The following is meant to be a brief comparison of Wicca in its various forms
and the religion of Celtic Paganism, to the purpose of showing that Wicca is not
inherently Celtic. I believe that many people who are seeking a "Celtic"
tradition are being led astray by unethical publishers and profit-oriented or ignorant
writers, instead of seeking the truth for themselves from more academic sources.
Saying that, I must state that this is NOT an attack on Wicca, Neo-Paganism, Neo-Druidism,
or the generic label of "New Age". It is simply an article based on my
own opinion, research, and belief about the differences between what was Celtic Paganism
and what some claim Celtic Paganism is today. There is a list of the sources I used
at the end of this article, and it is my hope that whether you agree or disagree
with what I have to say, you will at least go check it out for yourself by reading
some of the sources listed. I hope that this article will encourage the active pursuit
of knowledge and spiritual development though knowledge.
There are many modern
people who are finding fufillment in following the ancient religion of the Celts.
But what is Celtic religion? When we refer to the Celtic peoples and their religion
we are talking about what existed in Gaelic, Gaulish, Brythionic and other Celtic
religions during the golden age of the Celts. This would be from 400 BCE to roughly
1300 BCE. While that date includes the beginnings of Celtic Christianity (which is
almost a religion in and of itself), in this we will only be discussing Pagan Celtic
theology. The pagan roots of Celtic spirituality has existed longer than Christianity.
Unfortunately, much of what was known about classical Celtic pagan religion was either
lost or combined in with Celtic Christianity, and so much of what we have to draw
on is from Christian or other non-Celtic texts, and the wealth of knowledge contained
in Celtic Mythology.
Was there more than one form of Celtic Paganism? Undoubtedly,
based upon the extreme diversity between the tribal Celts themselves. The other reason
for the marked differences in regional Celtic religion is, of course, the influence
of outside peoples through trading and invasion. Of course many customs and religious
practices of neighboring or conquering tribes were incorporated into the Celtic tribes
of the area, and through time spread to other Celtic nations as well.
I go on, I feel I must state again that this article is by no means an attack or
"debunking" of the religion known as Wicca. Wicca is indeed a valid and
powerful path for those who truthfully walk it and understand it. However, there
is an increasing body of people who believe that Wicca is the descendant of the religious
ways of the Gaelic, Welsh, Scottish or other Celtic peoples (or 'Celts' as a general
label). While perhaps parts of the Celtic Pagan tradition have been incorporated
into Wicca, Wicca is not inherently Celtic, which can be shown though historical
sources and through a general comparison of the two religions.
who say that Wicca is Celtic usually do so for two reasons. 1), They are new people
to Wicca and Paganism in general, who either for their own reasons truly believe
this to be the case, or have fallen prey to an unknowledgeable person who uses the
allure of things "Celtic" to draw in new students or insure profits. 2),
They are people not motivated enough to really check the sources of either the books
they are reading or the courses they are taking (i.e., were too trusting and gullible,
like me *grin*). In both cases the problem is furthered by solid information not
being readily found in the public domain. The people who fall victim to these false
sources of information don't have the knowledge or the access to better sources in
order to refute the incorrect teachings. They may also be too trusting in these sources
to even check up on it. All religions have problems with these kinds of people, and
that they should also be found in Wicca and/or witchraft does not serve as a reason
to condemn those faiths.
There are those, however, who even when presented
with the wealth of knowledge on Celtic culture that refutes any connection to Wicca
will still state that Wicca is an inherently Celtic path. They usually have come
to this conclusion by one of two arguments. The first is conveyed by their stating
something to the effect of, "Celtic Paganism and cultural tradition was heavily
drawn from in the formation of Wicca", or "Wicca just is Celtic, I was
taught that it is Celtic, and it is practiced in places like Wales, Ireland and Scotland."
Then there are those Wiccans that masquerade behind the Druid label by saying they
practice "the Druid Craft of the Wise" or that their practice was taught
to them by a "family tradition" Druid that somehow escaped centuries of
Christian institution and persecution. These arguments are all shown to be faulty
in the following paragraphs.
