Monday, January 16, 2017

On Celtic Christianity pt. 2

In my last post I talked about how it is very difficult to recreate an authentic Celtic Christianity. This is due to the lack of knowledge that we have about the Celts and how they practiced Christianity. Of course we do have the resources I mentioned, such as the Stowe Missal, the Antiphonary of Bangor, and the Rule of Tallaght, with which we could recreate a version of the Culdees. But there is another resource we can use for some insight into what is still a particular form of Celtic piety.

I've mentioned before in my blog how many people claim that Christianity stole holidays and pretty much everything from pagan sources. I've also shown how that is bunk. But one reason, I believe, that people make this claim is due to the Church's willingness to mix cultural norms within the overall tradition.

An example of what I mean is the differences between the Greeks and the Russians. Both churches are still Orthodox, but both churches are culturally diverse and quite different. The Church took things from whatever culture it was introduced to, and baptized those small traditions - so to speak - so the people could keep some of what was normal. One of the biggest things that the Church let people keep was their language; when Christianity was brought somewhere new all of the churchy things were translated into the vernacular.

There are such a plethora of ancient cultural practices that the Church kept that it would be impossible to list them all. But some examples I've heard about is letting African people Chant and sing as is their local custom (I've even heard of some using drums in the Liturgy), and likewise for the native peoples of my new home state Alaska. I've yet to witness these things first hand, but I've heard they are quite beautiful.

Then, of course, there are other traditions that the people themselves keep, but that don't really have a home in the Church. By these things I mean the Yule logs and mistletoes, the fish eyes, the horn thing metalheads do with their hands because Dio did it and they think it's cool but Dio only did it because his Nana - an old Italian lady - did it to ward of the evil eye, and that Slavic practice of adding salt to bread and giving it to the priest (or some such thing). These are practices not taken up by the Church, but kept by the people as cultural norms. Usually such things are tolerated by the Church unless it is evident that it is causing people to sin and be non-Christian, but that doesn't mean that the Church is using these things.

I want to make this distinction. Yes, the Church consists of the people, and yes the Church lets people keep to some cultural practices. But this doesn't mean that the Church is stealing things from pagan religions. Oft times these things are either done divorced from religious meaning, or with a new Christian twist added to them. For an example look at our modern Christmas and the Christmas tree; many people celebrate what was originally a religious holiday but divorced from any religious meaning - it's just as secular now as it is religious - and there is no denying that the evergreen tree was used by pagans before it was used in Passion plays (representing the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil) and then morphing into the Christmas tree because the Germans loved those trees from the Passion plays so much, and now it is just as secular as Christmas. So it's not so crazy to think of cultural practices that are separated from their original religious meanings; in this way many Christians kept cultural practices when they converted. But again, this wasn't the Church stealing pagan things, just people bringing things - either divorced from religion but still important culturally, or with new Christian meaning added to it.

I go through the above paragraphs of explanation so you, my dear readers, may properly understand the resource I'm talking about because it has a lot of cultural practices intermixed with Christian piety.

The resource I'm talking about is the Carmina Gadelica which was compiled by Alexander Carmichael in the late 1800s from various Scottish sources and published in AD 1900. It is split into two volumes, the first being mainly invocations -prayers - and the second being mainly incantations. It's hard for me to accurately describe the contents from the two volumes, so I'm going to quote a few prayers and a few incantations so you can see what I'm talking about.

GOD with me lying down,

God with me rising up,

God with me in each ray of light,

Nor I a ray of joy without Him,

Nor one ray without Him.

Christ with me sleeping,

Christ with me waking,

Christ with me watching,

Every day and night,

Each day and night.

God with me protecting,

The Lord with me directing,

The Spirit with me strengthening,

For ever and for evermore,

Ever and evermore, Amen.

Chief of chiefs, Amen. (Source)

THAT night the star shone

Was born the Shepherd of the Flock,

Of the Virgin of the hundred charms;

The Mary Mother.

The Trinity eternal by her side,

In the manger cold and lowly.

Come and give tithes of thy means

To the Healing Man.

The foam-white breastling beloved,

Without one home in the world,

The tender holy Babe forth driven,


Ye three angels of power,

Come ye, come ye down;

To the Christ of the people

Give ye salutation.

Kiss ye His hands,

Dry ye His feet

With the hair of your heads;

And O! Thou world-pervading God,

And Ye, Jesu, Michael, Mary,

Do not Ye forsake us. (Source


I WILL kindle my fire this morning

In presence of the holy angels of heaven,

In presence of Ariel of the loveliest form,

In presence of Uriel of the myriad charms,

Without malice, without jealousy, without envy,

Without fear, without terror of any one under the sun,

But the Holy Son of God to shield me.

Without malice, without jealousy, without envy,

Without fear, without terror of any one under the sun,

But the Holy Son of God to shield me.

God, kindle Thou in my heart within

A flame of love to my neighbour,

To my foe, to my friend, to my kindred all,

To the brave, to the knave, to the thrall,

O Son of the loveliest Mary,

From the lowliest thing that liveth,

To the Name that is highest of all.

O Son of the loveliest Mary,

From the lowliest thing that liveth,

To the Name that is highest of all. (Source)

THE incantation put by lovely Bride

Before the thumb of the Mother of God,

On lint, on wort, on hemp,

For worm, for venom, for teeth.

The worm that tortured me,

In the teeth of my head,

Hell hard by my teeth,

The teeth of hell distressing me.

* * * *

The teeth of hell close to me;

As long as I myself shall last

May my teeth last in my head.


On lint, on comb, on agony.

On sea, on ocean, on coast.

On water, on lakes, on marshes. (Source)


WHO shall thwart the evil eye?

I shall thwart it, methinks,

In name of the King of life.

Three seven commands so potent,

Spake Christ in the door of the city;

Pater Mary one,

Pater King two,

Pater Mary three,

Pater King four,

Pater Mary five,

Pater King six,

Pater Mary seven;

Seven pater Maries will thwart

The evil eye,

Whether it be on man or on beast,

On horse or on cow;

Be thou in thy full health this night,

[The name]

In name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. (Source)


THOU shamrock of foliage,

Thou shamrock of power,

Thou shamrock of foliage,

Which Mary had under the bank,

Thou shamrock of my love,

Of most beauteous hue,

I would choose thee in death,

To grow on my grave,

I would choose thee in death,

To grow on my grave. (Source)

We see from these prayers and incantations things that are particularly Celtic, and even the incantations make mention of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and other Saints. There is more than just the quotes I provided so please make sure to check the links; in the case of the incantation against the evil eye there is a brief story about how one must use a wodden ladle to gather water from a stream and adding certain things before saying the incantation and pouring the concoction over the afflicted.

I present this second post on Celtic Christianity to show that even 150 years ago there was a peculiar Celtic piety, and I'm sure there is still one today. I think if one were trying to be a Christian Druid that one should look no further than the Carmina Gadelica. I'm not saying that it is proper to do so, but I think doing so would be truer to form than joining some modern recreation of Druidism that is romantic guess work at best.

And if one were so inclined as to remake the Culdees one could sufficiently do so using the resources I gave in the last post. I'm not saying it is proper to do so, just that doing so would be truer to form than trying to mesh a modern recreation of Druidism with whatever you believe about the Culdees.
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