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Glossary

Personages, Holidays, Concepts, and 'Denominations'.

[Note: As Celtic custom places night before day, all dates begin at sunset on the previous day. For example Samhain, November 1st, starts at dusk on October 31st.]

 

Academics: Celtic spirituality, be it pagan or Christian, has had a strong tradition of intellectual rigour and academic excellence. The druids were the historians, lawyers, philosophers, and theologians of the people, while the monks that followed served some of the same roles, both at home and in keeping the light of Western learning bright through the Dark Ages. Celtic Spirituality has always had a strong love of precedent and scholarship, and is no stranger to strongly held opinions and debate.

Those with the aptitude and opportunity for higher learning are encouraged to pursue it, but the real goals of Celtic Spirituality are courage, excellence, truth, generosity, piety, a prayerful attitude, and the desire for a deep, reverent, and practical participation with life. Learning is just one more arena wherein to practice our virtues.

Celtic Spirituality seeks to gain a deeper understanding of the divine, nature, and the self to further our full participation in the world. Academia and intellectual rigour is not an end in itself but a means toward these deeper goals. Of course, academic learning is an unending and interactive process, not an end in itself.

 

Aengus Mac Og: 'Unique-Vigour', ‘Son of the Young’, (but the latter is actually a corruption of Maccan, which is in turn derived from Maquonos, ‘Divine Youth’).

He is the god of youth, music, healing, hunting (esp. the boar hunt), war, vitality, love, (esp. illicit love), transformation, imprisonment and liberation, and is associated with white birds, especially swans. He is the child of Dagda, the fire god, and Bóann, a water goddess, and so embodies the Mystery of the Fire in the Water, and the union of opposites generally.

His name is cognate to the Welsh Mabon, and the Continental Maponos. Maponos is associated with healing, water sources, music, dogs and horses. The Romans identified him with (a non-solar) Apollo.

Just as there is a great deal of overlap between Aengus’s mother Bóann and Lugh’s mother Ethniu, with Bóann occasionally being called Ethniu, there seems to be a certain amount of conflation between Aengus and Lugh. This is seen in Brugh na Boyne, the residence of Aengus, being attributed to Lugh in the story of CuChullainn’s conception, and in the names of several later heroes who have both Lugh and Maccan as portions of their own names; Saint Lugaid Maccan, ‘Fire of Lúgh’, ‘Divine Son’ is a prime example.

 

Áine Clí: 'Radiant Brightness'.  She is the goddess of the sun, presides over love and fertility, and is Sovereignty for the Eoganacht dynasty of Munster. She is remembered as a fairy queen in Munster. As the daughter of Manannán, she is said to return to her fathers house each night as the sun sets in the West. She is also called Áine i nErindain and Ériu Ain, showing the great overlap between her person and that of Ériu.

 

Anam Chara: ‘Soul Friend’. In early Irish monasticism, the anam chara was a fellow monk, nun, or priest who formed a personal relationship with another individual, listened to their private confessions, provided them with spiritual advice, and finally performed last rites upon their death. The concept spread quickly through the Celtic world, and later even secular people might have a particular monk, nun, or priest to be an anam chara for them as well.

In nineteenth century Scotland, anam chara was also used to refer to one who recites the death prayers over the dying and the dead. This meaning is obviously an organic extension of the primary meaning given above.

Though some have proposed ancient pagan origins for anam chara, citing its resemblance to the Hindu Acharya; it is more likely emerged from a purely Christian context, anam chara being a direct translation of ‘psykhikos philos’. This of course does not preclude its usage in a modern pagan context, for individuals and traditions which find value in the practice.

 

Airmid: 'a Measure of Seeds'. The daughter of Dian Cécht, the divine physician, she is the goddess of herbs, herbalism, and healing with plants.

 

Bealtaine: 'Bright Fire'. May 1st. One of the four major holidays in the Celtic year, it celebrates the beginning of summer, growth, fertility (and by extension, love),  purification by fire, and the Mystery of the fire in the water. Like Samhain, this is a traditional time for bonfires and is considered a liminal time.

 

Bíle: 'Great Tree' or 'Ancestor'.  This god is the Worldtree and also the ancestor of the first humans. Viewed as the Great Father in many traditions, some also see him, pantheistically, as an Immanent divinity.  This god is not personified in human form, usually being represented by a tree or a pillar.  The word 'bíle' is also used to refer to a sacred tree, especially a tree that has religio-political connotations for a particular tribal group and their leader.

 

Bóann:'White cow'. She is the goddess who freed the waters from Nechtan's well, which created the river that bears her name, the Boyne river.  She is a goddess of flowing water and inspiration who presides over motherhood, fertility of women, livestock, and the land.  Her husband is Nechtan, an aspect of Nuada, and she is the mother of Aengus by Dagda. Her names include Breg, Meng, Meabal (alt. name for Breg), and the epithet Drumchla  Dilenn, 'the Roof of the Ocean'. She is also given the name Ethniu, who may be the celestial version of this same goddess. Bóann's sister Bé Binn, 'Sweet Woman', is the goddess of childbirth and midwifery.

 

Brí: This word has the concrete meanings of height and eminence, and the abstract meanings of energy, power, vigour, worth, meaning, and importance. For example, its use in 'brí focail' means, 'the meaning of a word'.

 

Bríga: 'That which Rises'. A more archaic form of brí (above), usually used today to signify magico-religious energy, much like the Kundalini in Hindu tradition. Bricht, a spell, is a manifestation of that energy.

 

Brighid: 'Exalted One' or 'Sacred Utterance'. This much beloved goddess was worshipped throughout the Celtic world and eventually, either came to be seen as a Christian saint, or was syncretized with a saint of the same name.

