I am relatively new to this list but have been observing (lurking, lol)
for some time. As a person trained in cultural anthropology and having a
particular focus on comparative religion, I find this a very interesting
thread. I don't have much solid knowledge of Celtic prehistory and
religious perception (but hope to learn more on this list <grin>). But I
do have a few thoughts I'll throw into the dialogue.
There has been quite a bit of discussion on the supposed sacrificial
nature of ancient pagan religion. I don't have solid documentation to
quote on the validity of this but do have a general understanding that
many religious traditions have included some elements of sacrifice.
Ancient Celts are probably no exception. However, with this in mind:
--It seems to me that Jesus is no less a religious sacrifice than any
other, even as the son of God. He was after all nailed to a cross and
it is his ritual offering of suffering, blood and death that is the
source of Christian salvation. His suffering insures a happy afterlife
for all who take him as savior. And wasn't it Abraham who intended to
sacrifice his son to God? It was a test and he was given a repreive. But
the point still seems relevant.
--Good Christians lost their lives in the Crusades and this was seen as
an honorable death, for a righteous and holy cause. In Catholicism,
which is seen by a majority of the world as a solid Christian
denomination, there are numerous examples of sacrifices--martyrs,
saints, and others who gave their lives, willingly or not, in the name
of their faith or in some relation to it. To die for one's faith is
considered an honorable death here as well. I suspect there are examples
from other Christian denominations too. Sometimes Christians of
different denominations persecuted each other. Not all martyrdom or loss
of life was caused by non-Christians.
It does not seem so unbelievable that people with differing beliefs,
perhaps even the beliefs held by the ancient Celts, would have ways in
which life was honorably given in the name of their god or gods. We do
not know whether sacrificial victims chose to go to their death with a
deep belief in the inherent rightness of it, the sacredness of their
act--whether as a sacrifice to insure the continued fertility of their
land, the safety of their people, the return of spring, or whatever may
have insured the favor of the gods. Even if they went unwillingly,
those sacrificing them probably believed it was in the name of their
gods, and to their favor.
It was pleasing to the Christian God that certain people die in his
name, both before and after Jesus, and even to this day. The
understanding is that their deaths served some greater good. Why could
this not be true of the ancient Celtic people, or any other pagan
tradition for that matter? I think initially the Christians who burned
suspected witches believed they acted in the interest and favor of their
God (although later I think it became a political and economic process).
Many of these women were Christian, or at least believed themselves to
Just a few thoughts...
And on one other comment, from Graeme I believe (and please accept my
apologies if I am quoting incorrectly or taking something in the wrong
way), who said:
"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' ?"
Some pagan religions may never have been completely eliminated and so do
not need to be re-introduced. Certainly in many areas of the world
people practice their traditional religions and have not yet been
converted to Christianity. These religions have conceivably been in
existance as long as or longer than Christianity. They often are not
written down but the teachings and practices are passed down and kept in
the oral tradition. This may or may not be true in areas of Europe and
With extensive familiarity with the pagan community in the US, I
know of virtually none that employ human or animal sacrifice to please
their gods. There are two exceptions I can think of--one being Voodoo,
which is a newer religion evolved from a mix of Christianity and African
tribal religions. The other is Satanism, which is primarily a sort of
anti-Christianity, as their main deity is a Christian one, albeit the
wrong one to choose in traditional Christianity. I am not sure of their
beliefs but some Satanists may espouse sacrifice.
Most so called pagan religions that are emerging today in the
western world (ie. Wicca, Druidism, Witchcraft, etc.) and practices like
shamanism are an attempt to find other ways of relating to the divine
than those offered by Christianity and seeking inspiration from other
older traditions. I believe both personally and through cross cultural
study that most humans have a need to relate to the greater universe, to
explore who and why we are in larger perspective. Religion is a
virtually universal way to do this.
Paganism is actually a vaguelly inaccurate term for a whole range of
religious expression that occurs in many widely divergent forms. If
there is a shared characteristic among these diverse religions, it may
be an ongoing respect for the many ways to find God. Many also
encourage a deep respect for the land, for the Earth and all the
lifeforms with whom we share it. Many also espouse the idea that what
you do comes back to you threefold (not so different from Judgement Day
but possibly more immediate) and that it is right to do as you will only
if it harms none.
Whether these new religions have any similarity to those of the
ancient Celts or other ancient religions is uncertain. They may be an
entirely new approach to finding God that emerges from the issues and
concerns of this age. But they are not invalidated because they seek
inspiration in the ancient. Or because they are new and different.
Christianity arose on the foundation of Judaism, drawing some of its
strengths on the traditions that came before while discarding the
weaknesses perhaps and also developing an entirely new approach. I would
propose that the new pagan religions draw on the strengths of traditions
in the past while discarding the weaknesses and presenting a new and
potentially powerful understanding.
And the religion of the ancient Celts? Ah, so much is speculation.