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CELTIC-L  May 1999

CELTIC-L May 1999


Re: *Gaelic* Good and Evil?


"Mag.phil. Raimund Karl" <[log in to unmask]>


Mag.phil. Raimund Karl


Sun, 30 May 1999 20:37:46 +0200





text/plain (485 lines)

Graeme Bailey wrote:
> Should I have used the example from the Iliad, the scene is remote,
> but the plot is similar? ie Similar ceremonies must have happened
> from pre-800 BC to 922 AD?

No! Again, the greeks of the Illiad and the Rus on the Volga are as
separate as the Rus and the Irish Megalithic tumuli are. That people, at
some times at some places, buried their dead under tumuli, and that in
some cases maybe there were human sacrifices is something I am very
willing to believe. But that's not in the slightest an indication that
those practices are related in any way.
> Please note: My thinking in these
> whole series of questions was like this...
> 1. Some people today are attracted by the novelty of 'paganism'
> even to the extent of reviving what they believe to be these ancient
> religions.

Yes, and so what? Again, you fail to show what the problem is with this!

> 2. They don't seem to realise that these religions had some very ugly
> features.

And, what do you conclude from this? Christianity had some very ugly
features as well, and in fact still has. Again, the Old Testament is
full part of modern Christian tradition, and contains plenty of very
ugly things.

> 3. We have relatively scant *written* evidence for the pagan beliefs
> of the early Celts, compared to an absolute mountain
> of written evidence for the Christian faith.

And what makes written evidence preferable to other evidence? If you do
not assume that the Bible is inspired by a god of any kind, there's no
difference between the different kinds of evidence.
> I am still waiting for someone to try to convince me of
> the reason why any of these pagan religions should be re-introduced,
> or even what features of any were desirable and 'good' ?

No one wants to convice you. However, there's a plain and simple reason
why any of those pagan religions should be introduced: If somebody wants
to believe in one of them, he shall be happy with it.

And almost any pagan religion we know of actually contains lots of very
desireable features.
> You agree the Iliad was written sometime before 800 BC?

Well, one can discuss this, but let's say the tale originated somewhen
in the time around 800 BC most probably.

> In it are pagan religious ideas which are curiously similar
> to what we know of the early Celts?

Yes and no. There are similarities, but not really significant ones.

> eg war with religious overtones,

No. I don't see a religious overtone for the war described in the
Illiad. The war, at least at the human end, is motivated by very mundane
reasons. The Greeks don't go to Troy because the Trojans believe in
"evil Demons" or "idolatrism", but the go to Troy for practical
political reasons.

> the afterlife,

Not at all. The typical Greek afterlife is a very unpleasant realm.
Typical Celtic afterlife beliefs either talk about a happy otherworld or
about rebirth.

> burial customs including human sacrifice,

Not at all. We have no indication at all that Celtic burial practices
included human sacrifice.

> burial mounds, chariots,

Material culture tells us nothing about belief system. Or are Christians
especially bad people because their practice of inhumation burial
(typical also for Skythians, where human sacrifice at the burial is
documented) and because they drive cars (like Adolf Hitler did)?

> religious motives surrounding fighting,

As does Christianity. One of the most often told stories in my christian
religion classes at ground school was the one of David killing Goliath!
There are a lot of other similar stories in the bible!

> cauldrons,

Again, see the point about material culture telling nothing about
beliefs above.

> 'Gods' frequently involved in human affairs etc.

Again, this also is true for the christian god. You seemingly even
believe that this god created a universe in which Demons and other
perverted creatures roam that can corrupt your soul, and if you fall for
their cunning tricks you are going to burn in hell forever. You also
will believe that he grants miracles, which again are direct involvement
in human affairs. This your god intervened that directly that people
lost his life through his actions - such direct interventions are very
rare in teh stories about pagan godesses or gods.
> Notice I am *not* saying I believe the various pagan societies
> to be the *same*, just that there are some *features* that are
> apparently very similar...

Which are also to be found in christianity, actually, at least as many
as between each and any of those pagan societies.
> I was trying to suggest that Christianity in its original form
> unpolluted by later doctrines... is *fundamentally*
> different from these pagan religions...