In Irish tradition, Brighid is a daughter of the Dagda. She is a fire goddess with many solar traits, patron of the bards, and a goddess of poetry and inspiration. She is a goddess of healing, smithcraft, the hearth, hospitality, protection of the home, young children, and inexperienced warriors. Brighid is said to lean over every cradle, and through her interest in healing and children, she is often assumed to preside over childbirth. As well, she is a protector of crops and livestock, especially against disease and malicious magic.  With the death of her own son at the Second Battle of Mag Tuired, Brighid started to keen.  As this was the first time keening was ever heard, she came to preside over grief and mourning. Brighid is intimately entwined with many everyday aspects of life from the cradle to the grave.

Her epithets include: Banfilé 'She-Bard', Bé Legis 'Healing woman', Bé nGoibnechtae 'Smith woman', Briugu 'She who runs a hostel', Ambue 'without cattle' (referring to her as warrior and protectress of warriors), and Búadach 'the Victorious'.

Cognates of the name Brigid may include, depending on which etemology is used, The Irish Bríg, the British Brigantia (and perhaps the word Britain itself), the Gaulish Brigindo and Brixa, and further afeild in the names of the Norse god Bragi and the Hindu god Brihaspati. Her Gaulish counterparts were interpreted by the Romans as Minerva, and in later periods some of her aspects she were compared Vesta. Brigit's Forge, Ord Brighideach: A Brigidine Order of Flamekeepers

 

(St) Brighid: One of the three patron saints of Ireland along with St. Colm Cille and St. Patrick, a contemporary, St. Brighid belonged to a branch of the Fotharta sept (family lineage), and was the abbess of a convent in Kildare.  At a time when Christianity was still a minority sect, she Christianized a pagan sanctuary which became the center of her abbey.  This would not have been possible without the political clout her family rank gave her. It is also conjectured that she was a 'priestess'of that sanctuary before her conversion and that Brighid, 'Exalted One' was either a title, or meant to identify her person with that of the goddess, Brighid.  She is called 'the Mary of the Gaels'.  Her feast day is February 1st, thus coinciding with Imbolc and should not be confused with Candlemas, which falls on the next day. Catholic Information Network: St. Bridget

 

Bua: This word has the meaning of advantage, merit, or talent/skill. 'Bua' is used to refer to anything which is intrinsically a part of you and works in your favour. The adjective 'buadach' means victorious.

 

Cailleach: 'Veiled One' or 'Crone'. A rich, complex, and often disturbing personage in Celtic spirituality, the Cailleach can represent the wilds, the land, the sea, the harvest, winter, death and the 'Outside', as well as that which is hidden, all that is 'in-between' and the liminal regions of nature, culture, and the cycles of life. She is both a Sovereignty goddess and a representation of the dispossessed.

 

Céilí Sídhe: 'Companions of the Sídhe' (singular Céile Sídhe) Céilí Sídhe is a tradition of Celtic Polytheism. It is a mostly Irish tradition, which honours the Tuatha De Danann, holds Danu to be a Transcendant divinity and mother of the gods, and Bíle to be an Immanent divinity and father of humanity.  Céilí Sídhe emphasises building personal relationships with the gods, both as individuals and within the context of their tribe. Céilí Sídhe believes that by modelling the virtues of the gods, ones connection to them is strengthened which assists in personal development on all levels. The tradition has a strong social interest, believing that family, community, and social life are the arenas wherein we can most effectively express our values. New Tara: Céilí Sídhe

 

Celtic and Celtic-inspired: 'Celtic' refers *primarily* to a particular language group, and secondarily to the culture i.e. manners, customs, beliefs, art, music, religion, ethics, and history of the people who spoke or speak those languages. By this secondary definition 'Celtic' is not a watertight designation; where the line is, in this secondary sense of the word, between 'Celtic', 'mostly Celtic', and 'Celtic-inspired' can be vague. However, definitionally, the further one moves from the language, the more diluted is the 'Celticity'.  Of course this means that many things are deemed 'Celtic' not through any quality inherent in their nature, but by their mere relationship to 'Celtic' language and the cultural-linguistic context from which they emerged.

It is because the first definition is clear, and the second is vague and interpretative, that we seem to keep coming back to the problem of what is Celtic, a problem which has been solved by attributing any validity held by the second definition to be wholly based on its relationship to the first definition.

'Celtic' music, art, and other non-verbal forms are of course also part of this secondary definition and are may not be dependant on language for their value and form, but it is still by their relationship to, or emergence from, 'Celtic' speaking cultures that they received that designation to begin with.

However, having said that Joseph Nagy has this to say in regard to Latin literature written in Ireland during the Early Medieval period: 'Hiberno-Latin literature does not form a separate stream [from literature written in Irish], nor is it reasonable to assume that it was produced by a different kind of author for a different kind of audience." (Conversing with Angels and Ancients, p11).  I believe the same logic applies to a good portion of Anglo-Irish literature, especially (but not exclusively) that written by bi-lingual Irishmen. English works which translates, exalts, explains, defends, or even expresses the values, ethics, history, customs, religion, music, stories, etc of the Gaels is by our primary definition not 'Celtic', but by our secondary definition it is quite 'Celtic'.

Of course, a 'culture' can be seen as merely a collection of memes circumstantially related by there placement in time and space. And 'Celtic' is merely a label designating not the content, but the relationships between those memes in a particular instance. All such labels are arbitrary, strategic and contingent; accepting a definition does not mean we must be blind to its exceptions, limitations, agendas, and biases.  It does, however, allow us to communicate clearly, and escape the semantic dispute of continually redefining 'Celtic' every time the word is used.