Practitioners of Wicca put elements from various
religions together in whatever order they choose and in whatever quantity they like
and merge it into their own form of spirituality. They feel justified in doing this
because of the modern ideology of archetypes and generalisms often found in mainstream
philosophy. Modern Wicca is a religion built on the premise of archetypes, for instance
"All goddesses are the face of the One Goddess". They focus on the traits
which various deities and religions share, and tend to ignore the huge difference
of the cultures the deities are taken from. Wiccans I've known also talk heavily
about masculine and feminine dualities (anima and animus, Ying and yang), or the
balance between positive and negative traits of people, animals, deities, and even
Nature. Therefore, Wicca is a dualistic religion.
Modern Celtic Pagans and
Traditionalists from most cultures do not agree with these ideas, especially those
that teach that you can put any gods and goddesses together to form a new spirituality.
The Gods of Celtic Paganism are individuals who are the ancestors and reflections
of the people. They are brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, parents and children.
Just like any family, you can't just split them up, put them with Egyptians, Greeks,
and Romans and then expect them to retain their identity. Traditional peoples further
hold that the Gods are tied to the people by familial links; that you can't just
believe you have been "adopted" into without any direct ties into that
culture. To use Iain MacAnTsaoir's example, while a Traditional Celt might agree
that your tribe's Mother Goddess and their tribe's goddess share some traits by virtue
of both people being goddesses, it is a mistake to say that just because both are
goddesses, they are interchangeable. It is easy for any rational person to see that
the Wiccan Goddess and the Goddess Brigit for example just aren't the same even though
they are both goddesses. Furthermore, you just can't hold a relationship to the Wiccan
Goddess (who is supposed to be a representative of all Goddesses) and a direct and
intimate personal relationship to your tribe's goddess at the same time.
of the discrepancies in the argument that Wicca is Celtic is the fact that so much
of the religion has been 'borrowed' from other cultures and their religions including
those most definitely NOT Celtic. This causes a great deal of friction to exist between
people of other cultures and Wiccans, including non-Celts such as the Native American
tribes. There has been so much "stealing" (taking aspects of a spirituality
and using them not only out of context but alongside of non-native elements) by Wiccans
and other "New Age" people of Native American symbols, traditions, and
spiritual practices, that the Lakota have issued a "Declaration of War".
According to a Wiccan's point of view, they don't feel that they are "stealing"
anything, and in fact feel that by using these different elements from many spirituality
systems that they are simply celebrating the wonderful diversity of the planet. This
does have some logic to it. Despite that, this issue remains a place of extreme dissonance
and friction between traditionalists and Wiccans.
The other problem with Wicca
is that its followers sometimes present themselves as the "true" Celtic
religion (like the Wiccan I know who claims they follow "The Ancient Druid Craft
of the Wise"). This prevents some people from finding their way back to the
original or more truthful history and religion of that culture, which would (in the
view of a person from that culture) honor the gods more properly. What causes even
more anger and upset is that while most Wiccans don't have better information than
they have been given, many embrace the misinformation regardless and refuse to deal
with conflicting ideas or views when faced with facts. This is a human reaction;
we often don't like to be shown that something we have cherished may not be what
we thought it was. And even when we are shown that what we believed was wrong, it's
hard to let go of that which was so much a part of our way of belief.
can call themselves a Druid (or a witch, or a Native American Shaman, etc.), there
are no requirements to earn these labels. Many are hungry to find a teacher to show
them the "mysteries" that they long to understand, and get too caught up
in the romantic imagery inspired by these labels to really check out the teacher
or the material they are being taught. This is something that each one of us needs
be responsible about. Any good teacher will encourage the student to so some studying
on their own, or will at least bring in outside sources to corroborate what they
are saying. Beware of studying under anyone who relies primarily on their own writings
and sayings as sources of wisdom. Unfortunately, thanks to some publishers (we won't
mention any names), there are plenty of unscholarly books out there that unethical
teachers can use nowadays to make them *seem* more reputable and knowledgeable than
they really are. These situation can redaily be uncovered if the student asks enough
questions and reads the source material on their own to judge its veracity. Remember,
just because you are a learning from someone doesn't mean you have to give up your
own powers of reasoning.