Not at all, at least as far as I can see.
<snipped lengthy quotes from the Illiad>
> (Back to the funeral :-)
> the fire is then symbolically put out with wine,
> 'with tears in their eyes, they collected the bones of their
> dead comrade in a golden vase, sealed it with a double layer of fat...
> and a large mound is made, surrounded with a
> stone revetment..."
> (Notice archaeologists... burial mounds, bones in jars...:-)

Yes, a nice and probably very fitting description of a funeral with
cremation, except for the dead Trojans - we find Urn graves, as
described in this instance, even under burial mounds, but seldom with
reamins of more than a single person.

But again, even if such a practice was carried out in the past, it is
nowhere clear in that passage you quote that any part of this funeral as
carried out is based on religious motives and concepts. It still might
be as "genuinely greek pagan religion" as the witchhunts are "christian
> On the question of scholarly infallibility,
> and not derived from elsewhere as the scholars previously thought.

Living in one of the former centres of the Urnfield culture, and having
learned a lot about it in varius lectures at the university here and on
actual excavation of such "urnfield cemeteries", I do not understand a
word you say. Perhaps you could be more precise what you mean?
> Come to think of it, about scholars sometimes being wrong,
> anyone remember the Piltdown man?

Of course scholars can be wrong, but what's the point?
> About the geographic limits of Celtic cultures
> and territories in approx 200 BC?
> Didn't they stretch from Ireland to Turkey,
> from Scotland to Northern Italy, even to the Iberian peninsula?

Yes, and so what?

> Didn't the ancient authors from Rome, Greece etc refer to these
> Celts, and wouldn't this imply some reciprocal knowledge
> or influence or exchange of ideas as well as trade goods?

Definitly there was some knowledge, but the question is how much actual
knowledge that involved. Most of the "ancient authorities" that wrote
anything about the Celts never visited "Celtic" territories, nor did
they probably speak much with people who knew much about the Celts. This
is clear from the topoi used frequently to describe people living in a
certain area. Greek geography, for instance, refers to the East Goths in
the Black Sea area as Skythians - because in greek geography, everybody
living northeast to the Greeks is a Skythian. As such every Celtic noble
warrior you will find on ancient statues will be fighting naked - even
though we know that at least the rich Celtic nobles even had chainmail

> When I read about the Celts, don't the authors continually compare
> things from different areas, even from different times?

Of course they do, but those doing it in a serious way only do so after
having established a valid cultural connection based on a number of good
arguments. You, on the other hand, take isolated messages and compare
them without even attempting to understand the cultural significance of
those practices in the different cultures.
> My original theme was about *relative* values,
> eg the 'glorification of peace, love and mercy'
> versus *various* pagan examples of the glorification
> of war, and the killing of people for various reasons,
> eg for religious reasons,
> fun, sport, entertainment ans service in the afterlife etc

Well, and I again tell you that all of this depends upon what you define
as "good" and "evil". To one person, it may be "good" that if a criminal
rapes and kills his elder daughter to offer his younger one as well
(consistent with the exapmle with the one and the other cheek), while to
another person it may rather be "good" to kill that criminal.

Even more, again you compare the "idealized christian message" with
pagan examples of glorification of war and killing. I can give you,
however, an equal number of "idealised pagan messages" that can be
compared with christian examples of glorification of war and killing.
This is what I call prejudiced. Christianity is good, regardless what
atrocities it's followers commit and have commited. Paganism of any sort
is evil, regardless what messages the specific pagan Religion might
contain. This is what you say, or at least imply!
> >I even would agree with you that what has come of it was not what
<snipped my own stuff>
> >what was written down in the bible.
> <...>
> The question of Christ's intentions can be found
> by actually *reading* them in the New Testament :-)

No, I'm sorry. The New Testament was not written by Jesus himself, and
actually it is doubtable that the larger part of it was written by
people who actually were eyewitnesses to the events that are described,
and did not know Jesus personally.

And even if it were, read the New Testament and you will read there: "Do
not think I have com eto bring peace, I have come to bring the sword!" -
So, his intentions were to stir up revolution and bring war, I suppose -
or are this not his own words, then?
> I have read quite a lot though, and possibly for many years longer
> than yourself... :-)

Well, this may be true, but I doubt that you have read more than the
average coffetable-books. This is actually the only explanation I have
for why you think such surface generalisations and comparisons you make
could have any validity.