 

Celtic Buddhism: Perhaps the newest form of Celtic-inspired spirituality to emerge, it is still very uncertain what form this spirituality will take or how much actual Celtic material will be incorporated into the practice. Celtic Buddhism

 

Celtic Christianity:  Rooted in the works of Eriugena, Pelagius, and the Early Celtic Churches, Celtic Christianity distinguishes itself from many other streams of  Christianity in its value of relationship over institution (as found in the use of the "anamcara" or soul friend), a Creation theology that views nature as God's 'other book', a respect for each person as a reflection of Creation, and promotes a personal and experiential relationship with God and the world. Iona, UK, Celtic Horizons

 

Celtic-inspired Wicca:  Wicca emerged from Ceremonial magic in the 1940's and 50's and, with the addition of some British folk ways and popular witch lore.  It was intended to be a faith honouring the 'Horned God' and the 'Moon Goddess' through secret and magical rites. While there was a certain amount of Celtic inspiration to the project from the very beginning, it rapidly developed to reflect the memberships interests in neo-Classical and Egyptian material. Thus while Wicca remained primarily an English and Anglo-American faith, it also reflected an eclectic inspiration as even the most conservative groups, called covens, drew god and goddess names from around the world and used them to express Wiccan concepts. In the last decade some Wiccans have become more aware of the idea that deities come with a certain cultural context and are trying to be more respectful of that context when honouring the gods, this new-found respectfulness has resulted in some groups focusing their worship on the gods of a single culture.

Celtic-inspired Wicca would describe any group or Tradition which has chosen to make the Celtic gods their exclusive, or primary, focus of worship.

Wicca has been, and still is, a fairly pervasive element in Western alternative spirituality. Although many individuals and groups do not self-identify as Wiccan, they are still recognizable as being Wiccan-derived by their usage of ‘witch’, ‘coven’, ‘sabbat’, ‘blessed be’, ‘the rede’, ‘three fold law’, pentagrams, Ceremonialist elements, and viewing divinity as a dyad of one ‘God’ and one ‘Goddess’.

 

Celtic Paganism: Any tradition, denomination, or body of spiritual practice which is primarily derived from, or inspired by, the polytheistic beliefs and practices which existed in Celtic culture before Christianity, and survived (though not unaltered) in Celtic folk ways. Though 'pagan' is usually assumed to simply mean 'polytheist', a growing number of people are uncomfortable with the term, because it is technically describes one by what one is not, i.e. not a Christian, Muslim, or Jew, a designation which is both negative in tone and not always true.

 

Celtic Reconstructionism: This is form of Celtic Paganism which values historical precedent and cultural specificity over innovation and eclecticism. As the name implies, many of the beliefs and structures that have been lost are being constructed again, which brings a great deal of diversity to both belief and practice.  In the current political trend, Celtic Reconstructionists often resemble Celtic Traditionalists, who have a very nationalist stance toward Celtic cultures.  This stance is atypical of the reconstructionist movements in general, but common among Celtic and Slavic Recons, whose source cultures still exist, but are under considerable socio-political stress. Imbas

 

Celtic Traditionalism: This is a path which aspires to live life by embracing living Celtic cultures and their current traditions. Celtic traditionalists believe that true Celtic spirituality is inseparable from Celtic cultures. Therefore the only authority, source and guide to living a Celtic spirituality is attested tradition, such as Celtic story, poetry, music, and custom, which can only be truly communicated through Celtic languages by tradition-bearers. Celtic Traditionalism is also vigourously political in its views. Celtic Tradition

 

Ceremonialist Elements: Popularized by Paracelcus; the view that the universe is comprised of four, and possibly five, elements ( respectively Air, Fire, Water, Earth, and Ether) entered Ceremonial Magick from Alchemy, and the from Ceremonial Magick into popular forms of paganism and the New Age movement. While this view has found a home in many Celtic-inspired forms of spirituality, it is not a part of any indigenous Celtic spiritualities. Thus the presence of these elements in a tradition indicates a large non-Celtic influence.  Furthermore, critics of this Ceremonialist elemental system have often pointed out the limiting sexist agenda implicit, or sometimes explicit, in the system.

The  indigenous Celtic view of 'elements' is expressed by the concept of dúile.

 

Christo-Celtic Paganism: Based on centuries of popular practice in Celtic counties and using traditional folkways as its primary model, Christo-Celtic Paganism combines Celtic Christian and indigenous Celtic material in its spirituality.  There is a strong overlap between Christo-Celtic Paganism and Celtic Traditionalism, but the former tends to have a more magical element and a far less politicized view of their spiritual practice. Christo-Celtic Paganism also tends to be practiced individually, rather than in groups, as any need for community worship is, from a Christo-Celtic Pagan point of view, adequately fulfilled by participation in either (Celtic) Christian or other (Celtic) Pagan services.

Those who would criticize Christo-Celtic Paganism, or any Christo-syncretic practice, as 'un-Christian' based on a few of the Ten Commandment of the Hebrew Bible are doing so in error. This is because such an argument, while likely legitimate in a Hebrew context, fails to account for the New Covenant, through Christ, with Christians, found in Matthew 19:17-19 and Mark 10:17-23 (New Revised Standard Version). Prohibitions against idolatry and honouring other gods are conspicuously absent from the list of things Christ asks of his followers.

 

Cloch (Stone): One of the dúile,  stones are the bones of the world, and our bones are made from them. In one's character, stone is associated with endurance and steadfastness, but also potentially grudgingness and covetousness.

 

(St.) Colm Cille: One of the three patron saints of Ireland along with St. Brighid and St. Patrick, St. Colm Cille, otherwise known as St. Columba, was born into an Irish royal clan and trained as a priest. He travelled throughout Ireland preaching and teaching.  He founded several monasteries including those at Derry (546 C.E.) and Durrow (556 C.E.).

According to various legends Columba was condemned by a Synod in 561 C.E. for either his part in a dispute over the ownership of a copy of a Gospel, which resulted in the deaths of many in the battle of Cooldrevne; or because of his difficulties in separating the political interests of both himself and his family from his religious calling. As a result, he was exiled from his beloved Ireland,  along with twelve others.  He eventually made his way to Iona, where he established a monastic community in 563 C.E.

