic” cultures, and the more Teutonic/Odinic peoples?
GP: These two peoples were closely related and there was a frequent exchange of population between them. They share nearly all of the same values, and some common themes appear in their lore. Some scholars believe that the Germanic peoples may have branched off of some paleo-Celtic people group. Whether this is true, the fact is that these two cultural groups have strongly influenced one another.
CC: Can you elaborate further on Gaelic Polytheism. What does it mean to you?
GP: One of the most important things for me is knowing that I am helping to revive and perpetuate the traditions of my ancestors. In fact, reverence for the ancestors is a strong theme in Gaelic tradition, and we definitely seek to reconnect with and honor them.
CC: Can you comment on the ancient seasonal “Wheel of the Year” as far as where it fits into history, and it’s significance?
GP: It seems to be a 20th Century fusion of traditions from various cultures. The ancient Gaels knew four seasonal festivals, which we as Gaelic Polytheists still observe today: Samhain, Imbolg, Beltain, and Lughnasadh. The ancient Gaels knew of the solstices and equinoxes, but there is not evidence that they observed these dates as religious festivals. A few GP’s may follow the 8-festival Wheel of the Year, but that is not the norm.
CC: You had stated that you do not believe that there was a definitive "Celtic culture" in the ancient world. Without necessarily mentioning names, what is your opinion of the current international groups which were organized to facilitate this "Pan-Celtic" concept?
GP: I think to some degree they are helping to perpetuate an interest in the various cultures that have come to be called "Celtic", even though the Pan-Celtic concept itself is a modern fantasy. I used to be Pan-Celtic myself several years ago, and the more I studied the ancient traditions, the more I realized that they were very distinct. I then learned that reputable historians agree with this assessment.
Also, it should be noted where the word "Celtic" itself originated. The ancient Greeks referred to the bararian tribes who lived to the north of them as "Keltoi". It is ironic that so many centuries later, some people decided that the term should be applied to the inhabitants of the British Isles, who are not the descendants of the Keltoi, and are only distantly related to them.
CC: How would you quickly sum up the affect of early Christianity on paganism, especially in what were considered regions of Celtic settlement?
GP: The conversion of the Gaels was not as bloody or brutal as the conversion of the Germanic peoples and some others. The early Celtic Christian Church simply blended traditional Gaelic spirituality with the Christian faith to create a system where followers were free to honor Christ at the same time as Brighde, Daghda, etc. This period of blended faith lasted several centuries, and in fact, it could be said to still exist today, since many Gaelic Christians still honor Brighde as a saint, and may give honor to the spirits of nature as well.
CC: We have a concept that we would like your opinion of. The chief deity, of which the Wicca religion is based on, appears to be the horned god Cernunnos. Correct?. Since one of the alternate names for this deity is “Cern,” couldn’t this tradition be called “Cernism” in a revisionist direction? (in the same way as Odin and Odinism)?
GP: Again, Cernunnos is not a deity known in our tradition, so I’m not really qualified to speak to this.
CC: Where do the hundreds of very ancient megalithic monuments located largely in the British Isles, like Stonehenge, fit into the Gaelic Polytheist belief system?
GP: Stonehenge itself is in an area that has never been the home to any Gaelic tribe, so it is pretty irrelevant. We do see other stone circles, such as Calanais, which are in the Gaelic lands, but these predate the Gaels. Likewise, Newgrange in Ireland, which is aligned to the Winter Solstice, is of pre-Gaelic origin.
I'm sure many Gaelic people appreciate these sites as historical landmarks, and even for their spiritual significance, but they were not constructed by Gaelic people, and I'm sure they had much greater significance to the people who actually did build them.
CC: Are there any other subjects which we have missed, but are of importance? If so, can you elaborate on them?
GP: Thank you for the interview. This is actually my first chance to speak for Gaelic Polytheism to people outside our movement. You will find some variation within GP and some may have even answered these questions differently than I did. But I believe I have represented our movement accurately, as far as what the concensus would be on these subjects
We simply seek to restore the spiritual traditions of our ancestors within a modern context. Though some things have been lost, we would rather fill in the blanks with our own innovations which are rooted in our knowledge of Gaelic lore and tradition, rather than borrow from another culture or from a Neopagan tradition.
Being a Gaelic Polytheist is as much about culture as it is religion. To follow this path, one must be willing to study and immerse oneself in Gaelic lore, folk tradition, values, language, art, culture, music…basically, to carry on not only the religion of the ancient Gaels, but the traditions of the living Gaelic cultures. This is an ethno-cultural tradition.
I may recommend a couple of websites if you wish to have more information.
This is a GP organization in which I hold membership. The website has a great deal of information and resources.
This is another Gaelic Polytheist website, which has an excellent and very lengthy FAQ about the movement.
Thanks again for the opportunity to speak with you..