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OLD-IRISH-L  June 2002

OLD-IRISH-L June 2002

Subject:

Re: idol gods

From:

Francine Nicholson <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Scholars and students of Old Irish <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sun, 30 Jun 2002 12:44:38 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (92 lines)

>From: dooley6x <[log in to unmask]>

>To tell the truth, we in the 21st century probably have a harder time
>drawing the line between religion and superstition than someone in
>the 9th century. Just in my lifetime Voodoo has made the transition
>from one to the other in Western thought.

My point is that in objectively studying the evidence, we shouldn't be
deciding what's superstition and what's religion. That distinction, if it is
made at all, should be taken from the believer, not from the person studying
the believer. To use your example: to someone who practices Voudon, it *is*
religion. Further, in the 9th c. what *you* call superstition was part and
parcel of *their religion*. Anyway, people have been describing Irish
practice of Christianity as "superstition" for hundreds of years instead of
recognizing that there are official views of religion and vernacular
practices.

>I don't want to speculate too much upon the evidence of language alone.
>Whatever folk beliefs that the church ignored or co-opted, they did a
>thorough job of rooting out the religious portion of the druid order.

How do you define "religious"? The official role of the druids as leaders of
ritual was thoroughly "rooted out," to use your term. The official status of
the druids in the society was reduced progressively and thoroughly. The
memory of their role was not destroyed, though the image evolved (as well
documentd by L.E. Jones in _Druid, Shaman, Priest_). Their educational
system was disrupted and modified and ultimately transformed by making
literacy the principal medium of transmitting tradition.

>The druids themselves must have displaced an earlier religion,

If they were part of the social structure of a Celtic-speaking culture, a
structure that was brought along with the language, then that would be a
logical conclusion. However, the displacement may not have been as radical
one. Celtic deities seem to have been a mix of figures associated with the
territory on the one hand and the kin-group on the other. In practice,
therefore, the examples of Amairgin and Donn in one story and Midhe in
another *may* have a bit of historical precedent in them: Donn died as a
result of insisting he didn't need the local goddess whereas Amarigin was
able to negotiate a successful landing. When Midhe wanted to institute a
change on behalf of the Nemedians and other (native?) druids objected, he
literally silenced them. Mitchell suggests that in what became Galatia, the
newcomer Celts imposed their way of government over whatever area they
occupied (and whoever happened to be there), which apparently involved some
drastic change. However, they seem to have more gradually displaced and
taken over the existing worship of Cybele rather than tossing it out and
replacing it with "Celtic" gods.

Anyway, I don't think Drui/ was used as a title, at least not in Old Irish
stuff and later. It's a functional role--everyone has drui/d--the TDD, the
Nemedians, not just the Milesians or the Ulaid. It's as generic as magus in
classical texts.

>and I wonder if they had a word for heathens that survived in the language.

Interesting idea, but I bet that if they had a term that was functionally
equivalent to the medieval pejorative use of heathen, it wouldn't have the
same meaning as heathen or heretic. Heathen adn heretic derive their meaning
from what one supposedly believes, less from what they do. I'm inclined to
think that pre-Christian Celtic descriptive words had more to do with what
people *did* and with whom they did it. The hypothetical word might be
closer to the Greek use of atheist to mean someone who didn't worship the
*right* gods in the *right* way, or someone who (hearking back to Julius
Caesar) had been banned from sacrifice. Participating in the sacrfices was a
civic duty, and to some extent, your participation ratified your rank and
role. If you were part of the community, you participated in the community
celebrations for the good of the community. You swore by the gods of your
people, whoever they might be. On Lughnasa, you didn't say, "Well, I only
worship this guy so I'll go offer my first fruits on that hill while you
guys are climbing about on the big one." You might also have your own
private devotions, especially if you were originally from another culture
(like women marrying in to another group), but if you wanted to be part of
the community, you participated in the community rituals. In other words,
it's more likely that they used words for outcast--the way fe/nnid
encompassed separation from community ritual as well as separation from
kin-group privileges, protection, and liability, and the Brigit vitae
suggest that the fe/nnidi did have their own rituals.

>All the examples that I've seen págáin and gennti are borrowed from
>Latin.

Those are meant to convey non-compliance with Christian belief as defined in
the New Testament and the "patristic" writings. As concepts derived from the
"Latin" tradition, it makes sense that they come from Latin.

Francine Nicholson



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