His feast day is June 9th

 

Community Links:

Canadian Association for Irish Studies

Canadian Celtic Arts Association

St Michael's College

U of T Celtic Society

Witchvox (Ontario)

 

Dagda: 'The Good God'. Dagda is the god of fire and High Druid of the gods. He controls the ordered changing of the seasons and presides over both fatherhood and the fertility of men, livestock, and the land.  Wise and generous, he is the provider of both spiritual and material wealth and sustenance.  He is the father of many other gods, including Aengus, Brighid, Ériu, Mider, and Oghma. During the kingship of Bres and the triumph of the Fomor, he was forced to serve as a mason.

Dagda's names include Eochaid Ollathair, 'Horse-lord All-father'; Aedh Abrat, 'Fire of the Brow'; and Ruad Rofessa, 'Red-One of Perfect Knowledge/Wisdom'.  His name, Aedh, is cognate to the Hindu god Agni; derived from the same root, both names mean fire, and both gods personify the priestly function. Contrary to the opinion recently put forward by some New Age authors, Dagda is not a green god or forest god, as evidenced by all of his red and fiery names.

 

Dáir na Coille: Celebrated on December 31st in some traditions, and the on the night of the first visible crescent after Mid-winter in others, Dáir na Coille, means the 'embuement of the woods'. It celebrates the arrival of all the new souls of every kind of life which will be born in the coming year. They arrive from the Otherworld on the west wind and are hidden in the trees. For this reason, small gifts, tokens, and food offerings are tied among the branches of trees; both sacred or special trees, and those which happen to grow nearest your home. This is done both as a blessing to the new souls, and to court their blessings in return.

 

Dán: This word means fate or destiny, art, talent/gift, poetry, and boldness; as in Aes Dána 'people of talent', which refers to poets and artisans.

 

Danu: 'Flowing One'. The Great Mother. This goddess is the ancestress of the gods, and it is from her that the Tuatha De Danann take their name. She is the Celestial Mother. Many rivers across Europe are named for her. Goddesses with cognate names are found in Russia and India. The Rig Vedas calls their Danu, 'the Waters of Heaven'.  In Celtic tradition this goddess is not personified in human form, but represented either by a earthly river or its celestial counterpart, the Milky Way, which in Irish is called, Bealach na Bó Finne, 'The Way of the White Cow'.

In the Céilí Sídhe Tradition, Danu, Anu, and Domnu are considered to be the three faces of Danu Trimathair, the 'Triple Mother', who represents the Source of all things; a Transcendent goddess contrasted to the Immanent god, Bíle. Just as Danu is the Celestial Mother, represented by the night sky or the Milky Way; Anu 'The Abundant One' is the Terrestrial Mother, represented by the land; and Domnu 'The Abyss' is the Oceanic Mother, represented by the sea.

Many schools of thought hold that Danu is derived from don, 'earth', and conflate Danu and Anu, making the second a derivative of the first. However, this view is countered by the watery nature of Danu's Vedic cognate and the many European rivers named for her.    

 

Dian Cécht: 'Swiftness of Power'. Physician of the gods, and patron of all medical and healing arts.

 

Diarmait Mac Cerbaill (c.545-568 CE) Leader of the southern Uí Néill and last pagan high king of Ireland. He was the last to celebrate the feis Temrach. Legends surrounding his death say he was tricked into breaking his geasa, then his house was set on fire. In an attempt to escape the flames he jumped into a vat of ale only to have a flaming roof beam land on his head. His triple death by burning, drowning, and impact trauma is symbolically significant and is found in the fateful/sacrificial deaths of other kings as well. His druid was named Bec Mac Dé.

 

Dogma: Theological term. In its original, non-negative meaning, dogma is a collection of clearly defined beliefs resulting from the agreement between people over well thought out and discussed theological issues. As muddled thinking is no more appropriate to religion than it is to any other area of life, dogma is a valuable expression of religion, with no pejorative connotation in it technical use. Dogma is a category, not the content of that category, and is not synonymous with 'prosthelatizing' or 'closed minded' which describes the content of some dogmas but not the content of others.

 

Donn: 'Dark One'. Donn is the god of the dead, who hosts the deceased in his house, Tech Duinn, between one life and the next. He also keeps the shades of all who have gone before even after their spirits have left to take up new forms. He also presides over the fertility of livestock and the land. His name is cognate to the Continental god Donnotaurus, which is perhaps a divine figure similar to the bull of Ulster, Donn Cuailnge. Interestingly, the English name for Tech Duinn, as represented by the small island located off the southwest tip of Ireland, is not a translation of the Irish, but rather is called 'Bull Rock'.

 

Druid (1): 'Strong in Knowledge/Wisdom'.  The priestly caste of Iron Age Celtic culture, often compared to the Roman Flamines and the Hindu Brahmin. Their primary role, from which they derived their authority, was officiating at the sacrifice. They were also the official diviners and culture bearers, and held supreme authority in both judicial and legislative matters, as well as education. It took nineteen years of adult training to become a druid; in addition to magico-religious material, the curriculum include astronomy, natural science, medicine, history, politics, law, ethics, and philosophy.

Even though in a modern Irish cultural context, the word druid simply means 'wizard' or 'magician', when used, untranslated, in a modern English cultural context it implies the ancient meaning of the word 'druid'. For this reason, most conservative modern  traditions do not refer to themselves as druids, as it is a position which requires a specific social context and social recognition which no longer exists. To describe a druid in modern terms, he or she would need to be publicly and officially acknowledged as a lawyer, medical doctor, Ph.D. theologian, and priest, possessing a vast repertoire of memorized historical and religious verse, and wielding strong diplomatic and political influence in both religious and secular milieus.

 

Druid (2): Modern druidry arose out of Masonry in English speaking parts of Britain. Originally, it was Celtic-inspired in name only, owing much to Neo-Classical, Biblical, Masonic, and Theosophical sources.  In the later half of the twentieth century this druidry was deeply impacted by the rise of nature spirituality, the re-emergence of Ceremonial magick, and the new religion of Wicca, which continues to have a huge influence on druidry. 

