Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism: An Overview of What We Mean
by: Micheal O’Miadhachain
Our organization is based upon the principles of Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism. However, while all households in our tribe are Celtic Polytheistic in nature, each follow the principles of Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism to a varying degree. Some adhere very conservatively to those principles while others may use the principles as one of many “tools” in their toolbox.
However, since we do use these principles quite a bit in guiding the spiritual practices of our larger group, it is imperative that individuals who are interested in our group understand what Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism is and how it is reflected in our spiritual practices. Individual households must also accept that these principles will guide the functions of the larger group but at the same time understand that individuals and families will apply these principles to varying degrees in their own households (in other words, some will apply these principles rather conservatively and others will apply them rather liberally).
So, to help understand what we mean by Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism, try to imagine that you are planning a trip to a park to do some hiking. You hear about an overlook in the park with a wonderful vista that you would like to visit it. You sit down and you look at a map to plan your trip and you notice that there are five different hiking trails leading to the overlook.
Some paths are pretty straightforward with a lot of information in the hiking manuals. Other trails are a little overgrown, are a little harder to navigate and there really isn’t anything written about them in the hiking brochures, but they are still accessible. You even notice that some paths intersect at certain points, but they still seem to remain separate and only cross for a few feet. The one thing you are sure of, however, is that all the hiking trails offer wonderful sights along the way and lead to that wonderful vista. So what do you do?
Some of you may choose a trail randomly and go with the flow. Others of you may choose a specific path and learn everything you can about it in the available information. Still others may call people they know who have been to the park and ask their opinion as to what path to take. There are even some of you who may be familiar with the park and may have glimpsed the beginning of a specific trail and decided to use that trail.
All are fine options as long as you are prepared with the adequate supplies and stick to the trails. Veering off of the trails and starting out with bad shoes or not enough water often leads to either being lost or being really uncomfortable and having to have to turn around and head back to the car.
I use this analogy, because starting out on the path of Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism seems very much like this scenario at times – so many choices and perhaps a lot of indecision (and maybe even some apprehension)! Like the many different hiking trails, there are many different paths and pantheons which make up Celtic Paganism – Irish, Welsh, Manx, Breton, etc. – and it is sometimes isdifficult to decide how to start out on this journey. However, all of those paths do lead to the same ultimate end.
However contrary to many notions and stereotypes, you do not have to be an professional (or even advanced amateur) scholar to follow this path. While scholarship is very important in any reconstructionist religion, you should not feel that you have to be a professor of Celtic Studies or a scholar of Old Irish. Of course, you may encounter individuals who try to minimize you by quoting obscure references in some obscure text or tell you that if you do not “do this” or if you do “do that”, that you are not a “true” Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan. This is simply nonsense and in many situations many of these individuals are really “CR” in name only and have very few meaningful spiritual practices of their own. Regardless, you will not find this attitude in our group.
However, we do believe that a basic understanding of one’s spiritual path is paramount. Celtic Reconstructionist pagans are true polytheists and animists. We are not monotheists or “duotheists”. We see the Gods and Goddesses as individual and distinct beings rather than as aspects of one greater God or Goddess.
Celtic Reconstructionist Pagans seek to revive the religious practices of the ancient pre-Christian and Celtic speaking peoples as they pertain to modern days and lifestyles. Contrary to popular belief, we do not seek to return to “paleolithic times”, but instead attempt to discern how religious practices would have evolved over the centuries had they been allowed to do so in much the same way as other polytheistic religious that are still alive today were allowed to evolve. In essence, Celtic Reconstructionist Pagans seek to recreate the native, pagan religious practices and beliefs of the inhabitants of pre-Christian Celtic speaking countries as if they had evolved throughout the centuries and had never been interrupted and made extinct by the coming of the Middle Eastern religions and foreign value systems.
Again, just to make this clear, we do not pretend to be ancient “Celts” nor do we believe that we are the authentic and true heirs of a pre-Christian Celtic tradition. We simply strive to develop practices which may have reflected, to the best of the knowledge available to us, the beliefs and practices of the pre-Christian people who lived in a land which spoke one of the Celtic languages.
This, of course, is a very daunting task and in order to do this Celtic Reconstructionist Pagans must look for evidences of religious practices in the living folkloric practices of the traditional “Celtic” countries and the Celtic diaspora, the archaeological record, and manuscripts. This is where scholarship does come in handy, but again, it does not have to consume you. In fact, it should be something pleasurable for you and many of you will find that you actually enjoy the scholarship and academic debates and discussions. While this can seem a little intense for those beginning the path, it does get easier with time and no one in our organization will ever make anyone feel ignorant or foolish for not knowing some obscure fact.
However, if one were to only do rituals and spiritual practices that were documented and explained in original sources, there would pretty much be nothing to fulfill our spiritual needs! There are names of practices and even some ideas as to what these practices were meant to accomplish, but no idea of the means to the end. In other words, we do not know the techniques, prayers or practices which accomplished the desired end result. Therefore, spiritual experimentation and modern practices must occur in order for the tradition to grow and thrive. These modern practices, spiritual revelations and experimentation are often called “Unverified Personal Gnosis” or “UPG”. These practices do play an important role in Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism, but such should always be labeled as modern constructs or “UPG” and attempts should never be made to pass them off as “authentic pre-Christian Celtic practices.”
So basically, some general personal guidelines for following a Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan path may be:
- A desire to reflect what is known of the history, customs, traditions and spiritual
practices of those individuals who lived in Celtic speaking area in pre-Christian
- A rejection of what we conclusively know the Celts did not do and which have
“flooded” the Celtic pagan movement based on Romantic notions of some
less scholarly authors.
- A realization of the need to allow for experimentation, based upon glimpses of
practices found in the archaeological record, academia and unverified personal
gnosis, but which is of modern devising.
- An understanding that any practice will have modern elements and biases to it since
we do not know enough about the practices to reconstruct them ONLY from
So – back to getting started…..
As mentioned before there are many different paths that make up Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism. Some people who follow Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism follow an Irish path, others follow a path which honors the Gaulish deities and still others maintain a purely Welsh practice. Some of you may already know which pantheon or specific culture attracts you the most and some of you may have no idea where to begin. If you are really unsure and find that you have an interest in several different cultures or pantheons, we would suggest reading more about them. Read the mythology and stories from the different cultures. One of mythologies of a particular culture, and one of the pantheons, will speak to you more than the others. Once you have discovered this, stick to it. Don’t try to wander off the trail. Keep putting one foot in front of the other and, even if the trail might become unclear or overgrown, keep pushing forward. It will still lead to the same end.
Be aware, however, that some nations and cultures have more mythologies written down than others. Unfortunately, much of the mythologies where written down by Christian scholars many years after paganism had become extinct. The Irish and Welsh cultures seem to have the most written mythologies. By reading the mythologies, one will discover a world of Gods and Goddesses, heroes, druids, poets, bards and otherworldly beings. It is truly a wonderful and rewarding experience.
Hopefully this brief essay has helped you to decide whether or not Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism is for you. So, if you are so inclined, get on those hiking boots, gather the maps and supplies and get on with your journey!