Sunday, September 24, 2006

Flogging for a Friend

A woman I count as both an elder in Celtic Reconstructionism as well as a friend of mine, Erynn Rowan Laurie, has made available her first pass at an ogam book, Not Your Mother's Tree Ogam. Comprising her thoughts on the first 20 ogam characters (she doesn't work with the forfeda for reasons she explains), both of tree and non-tree sorts (yes, Virginia, it's more than birch and ash), it's a look at nearly 20 years of meditation and research as well as a preview of coming attractions for her first full-sized book since A Circle of Stones. Since I gave her a squib for her WitchVox entry for the book, I figured I should also promote it here. It truly is a useful work, even if it's small. It's also dead cheap at $5.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

When Myth is Found to be Fact

One of the passages in the Lebor Gabála Erénn that is sometimes argued about is what was meant by the claims the Milesians came from Spain. Some considered it possible, others weren't sure. The question appears to have been settled, alongside any claims that there is such a thing as a unique strain of genetics that could be called Celtic.

Bryan Sykes, the man who worked out the Daughters of Eve research that demonstrates 95% of humanity descends from seven women based on DNA markers alongside many other accomplishments, spent the last several years researching the genetic history of Great Britain and Ireland. What he found supports the LGE's claims of the origins of the Milesians. Genetically, the large majority of residents of those two islands can be traced back to the northern coast of Spain. About 6,000 years ago, the civilization on that section of the European mainland were shipbuilders of sufficient talent that their crafts made it to those islands. They weren't the first humans there; some small population already existed there but was mostly subsumed by the newcomers. Successive waves since then that left their marks were the Saxons, Normans and others. Also, the markers for the first wave are so consistent across the two islands that it is foolhardy to claim a genetic difference between a Londoner and a Dubliner without one of them being non-white. Or perhaps not. Interestingly, the probable source of the "black Irish" also seems to have been located. Around the same time those Iberians were making the journey (the Oisin genetic marker in Sykes' nomenclature), some people from northern Africa were there along with them and settled primarily in the coastal areas (labeled the Eshu marker).

I look forward to getting my hands on his book, which is being published as Blood of the Isles in the UK and Saxons, Vikings and Celts in the USA. I dearly wish my paternal line had the Irish and that I had the spare cash to take advantage of the genetic testing available through his institute's site. But those of you who do may find it worth a look.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Something Older, Something Newer

Here's a phrase to strike fear in the heart of your average Neopagan: The Old Ways. Fear of being seen as a fluffybunny leads to rejecting it. Fear of not being taken seriously leads to embracing it. It comes up a lot, especially in Wiccan circles. Was Margaret Murray misreading things? Was she on to something? How far back could the traditions from which Gardner built Wicca possibly go? Some Wiccans insist their tradition comes from a single tradition that once existed all across Europe, possibly before the arrival of the first Indo-Europeans. Others aren't so sure they know or even care.

When I see that, I contemplate whether my religious traditions are truly in direct touch with the Druids and realize that to me, it just doesn't matter. But I know I'm in touch with something that predates me, Gardner, and the founding of the Golden Dawn. The Irish Celtic culture. The modern form of Irish is traceable to a time before Julius Caesar. The roots of Celtic culture go back farther than that. What does it matter that the rituals I perform don't have a provable, traceable pedigree to Cathbad? The perspective and philosophy behind them have a clear path of origin. They haven't been separated out and tacked onto something from another tradition that claims it as its own by an unprovable birthright. I may combine one from another, but I know from whence they came. I don't need to claim we were all under one tradition in the first place.

I also feel far less compulsion to worry about what happened in the past to make this path harder to travel. Any discussion of the Burning Times leaves me out from the start, as I remember the pre-Christian Romans have far more Celtic pagan blood on their hands than any Christian group ever had. I know the conversion of Ireland was one of slow centuries of persuasion, not short years of strife and torment. The witch trial insanities barely touched the island a few centuries later. And the slow conversion method left hints and hybrid forms in its wake that even Rome and England could not wholly extinguish before they became interesting enough to write about. The language remained and a clearly connected, albeit changed over time, culture with it. And the more I learn of that culture, the more I am in touch with its battered but unbroken line.

Not that claims to ancient ways matter. All religious traditions were new once. All religions are built on what came before and so bear a common lineage to the first African protohuman who said a prayer in a language nobody has spoken for millennia but everyone uses a trace of. We are all new. We are all ancient. Such is humanity.