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Celtic is often thought to be peculiarly Irish but this isn’t so. Clairvoyants in the early 20th century journeyed to find a migration from a beginning in what is now the Gobi desert, was then a sea, across Asia and through Europe. Mary Renault tells the story of Hyppolyita’s people, the Amazon folk, in The Bull from the Sea. The story is born out by the Takla Mummies found in the Gobi desert with Celtic/Caucasian DNA, plaids, long red hair and other Celtic attributes. The Celtic peoples worked their way across the Atlantic – see the voyage of St Brendan, the travels of the Vikings and Kennewick Man in Spokane in Washington State.
We European Celts tend to congregate physically along the northern and western shores of the Atlantic, in Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany and Eire. Language differences show two main strains, Brythonic and Gaelic. Gaelic is far better known as there is much more from the mediaeval period written in the tongue. Us Brythons tended to be an oral culture, resisting the Christian priest writing it down.
The word Brython is the root of Briton and of the name of our land, Britain, an ancient name for the Goddess. We have many similar stories to the Irish with slightly different twists and emphases, but the languages – Brythonic and Gaelic – are very different.
Brythonic, P-Celtic, is still spoken in Wales, Cornwall and Brittany, the old Pictish and Cumbrian languages are now extinct unfortunately. Cornish folk and Bretons understand each other’s language pretty well today. The words ‘gwr’ in Welsh and ‘fir’ in Gaelic, both meaning ‘man’, are nice demonstrations of the difference. Gaelic, Q-Celtic, is spoken by the Scots, Irish and Manx folk (my grandmother was a Manx witch).
So, there are two distinct roots of Celtic and this affects the lore stories we tell, the Grammarye as we say in Britain. But there are many similarities too.
For Britain, the world tree is an Oak, Duir, whereas for the more Nordic traditions it’s Odin’s Ash. We reserve the Ash, Nuin, for Gwydion, the Master Enchanter of all Britain. The oak carries the 3 worlds … Lowerworld – ancestral knowing, Middleworld – active participation in growth and change, Upperworld – potential, ideas, concepts.
We share TRIPLICITY, the concept of the triskele comes from the 3 faces of the goddess Frayde – better know as Brighid from her Gaelic connections. Frayde’s 3 faces are Smith, Healer and Poet, in her healer-role she is the foster-mother of Arth (Arthur) the once-and-future spirit-king of Britain. The name Arth means Bear and this is seen again in how we call the constellations of the Great and Little Bears, (Plough, Big Dipper) – we call it Arthur’s Wain. It has 7 stars and is spiritually related to the Pleiades, the 7 Sisters, and connected to Arth.
This takes me to another fundamental concept of British Celtic shamanism – DUALITY.
Celtic will have both a goddess and a god holding the energy of a concept; eg Upperworld is a province of Arianrhod of the Spinning Tower – her name means silver wheel, another way of saying “chakra” – but it is also the place of Llew Llaw Gyffes, the eagle-sun god. We have both the masculine and the feminine energies intertwined in all our concepts.
The branches of the world-tree reach up into the blue void of potentiality to touch the Sun and the Moon, the Two Lights of our Earthly sky that bring us life and light. The word twilight comes from the merging of the word “two lights”, meaning the time when the sun and the moon are both in the sky together, the veils between the worlds are thin and communication easy.
Moon and Sun, goddess and god, lady and lord, soul and personality … this is how we see duality, as two sides of one coin. I explore this concept in the Wye’s Woman Workshops. The river Wye is our Mother River here and I live very close to her. The Celtic tradition is an and/and one, rather than either/or, we integrate rather than separate. Even the P and Q Celtic languages still have much in common, along with our stories. We include and adapt rather than separate ourselves off. This can make us hard to find as we will have blended … shapeshifted … with what is around us, indeed the Well-Maidens story is about this very concept and how it changes the concepts of what is evil. We say evil is inappropriate good, evil often results from someone “having your best interests at heart” whilst not asking what your needs are.
Asking and choice are fundamental to us, see my blog where I recently told the tale of RAGNALL’S WEDDING. We ask our elder brothers, the rest of creation as humans are new-boy-on-the-block in Earth’s evolution. Grammarye shows this in lore-stories like Cyllhwych and Olwen, or Dyfrig’s and Gwydion’s pigs (Ceridwen’s totem). We ask our Familiars (Grammarye for power animals) them to help us … and we listen.
I’ve explored the 3 worlds and duality a little. I’ll stalk the 4 elements and the 7-fold world-tree – the skeleton of British Celtic tradition – later.
© Elen Sentier 2010
About the author:
Elen is a Celtic shaman elder, teacher, writer and biodynamic gardener. She leads Rainbow Warriors, a 3-yr course in Celtic shamanism and Wye’s Woman Workshops exploring the goddess. She has just published “Moon Song”, “Gardening with the Moon & Stars” comes out soon.
Elen shares the sacred space of the twilight lands by the River Wye, in the Welsh Marches, with her husband, two cats and a host of wildlife.
Elen is at Wordpress, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace and Flickr.