Now that you have seen how some of these false ideas
about Wicca being Celtic evolved and continue to be purported, let's start dispelling
some of the fallacious notions that exist about what being a Celtic Pagan is. In
order to help dispel these ideas, it is important to state some facts about the state
of the Pagan community, and what influences Wicca. The first is that modern Wicca,
witchcraft, and most types of Neo-Paganism are highly impacted by, and reflective
of, Gardnerian Wicca and its derivatives. This can easily be seen when you walk into
the "New Age" section of the bookstore: almost the entire "Pagan"
section is composed of books on Wicca and it's derivatives (including "Celtic
Wicca"). The second is that, when Gerald Gardner, the creator of Wicca, was
putting his creation together he drew upon Eastern philosophies, Egyptian ideologies
and Judaic ceremonialism, in addition to Celtic lore. Any ethical Wiccan will tell
you that this is true.
You cannot call Wicca "Celtic", based on
the following argument. It is easy to see that when something is made up of various
separate parts, the whole mechanism is not solely of any one of those parts. For
example, just because a certain computer has a brand name, let's say Packard Bell,
that doesn't mean everything inside that computer is a Packard Bell component. Most
Packard Bells feature an Intel chip as its main processor, and other non-Packard
Bell components that make up the body of a Packard Bell computer, but it is still
Packard Bell and not an Intel. The same can said for Wicca. It has a Hindu processor,
an Egyptian hard drive and a Celtic motherboard. So while it has components of Celtic,
Egytian, Hindu and Hermetic practices, it is Wiccan alone, a creature unto itself.
In response to the statement that Wicca just *IS* Celtic, we must examine
what we can of both religions. When you start examining the basic of both religions,
it becomes easier to see that there are differences, and that these differences are
enough to qualify them as two distinct, separate systems of spirituality and religion.
Let's start with how each defines the cosmos, how each sees the universe.
Celtic religion, there are three basic spheres. These are the Sky, the Sea and the
Land. Each of these has a heavenly body that corresponds to them: for the Sky the
sun, for the Sea the Moon and for the Land the Earth. This has been supported time
and time again through many and varied historical sources, and even through the influences
of Celtic Paganistic religion into Celtic Christianity.
Wicca uses the classical
Greek idea of the Four Elements as a fundamental concept. Celtic religion, as seen
in Mythological texts and through iconography, does not use the classical elements
(air, fire, water and earth) in any way even remotely similar to Wicca. The Celtic
Sky, Sea and Land have some correlations to these elements in an abstract way: Fire
(Sun), Water (Moon), and Earth (land); these are three legs upon which the Cauldron
of the World is set. The traditional Celtic view of the elements is not at all comparable
to the later Greek pattern of "the four elements" in each direction, It
would be impossible to accurately correlate the two systems in this matter. The closest
thing to an elemental system in Celtic religion are the "dhuile"; these
are seven to eleven, usually nine, items ranging from sun to lightning to rock. There
is not a lot of evidence as to whether or not the "dhuile were a universal Celtic
idea, and this together with the fact that this system was so heavily influence by
Christianity has rendered it uncommon in the modern Celtic Pagan's practice. What
is clear is that where the Greek elements are what *defines* the Wiccan cosmos, the
"dhuile" were ways for a person to help understand aspects of the cosmos
and their place in it.
Wicca is a religion whose philosophical foundation
is dualism: A Goddess and a God. Male and Female. Light and Dark. Winter and Summer.
Most Wiccans see all Goddesses and Gods as faces of one Goddess and God. Sun and
Moon. Wiccan practice also includes much separation of the spiritual aspects into
masculine and feminine according to corresponding elements, deities, colors, and
even herbs(!!). Things are either one or the other, male or female; they cannot can
be male and female at different times, nor is there room for things that are eith
both male and female, or neither male nor female. This is an extremely limited view
when contrasted to that of the Celts. In the Celtic languages the masculine and the
feminine are often interchanged or appear not as we might expect, but that can be
mainly attributed to the fact that the Celts did not view their world in masculine
and feminine terms as Wiccans so often do. One story in Gaelic Celtic folk tradition
presents the Sun and Moon as two sisters. In the Gaelic language the words for "sun"
and "moon" are feminine, and in invocations and spells (such as those recorded
by Lady Wilde) they are often both addressed as feminine beings. But in other tales
they change gender according to the aspect that is being addressed. The light of
the Sun itself is masculine, and the effects of the sun can be seen as masculine
and femine, as the nurturing, mother-like sunlight of Spring, and the cruel, harsh
masculine light of Summer. This contrasts sharply with Wiccan idea that the moon
is always feminine and sun always masculine.
