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CELTIC-L  July 1991

CELTIC-L July 1991

Subject:

Truth, Truth, where is Truth?

From:

Stephen McCluskey <SCMCC@WVNVM>

Reply-To:

CELTIC-L - The Celtic Culture discussion list.

Date:

Wed, 10 Jul 91 09:16:53 EDT

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (87 lines)

Melcir, et al.
 
< I guess what troubles me most about the current line of academic thinking on
< Welsh lineages, Druidic claims, etc. is their inherent academic distrust.
< I find this rather at odds with all I have come to understand of the desire
< for 'truth' among early peoples of the Celtic nations.  Surely this desire
< was so paramount, so ingrained, that no druid or genealogist would dare fake
< anything in those days.  Wasn't there a heavy proscription against any
< dishonesty - one that would invoke a high toll for any practicing bard or
< druid?  And wasn't the long and arduous training designed to weed out those
< who did not have the prerequisite moral calibre to withstand the urge to
< embellish truth or create wishful thinking genealogies?
 
     Yes, you've put your finger on the historian's basic attitude: mistrust
the sources, mistrust other historians, don't even trust your own ideas.  It's
this mistrust that lets historians get nearer the truth, by challenging the
merely plausible to try to approach what actually happened.  It's not that
we're so much afraid of deliberate lying or fakery -- that is a rarer
phenomenon than one expects -- it's rather the unconscious self-deception that
we have to be afraid of.  Your honest druid or bard could easily fall victim to
this self-deception.  Bards were not historians; they were story tellers.  They
wanted to make the story of their patron's or clan's lineage complete based on
the fragmentary evidence they had; thus they would naturally try to establish
their place in the broader world they had heard about; it's not lying, it's
embellishing the details of a story.
 
< Therefore, I find it somewhat tart that academia resist so strongly the
< insistance of a Scythian ancestry (Phoenician dialect) for the Irish, a link
< to the Middle Eastern biblical families, and the argument that the 'lost
< tribes' of Israel are indeed to be found among the Celts..
 
     On the Scythians I'd trust modern linguists more than a 19th. century
antiquary, thanks Neil.
     On the connection with St. Anne that someone mentioned a while back,
there's an interesting background:  The name Anne is similar to that of two
Celtic goddesses, Anu, mother of the gods and Anna/A'ine/Eithne, mother of Lugh
and an earth deity whose name (according to Baring-Gould & Fisher, _Lives of
the British Saints_) means grain or kernel.  Interestingly, Anne's cult doesn't
make its way into the Christian liturgy until very late (Fourteenth century),
while other Celtic saints crop up as early as the seventh.  That late
appearance makes the historicity of any contact of Anne with Wales or Ireland
doubly suspect.
 
< ...  Why this denial of oral recounting as valid history?  What
< makes writing so superior, when we all know that many written histories were
< deliberately biassed (Caesar's History of Gaul, etc.).
 
     True, written sources can often be biased, but so can oral ones; bards
singing the praise of a dynasty are no less subject to that temptation.
Historians have to question the reliability of both kinds of sources.  But in
oral traditions, the temptation to rewrite history recurs at each retelling.
Elements can be cut out, inserted, or "corrected" without a trace.  The
appearance of stories associated with Celtic gods and heroes in the lives of
Celtic saints is perfect evidence of the malleability of oral traditions.  At
least written texts have enough clues that we can be reasonably certain when
and where the text was written, and identify changes so we can try to recover
the original story (whether or not it was true).
     Secondly, even if a written source lies or recolors the big picture, it
inadvertantly tells the truth on the little details -- on the atmosphere.  On
such little details oral recountings are more likely to be wrong, for narrators
assume that the past was much like the present and to the extent that they are
free to re-create their stories, they tend to make them more familiar to their
listeners.
 
< ...   Can we not learn to trust those who earned no huge
< salary for their pains, but mainly worked out of a burning deisre to record
< what was left of their national heritage, their ethnic origins, etc. for
< us to read and savor?
 
     These folks make an important illustration of the problem of
"objectivity".  To the extent that they are inspired by a burning desire,
they are even more liable to self-deception.  To the extent that this historian
doesn't just "trust" anyone's conclusions -- including my own -- them I'm
especially suspicious of those who have an axe to grind, who are trying to
recover the "Greatness of the Celts".
     Given that likelihood, it's certainly better to start with the careful,
critical, and professionally "cynical" moderns.  We then have to challenge
them and their predecessors against what others have drawn from reading
the same sources, and ultimately read and question those sources ourselves.
As Jim Marchand says, "ad fontes".
                            |
Stephen McCluskey           |  The idea is like grass,
Department of History       |  It craves light, likes crowds,
West Virginia University    |  thrives on crossbreeding,
SCMCC@WVNVM                 |  grows better for being stepped on.
[log in to unmask]       |                 Ursula K. LeGuin

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