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.

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