> eg your comments on the most important book of history
> show that you have only superficial understanding of what
> is actually contained in the New Testament,?

I doubt that it is the most important book of history. I even doubt it
is the most influential book of history. And I have more than but
superficial understanding what is described in this book, if it's
historical accuracy is in question, and actually also about the
"religious" parts of it, because I know a lot about religions and their
development. However, if it is the faith which you mean with
"understanding", you are definitly right.

> or do you have a bias in this area?

Well, definitly. I have been raised in a very christian environment, as
such I definitly am biased in this area. For instance, my personal moral
is definitly to a large degree built on those "christian moral values"
you think to be good. It is sometimes very hard to get rid of this bias
and accept that different societies have different conceptions of what
is good and what is "evil", and that there is no reason to assume why my
morality is superior to their's.
> >From what you have written, I bet you've never read a
> >only such by an extremely biased author.
> This looks almost like a sweeping generalisation?
> Almost like 'bias'...

It is, however, an analysis of your statements, not a bias.

> what is wrong with asking questions about
> horrible pagan customs, even if they're pure Celt?

I have no problem with it. I personally find human sacrifice something
horrible, too. But I still see no reason to assume that I, my values, or
my morality is superior to those of other peoples, because I find
something horrible. I also find it horrible to eat insects, however,
some people seem to like them. Is my taste superior to theirs? No! It's
Even more, in regard to neo-paganism, what is horrible in revering
Celtic gods, as long as such pagans don't practice human sacrifice? You
have claimed that revering such gods is revering dead idols and demons -
if someone claimed the same about your christian god, wouldn't you
consider such a statement a severe insult?

> I was trying to illustrate that many
> practices from the past were undesirable...

Undesireable to whom? In some cases, we cannot even be sure if they were
undesireable even to the victims themselves, even less the society in
general. Isn't it just that they are undesireable to you and your
worldview, and thus you think them to be "evil"?
> >Thus, you miss the knowledge
> >system.
> In the example of Genghis Khan, how much knowledge do you
> need???? to form a strong opinion that his 'values' should not be
> praised, or his social, ritual or other habits should not be
> emulated...

Why? There are great praises about him that exist as well. In the same
line of reason, you could say that the allied Forces in WW I were evil
because they are depicted that way in the German literature between WW I
and WW II! For the Mongols, Genghis Khan was a great leader who brought
them many good things. To simply take the accounts of various defeated
opponents or their court historians and say you don't need more
knowledge to judge his actions is like saying because Clinton has
ordered to bomb Yugoslavia you need nothing more to judge that he is an
evil war criminal and his values should not be praised! You always need
more knowledge about a situation than the legends and rumors about it.
> I have said (quite a few times),
> that I do *not* condone
> the behaviour of those who have committed terrible deeds in
> either pagan cultures, or in the name of 'Christianity'...
> this is the point...
> call this 'POINT A'

And I have understood this quite some time ago, so you don't need to
retell it every second mail!
> that the words of Christ, and his apostles are written down, and
> therefore are a safeguard against those who would pervert them,
> and a safeguard against new and strange doctrines...
> call this 'POINT B'

Why then are different translations available? This your point B simply
is not true - it can easily be documented that there exist differing
translations of the new testament! Thus, they are not safeguarded
against those who would pervert them! Or have you read the New Testament
in the Aramaic original?
> >I do not think it is correct or acceptable
> >to say that what we think is "superior". It is different, and more to
> >our liking, but it is not <emphasis> the sole solution<end emphasis>
> >forhuman interaction.
> Well, the words of Christ summing up the way to live and behave
> are pretty hard to beat?

Well, depends on whom you ask!

> Love God with all your heart etc , and love your neighbour as yourself...
> "The parable of the Good Samaritan"

And exists in almost any belief system I have heard of.
> This story illustrates plainly Christ's message that one's neighbour

And again, this is not Jesus only message! There are other statements in
the New Testament as well, statements that are a lot more militaristic.

> >Again, there's no reason to automatically assume that this is because of
> >"religious" ideas.
> I didn't assume it 'automatically'...
> The following are not my words, but come from
> the literature about the Celts produced by 'scholars'?
> (maybe even some archaeologists? ):
> >From The Goddodin...
> "They loved fighting ... in the attack.
> The men who would not flee bore no shame."

