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A Program of Study for Celtic Pagans

By Alexei Kondratiev

Mike Wilson writes:

How much IS there? My *perception* was that we have very little to base our knowledge of ancient Celtic society, their (our) world view, and what the Druids knew & taught. If a person set out to study full-time the surviving materials we have (as opposed to books and media on the subject) how long would their study take? And also, what would their coursework entail? What would their first studies be? What materials would you recommend?

Well, I've been at it for much longer than 21 years [an estimation quoted in a previous message of the length of training for Druids], and I'm still finding new material. :-)

The problem is that it doesn't come in neatly labeled, pre-packaged bits. There's been great progress in Celtic scholarship in this century, but even so it often doesn't emphasize the elements that we would be interested in (and is sometimes actively leery of them). So a lot of research has to be done from scratch. Here's (more or less) the program I've followed:

  1. Get a good grounding in living Celtic culture. This involves becoming fluent in at least one Celtic language. This may be the hardest thing for some people, but it's the one step in the program that pays off most. It makes you experience the culture from within, leading you to discover all kinds of patterns and correspondences that don't come across in any translation, no matter how good it is. It gives you a visceral sense of the "feel", the ethos of the cultural tradition. It also makes it much easier to learn the more ancient forms of the language(s), which you will want to do for further research. It can also give you access to modern folk traditions you would be completely excluded from otherwise.

  2. Get a detailed sense of the historical time-frame involved: what the events were, and what written (or other) documents are associated with them. This gives you a working image of the field: you won't be "suddenly" discovering that you've been neglecting whole important areas. Both archaeology and philology will serve as sources for documents.

  3. Get a broader background in anthropology and comparative religion, particularly Indo-European studies. Although the different Indo-European traditions are certainly not carbon copies of each other, there's demonstrably a common ideological and symbolic framework behind them, which applies to the Celtic world as well. Mystery schools also have a cross-cultural consistency in the way they are structured and run. This is not just a matter of "filling in the gaps" where we have no specific knowledge, but a way of being able to see the relevance of some elements in the sources where that relevance might not otherwise be apparent.

  4. Learn about magic, trancework, meditation and divination through practical involvement. Again, many of the actual patterns and techniques are cross-cultural. Understanding the dynamics involved through personal experience will help you apply that knowledge to the specifically Celtic forms you will find in the sources.

  5. Now you're ready to do detailed research. Your sources will come from literature (Celtic , Classical Latin and Greek, Mediaeval Latin), epigraphy and archaeology, and folklore.

Think there's enough for 21 years? :-)



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