While some modern druid organizations are beginning to take a more Celtic Reconstructionist stance, many others are only marginally inspired by Celtic culture; thus there is currently a great diversity of traditions using the name druid: there are Indo-European inspired druids, Vedic inspired druids, Norse druids, and furthest afield 'Shinto druids', as well as many more druids who reject any cultural context whatsoever.  Many people have taken up the 'druid' label, under the impression that 'nature worship' and veneration of trees are the only requirement to consider oneself a druid. This last group draws heavily on both New Age and Faery Faith material. Of course, these various paths are much different than those defined by the original meaning for the word 'druid' and many other streams of Celtic and Celtic-inspired spirituality often strongly contest their usage of the word. Druidry and ADF

 

Dúile: 'element, a thing created'. Throughout the Indo-European world, creation is depicted as an act of sacrifice, wherein a being is disassembled and the world made from its parts.  The Irish creation myth is lost, but this story is well reflect in the Norse and Hindu creation myths. Conversely we do have some Christo-Celtic material that depicts the creation of humanity in a way which reverses the initial sacrifice, i.e. Various parts of the world are brought together to make 'Adam'.  For example, just as the sea was formed from the blood of some primordial sacrifice, our blood is made from the sea; emphasizing that we are a reflection of the universe, the universe is a reflection of us, and both humanity and the world has been made in the image of the Divine. See Cloch (Stone), Gaeth (Wind), Gealach (Moon), Grian (Sun), Muir (Sea), Neamh (Heavens/Sky), Nel (Cloud), Talamh (Earth), Uaine (Plant Life).

 

Ériu: 'Noble/High One'. A daughter of the Dagda, this goddess is Sovereignty, and a personification of Ireland itself. It is from her name that Éire, 'Ireland' is derived. She is most likely a sun goddess, a fact made most evident from her epithet Ériu Ain. She is also given celestial connotations because her sisters Fotla and Banba, 'Under-Earth' and  'White Inundation' respectively, have obvious terrestrial and oceanic significances. Thus the realms of Sky and Land and Sea are represented in the patron goddess Ireland.

 

Ethniu: 'Seed'. Daughter of Balor, a King of the Fomoir, she is the mother of Lugh by Cian 'Enduring', son of Dian Cécht. She was locked away in a tower of glass, whose base is supposedly on Tory Island (north of Ireland) and whose pinicle is the North Star. Concurrently, or alternatively, Ethniu is the north star, while her nine hundred handmaidens are, or are represented by, the circum-polar stars. She seems to be the celestial aspect of the goddess Bóann . For some traditions, she represents the silence and stillness from which all else extends and around which all else revolves.

 

Eventide: The spring equinox, celebrated around March 21st.  Most of its spring festivities were gathered up by Lady Day, celebrated on March 25th, or by Easter. The 'Lady' in Lady Day is the Virgin Mary and celebrates the conception of Christ, nine months before Christmas.  However there are also folk ways which call it the Cailleach's birthday, and is the day each year when she regains her youth.

 

Faery-faith: A loose collection of beliefs inspired by, but not emergent from, Celtic and English folkways concerning the sídhe, fairies, and spirits of nature, and ghosts. It was seems to have emerged out of Spiritualism in England during the Victorian and Edwardian periods, and bears many traces of theosophy. For the most part its adherents are Christian, or at lease nominally so, and the faery faith itself seems to be more about a spiritual approach to nature than a religion per se.

 

Fand: 'Charming, Graceful' or possibly 'Tears'.  Daughter of Flidais and wife of Manannán; in the paradise of Tír na nOg, she fulfills similar functions to Bóann. In our world she is goddess of love, and also of the pain associated with love and loss. Her name is cognate to that of the Roman goddess Venus, and the Norse divine tribe Vanir, both of whom had fertility as primary aspect of their influence.

 

Fintan: 'White Ancient One'. This patron of poetry and history is portrayed as the oldest being in the world, having existed in many forms. He joined the Tuatha De by marrying Eblinn, Lugh's sister, and is eventually depicted as converting to Christianity.

 

Flaitheas: 'Sovereignty'. Intimately linked with divine feminine generative force and the power of fate, Sovereignty is always embodied by a goddess.  The power of Sovereignty is associated with Áine, Ériu, Brighid, the Cailleach, Meadhbh Temrach (i.e. Tara), and of course Morrigan.

In other regions of the Celtic world, goddesses like Rigantona, Brigantia, Rosmerta, and Epona uphold this function. Throughout the Indo-European world, horse symbolism and chalice symbolism are usually related to Sovereignty, and Meadhbh's name finds a cognate in the Hindu, Madhavi, a princess, who was sequentially, the consort of several kings. 

Fírinne flatha, 'truth of a sovereign' is the truth and other ritual actions by which a king maintains right relationship with the sovereignty goddess.

 

Flidais: 'Wild One' or perhaps 'Wild Deer'. Goddess of the wilderness and wild beasts, Flidais is generally not well disposed to human society. Some texts say Adammair 'Stag' is her mate, while other texts say her mate is Net, the hunter aspect of Nuada. Her daughters are Bé Chuille, 'Sorrowful Woman', and Bé Téite, 'Wanton Woman' and Dianan (an obvious late borrowing from the Latin Diana). Her other daughter, Fand, has a more sociable demeanor. Flidais is originally associated with the Co. Mayo region.

 

Fomoir: originally 'Nether-demons', later assumed to mean 'Under-sea'. Just as the Jutons are the adversaries of the Norse Aesir, and the Asura are the adversaries of the Hindu Devas, the Fomoir are the adversaries of the Tuatha De Danann. They are the Fir Domnann, tracing their lineage to the goddess Domnu, 'the Abyss'.  The Fomoir represent darkness, chaos, destruction, and a more primordial state of being.  Not all of them are 'evil' or 'monstrous', and some have intermarried with the Tuath De. Most notable among the more noble beings in the Fomoirian lineage are Ethniu, mother of Lugh, and Elathan, who scolded his half-fomorian son (by Ériu) Bres for reigning in a very un-kingly manner over the Tuatha De when he had the chance. Most Fomoir resemble giants and ogres and nursery 'boogey', and act in much the same manner.

