Hello everyone, and the bright blessings of early summer to you all! Today I would like to talk about ways to deepen our practice of Celtic Paganism. One the many important tools that people may choose to utilize when walking a Celtic path is learning one of the modern Celtic languages – Scottish Gaelic, modern Irish, Welsh, Cornish, Breton and Manx. By dedicating ourselves to learning one of these languages we are contributing to protecting the survival of the language as well as the traditional culture embedded in that language. Some people feel that they may not have sufficient time to learn a Celtic language, but there are free online sources that a person can use in their own timing. For example there is the app Duolingo where you can learn Irish or Welsh. For Scottish Gaelic there are some wonderful resources at learngaelic.scot.
Each of these languages is a portal into one of the Celtic cultures, including their history, beliefs and worldview. If we only look at the mythology and folklore, we are taking those things out of context, and as a result there can be many misunderstandings or confusion that can arise. For traditional cultures, the ancestral language is incredibly important for a sense of identity, both personal and tribal, and it encapsulates how that culture looks at the world. That includes cosmology, social relationships, and the intricacies of religion.
When I began to learn Scottish Gaelic as my great grandmother had spoken, I instantly began to see how the language provided me with a new way of seeing, and a new way of exploring that culture. Eventually I learned Old Irish and studied other early Celtic languages so that I could read the mythology and the ancient literature in the original. That really cracked open the geode, so to speak, so that I could see the interior, the shining mysteries, and the sacred ways of seeing.
Around the world there are individuals, small groups, and organizations dedicated to teaching Celtic languages and cultures. You may want to get in touch with some of these groups or foundations, to help provide you with a sense of connection as you learn about Celtic languages and culture as an important step towards deepening your understanding of the mythology and religion.
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’.