You should note, however, that these Celts that produced this texts were
good early christians!
> The 2nd century BC Nicander of Colophon
> noted that the Celts practised divination at the tombs of their
> dead warriors...
> (This implies that their gods required blood, ie lives,
> and would be satisfied with the substitutes,
> or the promise of the substitutes?)

Again, I quote witchhunts to you, crusades and other things, I will
agree immediatly with you that the Celtic gods required blood if you
agree with me, based on the same logic, that the christian god required
> "certain shared cultural features, like the custom of head-hunting
> which was also practised by the Scordisi ... prove that ideas were
> exchanged ... a torc from Cibar Varos is the earliest Celtic object
> from Thrace..."

And, so what? They took the heads from their fallen enemies, a good
practice also carried out by christian kings and their armies when they
conquered enemies! The christian kings displayed them on the town walls,
pierced on spears, the Celts took them home! I see no difference that's
of any importance!
> In my untutored opinion, the sacrifice of a living person
> whether 'because of religious ideas' or not, is either murder,
> or just sheer hypocritical murder... take your pick :-)

Well, my pick is that as much more than it can be documented that this
human sacrificies were carried out for pagan religious reasons by
pagans, it can be documented that witchhunts and crusades were carried
out for christian religious reasons by christians. And yes, all of it is
> >Most christian cultures of the last two millenia
> >actually glorified war in a very similar way than those pagan cultures
> >you mentioned did.
> exaggerating? 2 millenia?
> see 'POINT A' and see 'POINT B' :-)

??? What's the exaggeration? Yes, two millenia! And what makes you the
expert on the original message of christianity? Why should I believe
your point a and b more than I believe Pope Urban II when he called the
christians of Europe to free the holy lands with fire and sword?
> >And again, I do have to note that a good deal of christians, even such
> >that are theologians, will say something quite contrary to what you say.
> see 'POINT A' no exceptions for murder
> even if it is called 'Christian' murder
> and 'POINT B' later doctrines are *not* Christian , :-)

I know enough theologians that do not base their quite violent picture
of christianity on later doctrines, but only on the bible! As such,
point B is worthless - obviously it can be understood in different ways
than you do!
> <...>
> >The point I wanted to make is that all of those people you
> >mentioned in fact were not interested in crushing heretics or converting
> >heathens at all cost (even at the cost of the lives of those who
> >wouldn't want to convert), but were rather tolerant in regard to
> >religious beliefs.
> Doesn't the story of the 40 beautiful girls sacrificed on
> Genghis Khan's grave *mean* anything to you?
> Have you no spiritual discernment? No moral fibre?
> No conscience?

And what does the story of hundredthousands of innocent women being
burned during the witchhunts mean to you? In fact, I care more for the
beautiful and less beautiful witches than I care for the 40 beautiful
girls at Ghengis Khan's grave, even more because, as I said, I do not
see a such immediate religious motivation for the killing of the 40
beautiful girls than I see for the killing of more than hundredthousand
> Get real! Why will you not say that this behaviour
> is at least 'wrong' if not 'disgusting'?

To me it is disgusting, but that doesn't make it universally disgusting!
When will you get that point? It may be disgusting to me, it may be
disgusting to you, but there may be people who don't find it disgusting!
Now why should my taste in regard to killing people be superior than
> >Those people either wanted to conquer or to get money
> >or valuables out of their neighbours, but in no were bothered about
> >which religion somebody had.
> War, Rape, Kidnap and plunder, but no concern about God?
> No plea of 'self-defense'?
> The statement of yours about 'They just just wanted...'
> is sufficient to justify these patterns of behaviour?

What's this nonsense about justifying these patterns of behaviour? I
don't say that they are right for me, and I don't wnat to live with
such. But I do not insist that they are wrong for everybody, especially
not because of a moral superiority that allows me to judge other's
actions based on soem "universal laws" which may or may not exist!


RAY - Mag.phil. Raimund KARL
Universität Wien, Institut für Ur- und Frühgeschichte
A-1190 Wien, Franz Klein Gasse 1
E-Mail: <[log in to unmask]>
Internet: <>

Visit the Celtic-L Resources Page at

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