Branch: a path to Celtic ritual.
The author is deeply involved in the study of Celtic history, religion, and culture. The first fifty pages of his book give an “unashamedly Romantic partisan account of Celtic history” beginning with the first inklings of the Celts at the end of the third millennium BCE, and ending with such episodes as the protests that forced the French government to dismantle a nuclear power plant in Brittany and made the English government accept a TV channel in Welsh. He discusses the links between the languages and cultures of the current six Celtic lands — Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall, and Man — and the differences between them.
He gives an account of the Celtic ritual year based on the Coligny calendar, which is discussed in more detail than I have seen before. He insists that a ritual group calling itself Celtic must relate to the Celtic peoples, and must use one or more of the Celtic languages in parts of the ritual. He describes a ritual system which has been followed for some years by the group he is involved in. This is based on folklore, myth, and a well considered approach to Celtic beliefs.
The rituals seem to me much more solid that those I have found in most books. This is partly because he does not give extremely detailed rituals, but instead indicates what the significances of the festivals are in some detail, together with just a brief framework for the rituals themselves. But it may also be because of his close connection with who the Celts are and were, rather than the misty picture so many have.
The bibliography is valuable, though I was surprised to see it did not include Alexander Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica, although it is cited several times in the text. Readers of Wood and Water will know of my enthusiasm for this collection of Scottish Gaelic charms, blessings, prayers, etc, as a source of material for many pagan occasions. However, the one-volume English-language edition (review of Carmina Gadelica) is the easiest to obtain, whereas the full six-volume edition with parallel Gaelic and English texts is both expensive and hard to find, which may be why it is not mentioned.
I was also surprised that there was no discography, just a few sentences in the text. Much so-called Celtic music is only distantly influenced by the Celtic tradition, and in the United States the term ‘Celtic music’ is often applied to all folk music from the British Isles even when it is clearly not Celtic. However, there is plenty of good music in the revival Celtic tradition — he briefly mentions The Chieftains, De Danaan, Planxty, and Alan Stivell. It is also not difficult (at least in the British Isles) to find traditional and revival singers who sing in Scottish or Irish Gaelic or in Welsh. The difficulty is to winnow a list down to a few.
I can recommend this book highly, though I am not sure that the author would be happy that I do so. Many of us (I include myself) will find aspects of the rituals valuable, and will want to incorporate them into our own practices. But, in view of his insistence on the connection with actual Celtic peoples and languages, I suspect he might see this as another instance of cultural imperialism. I hope, though, that in reading this book we will gain a greater understanding of Celtic cultures and traditions, and that this will in part fulfill the author’s intentions.
Water 65, Winter Solstice 1998