Assignment submitted June 24, 2012. This assignment passed.
Miles – YaaD – Book Report Q2-2 (second quarter, second book)
McColman, Carl. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Celtic Wisdom. Alpha Books: Indianapolis, IN. 2003.
Since I feel slightly more drawn to the Celtic traditions, this book was an obvious choice. In particular, I was instructed to study and consider the lists of Celtic deities to see if I felt a strong connection to any of them. I regret that was not the case; I do not feel called to any individual named gods or goddesses, and still feel most comfortable using the generic Lord and Lady to address or refer to the Deity/ies. Despite that failure on my part, I enjoyed the book tremendously, and would cheerfully recommend it to anyone with at least a passing interest in the history of the Celtic peoples from a religious perspective, but not to anyone who's already done considerable research. This is an entry-level book.
McColman makes it a point throughout the book to tie ancient history to modern life, through use of traditional language (translated), suggestions for implementing Celtic religions in daily life (e.g., "one way to respect nature is to recycle"), recommended additional readings, and warnings to help keep an enthusiastic reader from errors or dangers caused by insufficient knowledge (e.g., "there is no one true way" and "keep reading and thinking").
Part 1, "Introduction to Celtic Wisdom," includes brief descriptions of how we know what we know about the ancient Celts, based on their music, myths, and art as well as on what was written about them by others. He notes that contrary to popular belief, Stonehenge and other rings predate the Celts, and that very little is actually known about Druids because it was a strictly oral tradition. He also points out that Celtic spirituality "crosses all faith boundaries," including shamanism (or a framework similar to shamanism), Christianity, Druids, and nature-based mysticism, and that it was not monolithic, but practiced in and adapted to each particular community.
Someone choosing to study Celtic spirituality might find any one or more of (and these are section headings)
- a deeper connection to the land
- a deeper connection with ancestors
- a meaningful framework for life
- creative inspiration
- psychic or mental development
- personal enlightenment
- an alternative to mainstream society
- a deeper connection to deity/ies.
Chapter 2 summarizes in simple terms what is currently known of the ancient Celts, their dispersal, and modern Celtic clusters (Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Cornwall, the Isle of Man, and Brittany). He notes that traditional Celtic culture is being displaced by and is at risk of being lost to mass media and globalization.
Chapter 3 defines "Celticity," or Celtic-ness, attempts to separate the "romantic vision" from the facts, and offers a distinction between "Real Celts" (those born in one of the six modern Celtic nations) from "Cardiac Celts" (who claim a Celtic connection). I found this chapter fairly uncomfortable, because it hits all my concerns about cultural misappropriation. While I have reason to believe that part of my ancestry does derive from Scotland and England, I wasn't born in the Old Country, I don't speak any of the Celtic languages, and I'm not from a marginalized culture. Despite this, I do still feel a greater connection with the Celtic Pagan traditions than with any of the others I've encountered.
Chapter 4 lays out "The Seven Dimensions of Celtic Wisdom": shamanism, Celtic faery spirituality, Celtic Christianity, modern Druidism, Celtic Wicca, Celtic reconstructionism, and the Grail quest. Each of these paths is a valid approach to learning about Celtic spirituality and integrating it into one's own life. Of the seven, I'd probably be most likely to approach the study of Celtic Wicca – I'm far too old to even consider modern Druidism, for example, and I'm not comfortable with shamanism or Christianity as a personal path.
Chapter 5 is an overview of Celtic nature-based belief and explains that many Celtic deities represented, controlled, or were aspects of natural forces, and also that many aspects of nature were in and of themselves sacred.
Chapter 6 addresses the Otherworld, the spiritual aspect of Celtic belief; it is described as a dimension parallel to the physical world, having correspondences with every physical thing, but also containing anything that can be thought of, whether or not that thought has a physical form, including the deities, ancestors, saints, faeries, and magical creatures. McCollum suggests that Celtic knotwork designs are meant to represent the intertwining between the physical and spiritual worlds. There are gateways from the mundane to the Otherworld, including ritual, ancient sites, natural portals, and imagination. Certainly almost every other text I've read has suggested ritual and visualization as gateways; for example, rituals for meditation or finding a familiar often include instructions to "pass through a portal into an/the Otherworld".
Part 2 of the book describes the three paths of the wisdomkeepers: seers/sages, bards, and druids, corresponding to "psychic experience / keepers of the future, cunning creativity / keepers of the past, and priestly interaction with the gods / keepers of the present." Chapter 7 includes a quiz offering to point the reader to the "right path"; to my considerable surprise, my scores came out Seer=6, Bard=4, Druid=14. Although, on the other hand, I'm not surprised that Bard and Seer are low, and that really only leaves Druid. Chapters 8, 9, and 10 go into more detail about each of the three paths.
Chapter 11 talks about altar tools and rituals. McCollum begins by describing the Four Treasures of the Túatha Dé Danann: the Stone of Destiny, the spear of Lugh, the Cauldron of Plenty, and the sword of Núadu, and suggesting that altar tools should symbolize the Four Treasures. His recommendations include a bachall (staff / wand), an egg (of marble or quartz, not a biological egg), and a sickle, as well as representations of Fire and Water. His discussion of ritual makes many of the same points as I've seen in other readings: the benefits of connection to the otherworld, increased effectiveness of prayer or meditation, improved connection to the Celtic world, and the sheer joy of ritual for its own sake. He includes a sample ritual for a winter solstice, including setup, meditation and offering, and final blessing.
Part 3 is a concise introduction to Celtic mythology and stories. In Chapter 12, McCollum talks about the role of the storyteller, the transition to the written form, the preservation of history, and the sources of Celtic myth in the Irish and Welsh traditions. He explores common themes and motifs, has a longer list of recommended readings than in most chapters, and ends by urging the reader to incorporate storytelling into their own lives. For what it's worth, although I scored very low on the Bard scale of the quiz, I think I do have some slight knack for storytelling, although I'm certainly not a professional; on the other hand, I have a strong talent for public speaking in general.
Chapter 13 expands on the Irish traditions, detailing the four major myth cycles (mythological, Ulster, heroic, and historic) and discussing key themes ("the power of magic, the glory (and limitations) of the warrior, and the importance of the land") before finishing with a list of major characters, including the gods, warriors, and heroes.
Chapter 14 expands on the Welsh tradition, specifically The Mabinogion, its four primary branches (Pwyll, Branwen, Manawyddan, and Math), a list of the other stories in the collection, a few paragraphs about the Arthurian cycle, and a similar list of major characters in Welsh myth.
Chapter 15 introduces modern archaeology and acceptance of folklore as a serious study, names a few deities connected with specific locations, briefly describes four interpretations of the Celtic deity, and ends with another list of Celtic gods and goddesses.
Part 4 comprises six chapters serving as "Further Steps Along the Path": the disciplined mind of the druid, the path of the Celtic shaman, revering the ancestors, connecting with faeries, the Celtic Christian path, magic, and the Grail quest. Each chapter includes a bit of history and ways to incorporate that path into modern life. The "disciplined mind" path, for example, includes study, meditation, public service, good judgment, courage and honor, hospitality, sacrifice (specifically deferred gratification), humility, and serenity.
Finally, Part 5 is "Applied Celtic Wisdom", including suggestions for divination using nature, the Celtic tree alphabet, and the Ogham; the wheel of the year and time as a cycle rather than a line; and ways to live a Celtic life in the modern world (learning about ancestors, learning about the Otherworld, learning through archaeology about the ancient ways of life, learning through personal experience, learning through nature, learning through ritual, learning through omens, learning through language, and becoming "custodians of a powerful vision").