Where the Wiccan ideal of the
cosmos is based on duality (twos) and quadrality (fours), the Celtic cosmos and most
aspects of the religion are triune in nature ( based on threes) or rely on odd numbers
as models of balance. Even the Celtic Pantheon is divided into three: the Gods of
the Upper Realm (sky), the Gods of the Middle Realm (land) and the Gods of the Lower
Realm or Underworld (related to the sea).
Another great discordance between
Wicca and historical, traditional Celtic Paganism is the Wiccan Rede. The nature
of the Wiccan Rede is unfeasable and unattainable to Celts. The whole morality of
Wicca is "harm none" and "perfect love and perfet trust". While
these are theoretical statements and made with good intent, they have little real-life
practice, and ignore a fundamental part of Nature. This is because one (harm nine)
is a rule that must be broken just to survive (a part of Nature through evolution
- survival of the fittest). This leaves interpretation and application to each individual
instead of being the unifying, ethical standard it was meant to be. And "perfect
love and perfect trust" is a nice idea but unattainable in real life, and so
it becomes an unmeaningful by-line instead of inspiring personal truth and responsibility.
term "harm none" is typified by the moralities of Wicca, Christianity,
and others where the primary imperative is to not hurt others. Heroic is typified
by Celtic and Norse religions primarily, though other examples exist. Instead of
"harm none", I and other Celtic Pagans live by the credo "truth, honor,
and service", and believe heavily in self-responsibility. There are other aspects
of Celtic Pagan morality, but they are all tied into making yourself and your community
a better place for all. There are those who say the Celts were only war-hungry barbarians
with no concern for anyone but themselves, but a heroic, "Warrior" society
does not imply that the Celts were blood thirsty, it is simply an aspect of their
societal structure. In most cases "battles" were fought as a practice against
*real* harmful non-Celtic invaders, or were more shows of strength and agility in
a non-lethal competition rather than the cannibalistic, head-hunter culture often
portrayed in history.
Wicca is a highly individualistic religion that is
just as easily practiced on a solitary basis than as a large group. Most rituals
are based around the welfare of the individual or the coven rather than the whole
community. The Celts did indeed place a high value on individualism, but tied very
closely to that was their duty to their families and tribe. Their individualism was
allowed to flourish *because* of the safety and comfort their close-knit communities,
thus the importance of the survival of the "all" was greater than the importance
of the self. This is difficult for most of us to understand today, as most of us
grow up in small families in separate home with little connection to the rest of
the family or community.
The very foundation of Celtic culture was the home.
The hearth was the cornerstone of the spirituality of the people. In Celtic religions
great emphasis is placed on the sanctity of the home, and strength of the family.
Families, to Celtic Reconstructionalist folk, include people who have adopted each
other in the context of that culture. The individuals are encouraged to walk in strength
and to fulfill their responsibilities to their "families". These components
are only found in Wicca in the loose sense of the "coven" or "circle".
It could therefore be argued that the foundation of Wiccan culture is the individual.
is an initiatory mystery religion. You have to fufill certain requirements before
you are allowed access to the complete scope of their religion. In Celtic religion
the only requirement you need is to have a connection with the Celtic culture through
family or study, and to be dedicated to the betterment of your "tribe",
with very few other initiatory elements. Within Wicca (and many forms of modern Druidism)
there are the various degrees and levels, each having its own mystery, each mystery
being revealed by someone in authority. We cannot be certain how the ancient Celtic
clergy funtioned, but we do know that *any* person could approach so seek to communicate
with the Gods. You did not need a "cord" or the title of "priest"
to have access to the greater mysteries of life. The mysteries of the universe are
found in the lessons of the Gods, the order of Nature, and within ourselves. We learn
about ourselves and our place in the universe through our study of these things.
And this includes understanding our place in and how we affect our global community.
Celtic religion life lessons are taught through mythological stories which are a
central feature of the oral tradition of the culture. In Wicca, little emphasis is
placed on this. Myths and story-cycles form the core of Celtic magical practice,
through teaching and through what ritual exists. In Wicca there is no clear teaching
of what is required to break past the cycles of rebirth. Yet in Celtic religion,
the requirement can be clearly and concisely stated, that being to fulfill one's
duty, to always be honorable and to stand for the truth come what may, and while
understanding *why* what is honorable is considered so.