 

Gaeth (Wind): One of the dúile, wind is the breath of the world, and our breath is made from it. In one's character, wind is associated with vigour and creativity, but also potentially with volatility, capriciousness, and fickleness.

 

Gealach (Moon): One of the dúile, the moon which moves the tide is the heart of the world, and our heart which moves our blood is made from it. In one's character, moon is associated with grace, amiability, and emotional awareness, and potentially with inconstancy, dramatics, and hyper-sensitivity.

 

Goibniu: 'Smith'. Blacksmith of the gods, Goibniu also brews the beer of invulnerability, and is sometimes credited with hosting the feast of immortality for the Tuatha De. He is invoked in smith work, for health, and for protection against metal weapons. His brothers are Luchtaine, the wright and carpenter, and Credne, the bronze and gold smith.

His name is cognate to the Welsh smith god, Gofannon, and the Christian Irish St Gobnet, as well as the Irish folk hero Goban Saor.

 

Grian (Sun): One of the dúile, the sun is the face of the world, and our face is made from it. In one's character, sun is associated with beauty, liveliness and honour, but also potentially with arrogance and combativeness.

 

Harvesttide: Celebrated on the Autumn Equinox, which usually falls around the September 21st, and is celebrated with the various harvest home rites and games. The last sheaf, becomes 'the Cailleach' which is taken in until the next spring's plowing. Much of this days symbolism is movable to correspond with the activities of the harvests or placed on September 29th, Michaelmas.

 

Imbas: 'Divine Inspiration' A special talent for prophetic knowledge and clairsentience which is accrued through special training and ritual activity. This special ecstatic illumination is often compared to similar phenomena in shamanic cultures.  Not to be confused with regular inspiration.

 

Imbolc: 'To purify oneself'. Celebrated on February 1st, this holiday was associated with the lactation of the ewes and the coming birth of new lambs, this day celebrates the newly emerging generative power of the goddess. The goddess Brighid presides over this holiday and is honoured as the bringer of light into the darkness and fire into the cold, thus midwifing the changes which are occurring at this time of year. This day received Christian sanctification when they made it St. Brighid's Day. In popular pagan thought, Imbolc is often confused with Candlemas, a Christian celebration for the purification of Mary, celebrated on February 2nd.

 

Immanent: Theological term. That which embodies the whole of all possible existence and knowledge, the entire universe or created being; the Divine as totality of created existence. In a Celtic pagan context Bíle may be seen as an Immanent diety, while in the Christian trinity, the Holy Spirit represents the Immanent. See also Local, Locative, and Transcendent.

 

Language Links:

Local Classes (all 6 languages):

http://www.geocities.com/torontogaelic/

On-line lessons for Goidelic (q-Celtic) languages:

Irish:

http://www.erinsweb.com/gae_index.html

http://homepage.eircom.net/~eofeasa/page1.htm

http://www.smo.uhi.ac.uk/gaeilge/foghlam/

Scottish:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/scotland/alba/foghlam/beag_air_bheag/index.shtml/

http://www.smo.uhi.ac.uk/gaidhlig/ionnsachadh/

Manx:

http://www.smo.uhi.ac.uk/~kelly/menu.html

http://www.smo.uhi.ac.uk/%7Ekelly/mona/index.html

On-line lessons for Brythonic (p-Celtic) language:

Welsh:

http://www.cs.brown.edu/fun/welsh/home.html

http://www.bwrdd-yr-iaith.org.uk/

http://www.menai.ac.uk/clicclic/

Cornish:

http://www.geocities.com/CollegePark/Den/5400/

http://www.clas.demon.co.uk/

Breton:

http://www.kervarker.org/en/homepage_01_index

http://www.geocities.com/Athens/2918/taolenn.html

 

Local: Theological term. That which has existence within the Immanent. Any being which is not Immanent or Transcendent is Local, in that their are places where the being is not present.  Humans, plants, animals, most deities and all things with perceived individual existence are Local.  For example a god of fire is present only where there is fire, or in presence of his worshipers, or where he chooses to manifest himself in some way; he is not simply everywhere, but present somewhere (or multiple somewheres) and absent from places where he is not present ;).  In a Celtic pagan context most of the gods are local, while in the Christian trinity, Christ  is a local deity. See also Immanent, Locative, and Transcendent. Local is often used to mean Locative, but as described above, Local has a more abstract and wider reaching definition.

 

Locative: Theological term. That which exists in a particular geographic space. The spirit of a particular stream, mountain, or town, or genius loci, is a locative spirit. See also Immanent, Local, and Transcendent.

 

Lugh: ‘Oath’ (with a punning relationship to 'Lightning'). This god is born to Ethniu in her tower of glass, then fostered by Manannán and Tailtiu before arriving at the royal seat of Tara to lead the Tuatha De to victory in the Second Battle of Mag Tuired, where he defeats his grandfather, Balor of the Baleful Eye.

His epithets include: MacEthlenn, 'Son of Ethniu'; Maicnia, 'Young Warrior'; Samildanach, 'Equally Skilled in All Arts'; Lamhfada, 'of the Long Hand'; Lonnbeimnech, 'Fierce striker'; Lethsuanach, 'Half-Cloaked'; and Scal, 'Phantom/Apparition'.

