Authenticity and coherence are two words that have been around my mind in the last couple of weeks. Interesting discussions have being held on the Caer Feddwyd forum, as well as in the OBOD one.
Neo Paganism is clearly a religious movement that emerges immerse in the post modern movements. One of the main characteristics of post modern thought is that it cuts out any frame of reference to work in a relativistic way. A lot of the New age religions are happy to work this way, using an eclectic mix-it-all, everything is valid as long as “it feels ok” frame of mind.
Even when the origins of neopaganism are way back the postmodern movement, modern neopaganism has not being immune to it, actually the opposite, has welcome it with open arms.
In the particular scenario of celtic paganism there has been a branch, that emerge in the 1980’s that saw that relativistic point of view as something not worth of following, this branch is known as Celtic Reconstructionism (CR). It was the antithesis, the opposite to the romantic druidry that incorporates celtic themes, Greco-roman, hermetic, masonic, general mystic and esoteric, and oriental concepts into its cauldron to get the result. CR, however quickly found that it doesn’t have a great amount of information from which reconstruct the old religion of the Celts, since the Celts were an illiterate civilization, so, apart of a few Classic accounts as the famous Comentarii de Bello Gallico by Gaius Iulius Caesar, and other texts, very little was known. So CR look into the Irish and Welsh medieval texts as the corpus of celtic lore. The scholars since the XIX century have had the theory that those texts were a very accurate source of how the old pagans view their gods and customs, with a little of “interference” of the Christian themes put in them by the medieval Monks. Now, the actual trend in scholarship go for a new look, saying that it is impossible to separate the pagan themes on the medieval texts, and that actually is hard to tell which ones are pagan or not.
Of course every social discipline has its trends, and most of the time we see that trends emerge as antithesis of the previous one, and it’s not until some time that a synthesis can be found, in the continuous spiral of knowledge. Social sciences are not exact, and they depend a lot in suppositions and interpretations, especially when they deal with the past. There is a current scholar trend that is trying too hard to find a Christian Biblical origin for everything in Irish lore, disregarding the pagan themes, opposite to the nativist view that disregard the Christian elements.
But this trend of the academia put CR in a big trouble, the authenticity they claimed is now doubted, some CRs put so much effort in distance themselves of the romantic druids that began to see the medieval Irish and Welsh texts as their “holy books”, and of course if a holy book is debunked, the building shakes.
This could be seen as a battle win by the romantics, that will say, I told you so, it makes no sense in looking hard into the past since it’s not accessible to us, so let’s just take what inspires us and feels ok. One example is how the book The Druids by Ronald Hutton has being taken by the druid community, Ronal Hutton even when it’s a respected scholar, he also has strong links with OBOD and even run a grove, so it’s clear in reading his text that there’s an agenda behind; in his book he portraits an interesting portrait of Druids as archetypes that had being used in different places and different times by people according to its own agendas. Which of course is true, the problems is that he goes further and say that nothing can be known of ancient celtic religion and it’s philosopher-magician class, and of course that is what some romantic obodies wanted to hear.
But, a synthetic point of view is emerging in the celtic pagan and druidry circles, of which I have to say, I’m happy to share opinions. One that see the truth not in the hard CR theories nor in the Romantic Relativistic ones, but somewhere in the middle.
Megli put in the Caer Feddwyd forum an excellent phrase that illustrates very much the point: The only sound basis for religious speculation is a mixture of feeling (experience, intuition, instinct) and judgement (logic, sense, rationality, a sense of coherence.)
I do think that the truth is a mixture, a synthetic view from the opposites. The medieval texts are clearly not pagan tales with Christian dust to be removed, they are product of a syncretic culture that emerge from Ireland after the conversion, and that even today can be witnessed to some extent in the peculiar Irish Catholicism that is practiced.
So, are the medieval texts really not worth of interest to the Celtic pagans? Of course not!, they are of interest, because they have pagan ideas and characters on them, maybe the sources from which the truths we hold arise may be muddy waters indeed but does not the lotus and lily grow best in the swamp? There are several themes that could reflect a pre-christian frame work, war, battle, kingship, young against old, light against darkness, nature of magic and the elements, otherworldly images, etc. that even when not accessible in a straight forward way, can be reached with some work.
The thing is that we can’t rely only on those text, we need to look at the archaeology findings, to the classic accounts, compare them, trying to see the whole picture, we have to view those texts as a whole, and try to find the truth on that tapestry of images. How? Well, that is where the experience, intuition and instinct came into the game, and if that is not enough, then using freely our inspiration to find our way, but always being honest on what is a modern invention and fiction and when it’s not.
Of course studying those texts, reading the available material is a slow process, and could be hard work, the cost a lot of time and, yes also money since books are usually not for free; but if we are not afraid of that the result is a very satisfactory growing of intellectual and spiritual knowledge that fulfils our paths.