Wicca and is a relatively
recent addition to the religious paths of humanity. There is a lot of mis-information
regarding it. It is sad that a great many of its followers have to do the religion
such a disservice by claiming an ancient unbroken line of tradition that doesn't
exist. There are many well-known Wiccan writers and teachers that continue to claim
a great antiquity for Wicca, or the origins of Wicca. Yet mythological Druids (who
are a product of the British Revival effort of the 18th century and contain as much
if not more mis-information regarding their Celtic roots than Wicca) have nothing
to do with modern Wicca. The Wicce of Saxon origin have even less to do with the
historical Draoi. Perhaps these are the only myths that Wiccans can agree upon. Loretta
Orion (herself an initiated Gardenarian witch) in her book "Never Again the
Burning times" states clearly that there is little solid proof of modern Wicca's
ancient origins, and that Wicca is a modern creation.
There is also the entymologistical
evidence of the discrepancies surrounding the word "Wicca". Some claim
it stems from a Saxon word, others a Welsh word, and yet others a Gaelic term. None
of these agree with each other about the root or the meaning of the word. And as
for claiming it as a Gaelic term (Witta), the letter "W" was never a part
of the Gaelic language except for in borrow-words, so neither Wicca nor Witta as
a derivation could be Gaelic. As a student of Irish Gaelic, I have found that the
sound [w] does exist in Irish and Scootish Gaelic as a "mh" or "bh",
like the [w] in the current pronunciation of Samhain [SOW-ihn]. But the "w"
rarely occurs at the beginning of a Gaelic word, and even more rarely in front of
the slender 'i' sound. So there is next to no linguistic evidence that the word "wicca"
or "witta" could be a Gaelic word.
Most Pagans nowadays will agree
that Wicca is a modern reconstruction, even if they dispute the veracity of Garner's
work. Some refer to modern Wiccans as Neo-Wiccans, for the purpose of showing that
there is little to no connection between Gardner's creation and the Wicce of the
middle ages, and no connection to the Celts; except for what modern Wiccans have
borrowed and incorporated. I must point out here that there are in fact many Wiccans
out there who speak openly and outright about the young state of Wicca, and also
about the confusion and mis-information surrounding its inception. Many of these
people are also dedicated to re-educating people about Wicca and its origins and
purposes. Sláinte (cheers) to them! As a Celt would say, it is the honorable thing
to do *grin*.
I will close this article by saying that Wicca (and other groups
in the occult community that take from Celtic culture) and Celtic Paganism can both
co-exist happily, as long as the histories and philosophies of each group are both
treated with respect, presented truthfully, and given credit where credit is due.
I have to say that it was very hard for me to analyze my Wiccan beginnings with an
"open mind" even after I felt the Celtic call and understood that Wicca
was not the right path for me, but I am glad I did so. I hope that others will take
up the call for truth concerning this matter and help to spread the word by referring
them to this article or other helpful sources.
Part of what drew me to Wicca
and Paganism in general was that it seemed to be a religion and philosophy that encouraged
study and the evolution of the spirit through knowledge of the world around us, and
I hope further that through this article and my website. Some will notice that I
still have many of my old references to seemingly contradictory Wiccan sources on
my website and think me a hypocrite -- but the purpose of this site is not just to
serve Celtic Reconstructionalist Pagans, but *ALL* Celtic Pagans, including Celtic
Wiccans, Druids, and the like. My own original content is of course Celtic-Reconstructionalist-Pagan
oriented, but I still offer forums and links to other forms of Celtic Paganism as
well, in the hopes that we can still exist as an occult *community* and continue
to share the knowledge and spirituality that has helped so many.
This article may only be republished or
duplicated with the author's express permission.
The World of the Druids, Miranda Green
2. The Druids, Peter Berresford Ellis
The Druids, Stuart Piggot
4. The Pickengill Papers-The Origin of the Gardnerian
Craft, W.E. Liddell
5. Pagan Celtic Britain, Anne Ross
of Word Origins, John Ayto
8. Never Again the Burning Times, Loretta Orion
Drawing Down The Moon, Margot Adler
10. The Celtic Tradition, Caitlin Matthews
The Celtic World, Miranda Green
13. Druid : Priest of Nature, Jean Markale
And of course I must thank and heavily credit Iain MacAnTsaoir for his orignial
essay, Why Wicca Is Not Celtic as inspiration for (and for providing the bulk of
the arguments of) my article. Follow the link to read the new version of that article.
Other Voices / Main Index
Last Updated January 5, 2001