Lugh represents the union of opposites and the victory of law over dissolution and chaos. He presides over communication, commerce, mercantile endeavours (buying, selling, trading, travelling, and moving persons or resources across 'borders'), oaths, and social contracts. Furthermore he is a god of the harvest, protection, healing, victory, success, skill in any endeavour, shoes, journeys, doorways, borders, games, especially Fidchell/Chess, ball sports, especially hurling, and by historical extension, hockey, and horse racing.  He is also strongly associated with Sovereignty. Lugh is a 'friendly' god, a fact attested to by his pan-Celtic appeal; he was worshipped throughout the Celtic world and was popular among all classes of people from kings to shoemakers to farmers. The fact that he is often depicted in triplicate, or simply described by the plural form of his name, would also indicate he can be many places at once, or assist in multiple endeavours. Thus this god is intimately entwined with many aspects of public and private life.

His name is cognate to the Welsh Llew, and the Continental Lugus, as well as the Spanish Lugo or Lugoues (plural). The Romans interpreted him as Mercury, and his is probably the model from which the Germanic Odin/Wodan developed in the 1st century BCE. The Church re-sanctified many of his sites in France and the British Isles by attributing them to St Michael, another defender against the powers of Chaos. New Tara Lugh Shrine, Cró Loga

Lughnasadh: 'The gathering of Lugh', Celebrated on August 1st, this holiday coincides with the weaning of the lambs born at Imbolc, and the shearing of the sheep. It is also the time of first harvest. This day celebrates the protective power of the god Lugh, who presides over this holiday and is honoured as guardian of the wild and cultivated crops. Lughnasadh was celebrated with market fairs and games, offerings to the god on hill tops, and horse races through water. Just as Brighid tempers the winter elements at Imbolc, Lugh tempers the heat of summer at this, the hottest time of the year. Thunderstorms on this day are considered a good omen. Like Bealtaine and Samhain, Lughnasadh is traditionally celebrated with bonfires.

Lughnasadh is also associated with the Fir Bolg queen and goddess, Tailtiu, 'Great Land', and the foster-mother of Lugh. To honour both her and her accomplishments, Lugh instituted a fair at Teltown.

He also instituted fairs for Carman, Naas, and several other goddeses.

 

Manannán MacLir: 'Little One of (the Isle of) Man' 'Son of the Sea'. The best magician of the Tuatha De, Manannán is the husband of Fand, and the father of Áine. He is also the foster-father and primary instructor of Lugh. He is the ruler of Tir na nOg, the 'Land of the Young' and home of the blessed dead.  He has power over the sea, borders, divisions, and liminal spaces. Manannán's cloak divides the seen from the unseen. He presides over navigation and all careers associated with the ocean, the marketplace, or movement across borders.

The Manx call him Manann Beg Mac y Lheir 'Little Son of the Sea' and Manann Mac Bar 'Son of the Crest', while the Welsh call him Manawydan fab Llyr. It has also been conjectured by some that the name is cognate to the Norse Manu and the Hindu Manu, but that is quite uncertain.

 

(St) Michael: One of the four Christian Arch-angels, he is often depicted slaying a dragon or defeating a devil. Michael's churches are often found on capes, headlands, hilltops, or special wells, usually with some associated legend of that being the place where Michael saved the community from a giant or some other Fomoir-like monster. Many of the high places dedicated to him on the Continent were formerly dedicated to Mercury in Romano-Celtic times. St. Michael is the obvious Christian syncretization of the god Lugh, though some of the Scottish sea-prayers to him seem to suggest Manannán. His feast day is September 29th, Michaelmas.

 

Mider: 'the Judge or mediator'.  A son of Dagda, patron of the legal and other arbitrating professions. A main character in 'The Wooing of Etain'.

 

Mid-summer: Celebrated on the summer solstice, which occurs around the June 21st, most of this days symbolism has been moved to June 25th, St John's Day. Regardless of the timing , Mid-summer is a traditional bonfire night, and festivities are often accompanied with offerings to St John, Manannán , or Áine, depending on local tradition.

 

Mid-winter: Celebrated on the Winter solstice, which occurs around December 21st, most of this days symbolism has been moved to December 25th, Christmas. The primary themes are usually the powers of darkness abroad in the world, a goddess representing generative force held in seclusion, and the birth of a Child of Promise, like Christ or Lugh or the Maponos.

 

Morrigan: 'Great Queen' or 'Queen of Spirits'. Primary Sovereignty (Flaitheas) goddess of the Tuatha De, she also presides over Fate, prophecy, death-omens, battle, battle-fury, kingship, magic and fertility. In later literature her fertility aspect was overshadowed by her more warlike pursuits. She is often triplified with Macha, 'Enclosure', and Babddh, 'Raven'. This second aspect is herself triplified as Babhdh, 'Raven'; Fea, 'Panic'; and Nemain, 'Frenzy/Fury'. These however represent her most terrifying aspects. As Sovereignty, Morrigan is an upholder of divine and social order. She is depicted as the wife of Nuada, while her more violent aspects are considered the wives of Net, the most war-like aspect of Nuada. Morrigan also chooses to consort with Dagda before the Second Battle of Mag Tuired.

 

Muir (Sea): One of the dúile, sea is the blood of the world, and our blood is made from it. In one's character, sea is associated with depth and wisdom but also potentially with changability and treacherousness.

 

Neamh (Heavens/Sky): One of the dúile, the round dome of the sky is the skull of the world, and our head is made from it. In one's character, sky is associated with leadership qualities, generousness and expansiveness, and a practical intelligence, but also potentially with excessive ambition for power and lack of consideration for others.

 

Nel (Cloud): One of the dúile, the billowy and electrical clouds in the sky are the brains of the world, and our brain is made from them. In one's character, cloud is associated with intelligence, but also with light or foolish behaviour, and potentially with volatility and wrathfulness.

 

Nuada:‘catch / take hold / acquire’ (with a punning relationship to 'Cloud Maker' and to ‘nod / agree’). Nuada is the god of weather, and High King of the gods. When the Tuatha De arrived in Ireland, he lost his hand in a battle against the Fir Bolg, and had a silver hand constructed for him by Dian Cécht. His blemish made him ineligible for the kinship, and Bres, 'the Beautiful', took his place. This began a period of oppression for the gods, until Miach, Dian Cécht's son, restored Nuada's hand, precipitating the Second Battle of Mag Tuired. With the help of LughLugh, the battle was won and the Fomoir driven out.

