In some of the earlier posts we began an exploration of key questions like ‘What is a Celt?’ and ‘How do we know what we think we know?’ No doubt we will return to these themes as we go along, but for now, let’s delve into some primal thinking about what it may have meant to ‘be living as’ a Pagan Celt, and how that world view is relevant in this day and age.
From the evidence of archaeology and native writing, it is clear that for many (if not all) of the ancient Celts, their religion was polytheistic (having many gods and goddesses) and probably also animistic (perceiving the living presence of the divine in the natural world). This cultural tradition is important to keep in mind if people are promoting divergent views, such as claiming the Celts worshipped ‘The Goddess’ (a resonant but quite modern path) or the Wiccan ‘Lord and Lady.’ (ditto)
Some of the gods and goddesses (or their related culturally relevant archetypes) may have been fairly widespread. For example, the Continental god Lugus / Lugos sees a reflex in the Irish god Lug(h) and the Welsh figure Lleu Llaw Gyffes. It is possible (but not certain) that the British goddess Brigantia (whose name means ‘Exalted One’) may be related to the Irish goddess Bríg (later known as Brigid). Possibly the most well known and attested are the Horse / Sovereignty goddesses, such as the widely venerated Continental deity Epona (‘Divine Horse Goddess’), the Irish Mórrigan and Macha, and the Welsh Rhiannon (as well as the legendary Medb and other figures from myth and folklore).
There would also be local deities associated with the landscape – like the Irish goddess Boand (tutelary deity of the River Boyne) and Sinann (the River Shannon), and many other river goddesses throughout the Celtic world (Sabrina – the Severn, Tawa – the Tay, etc.) The perception of river goddesses was very far reaching in Celtic territories, and some rivers were simply called ‘Goddess’ (Dea, as in the several rivers named Dee) or ‘Divine Goddess’ (Dewona) as in the rivers called Don.
So, to place ourselves in this mindset, we envision ourselves inhabiting a world that is also inhabited by other beings, not usually visible to the naked eye. As animists, the visible world would be ‘full of spirit’ – in every rock, tree, plant, stone, etc. This, in and of itself, is a powerful first step to ‘stepping out of our modern mindset’ and placing ourselves into the web of life. Here we see ourselves not as the center of the universe, but as part of a sacred network of relationships. How does that change our daily experience? How does it inform the decisions we make, and how we view our lives?
One could sit in silent contemplation for quite some time, meditating upon this concept and coming to important realizations about ourselves and the world we live in. Then, add to that the presence of tribal deities, multi-skilled and multi-aspected deities of culture and ancestry, whose Otherworld realms are accessed through sacred burial mounds, sacred groves, hills and mountaintops, and bodies of water. Our modern feeling of disconnection and isolation vanishes once we realize we are surrounded by the Divine, and – if we can shift our perceptions and understanding – in constant contact with it.
Can we allow this to ‘be enough’? Can we learn to let it fill and nourish us, so that we can let go of non-essential and sometimes unhealthy habits and obsessions (food, drugs, technology, power, consumerism)? This is part of the indigenous world view in many cultures, and explains why for many people in Western culture, no matter how much we eat, drink, watch or buy, we still feel empty.
Take some time each day to contemplate the presence of Spirit around you, and the ever-living presence of the Gods and Goddesses. Open yourself as a Sacred Vessel and let that energy fill you, nourish you, heal you, and illuminate a sacred path in which you think – and feel – like a Pagan Celt. This is no fantasy or ‘running away from reality.’ This is the legacy that the ancestors have left for us, and which can create new, sacred connections and changes in our lives, once we can see the gift.
Sharon Paice MacLeod is a Celticist, author and musician. She is an Old Irish translator at Stanford University and has published several well known books on Celtic religion including ‘Celtic Myth and Religion: A Study of Traditional Belief’ as well as ‘Celtic Cosmology and the Otherworld: Mythic Origins, Sovereignty and Liminality’.