Before his career as king, Nuada was a champion and bore the name Finn Fal, 'White One of Fal', and when he was a prophet he bore the name Irél Fáith. With the name Nuada he also bears the epithets, Argetlámh 'of the Silver Hand', Daglamh 'of the Good Hand', and Fullon 'the Beautiful'

As Nuada Necht 'clean, pure' (or 'of snow'?) he is in charge of rain and snow. As Nechtan, 'child of the waters', he is called the husband of Bóann, and presides over rivers and the sea, while in the aspect of Net, 'catcher' he presides over forests, hunting and fishing. Thus the names  Nuada, Nechtan, and Net represent the celestial, oceanic, and terrestrial aspects of this god as sovereign over Sky, and Sea and Land.

His name is cognate to the Welsh Nudd or Lludd Lawereint, the British Nodons (whom the Romans equated with Mars, Neptune, and Silvanus), and the Romano-Celtic Mars Noadatus. The name Nechtan is cognate to the Roman Neptune and the Hindu Apam Nepat.

Nuada, with his various names, presides over clouds, weather, forest, springs, rivers, the sea, r ulership, politics, justice, war, hunting/fishing, healing, prophecy, and abundance.

 

Ogam: A cipher, usually written on grave stones or border markers.

 

Oghma: 'Of cuts?' Oghma is the god of strength and eloquence, and both Chief Bard and Champion of the Tuatha De. He presides over all feats of strength, wrestling and other forms of unarmed combat, eloquence, writing, rhetoric, diplomacy and satire.  During the kingship of Bres, and the triumph of the Fomor, he was forced to serve as a woodcutter and gatherer of firewood. His epithets include Cermait, 'Honey-Tongues', Grianecht, 'Sunny-Face', and Trenfher 'Strong Man'.  Oghma's name is cognate to that of  the Continental god, Ogmios, who the Romans identified with Hercules.

 

Ortha: A 'prayer' or a 'spell'. The fact that the same word can hold both these meaning  depicts the tight relationship between magic and religion, and the belief in the efficacy of prayer.

 

Pantheism and Panentheism: Theological terms.  The Encyclopaedia Britannica states, “ Both 'pantheism' and 'panentheism' are terms of recent origin, coined to describe certain views of the relationship between God and the world that are different from that of traditional Theism. As reflected in the prefix "pan-" (Greek pas, "all"), both of the terms stress the all-embracing inclusiveness of God, as compared with his separateness as emphasized in many versions of Theism. On the other hand, pantheism and panentheism, since they stress the theme of Immanence—i.e., of the indwelling presence of God—are themselves versions of Theism conceived in its broadest meaning. Pantheism stresses the identity between God and the world, panentheism (Greek en, "in") that the world is included in God but that God is more than the world.

The adjective "pantheist" was introduced by the Irish Deist John Toland in the book Socinianism Truly Stated (1705). The noun "pantheism" was first used in 1709 by one of Toland's opponents.

The term "panentheism" appeared much later, [coined by Karl Krause] in 1828. Although the terms are recent, they have been applied retrospectively to alternative views of the divine being as found in the entire philosophical traditions of both East and West.

 

(St) Patrick: One of the three patron saints of Ireland along with St. Brighid, a contemporary, and St. Colm Cille, St. Patrick, who lived in the 5th  century CE, was a run away slave who returned to Ireland as an Evangelist and eventually established his see near Armagh.  His feast day is March 17th.

 

Ráithe: ‘Quarter year’ (pl. Ráithí or Ráitheanna). This word can mean a season or three month period, but also refers to the festivals which divide the Celtic year. There are actually two overlapping sets of ráithenna giving us eight ‘quarters’ in all. Each ráithe is viewed primarily in relation to the other ráithenna within its own set, rather than to the ráithenna of the combined sets.

Fíor-Ráitheanna ‘True-Quarters’ refers to Samhain, Imbolc, Bealtaine, and Lughnasadh.

Cam-Ráitheanna ‘Crooked-Quarters’ refers to either the Solstices and Equinoxes or the Christian holidays of Christmas, Lady Day, Feast of St. John, and Michaelmas.

In English Neo-Pagan usage, the meaning of quarter-day and cross-quarter day is usually reversed, reflecting a cultural perspective inspired by worldviews from outside a Celtic context; this would not be the case for traditions and denominations which take their lead specifically from Celtic culture worldview.

 

Sabbat: The word was first used in fourteenth century ‘witch trials’ by the prosecution to refer to nocturnal gatherings honouring the devil. The word does not actually originate with the (non-Satanic) folk practitioners, or from others who could be considered ‘witches’, but originates with the prosecutions fundamental belief in the existence of devil-worship. This fundamental belief caused a perceptual conflation of folk practice with Judaism, which was also being persecuted at the time, an agglomeration later referred to as the Satanic Sabbat Schema. Of course, the perceived relationships between Judaism and European folk practices, as well as the assumptions that either was diabolical, were not real, but rested solely in the minds of the prosecution. The prosecution appropriated the word from the Hebrew ‘Sabbath’, and then applied it to every gathering they assumed to be diabolical.

With the writings of Margaret Murray in the early twentieth century, ‘sabbat’ lost its sinister and diabolical overtones, to become a nocturnal gathering of those practicing supposed ancient pagan survivals who were willfully misunderstood by earlier authorities. This was perfect for Gardner and the emerging modern witchcraft movement. The word is now used by Wiccans to designate their eight major holy days and has become increasing positive over the last century. Individually, the Sabbats bear names of Irish, German/Old English, and Christian origin, and are often highly creative and variable in their content. The similarity between the Wiccan Sabbats and the Irish Celtic Ráitheanna (either Christian or Pagan), varies from non-existent to very similar depending on the nature and focus of the tradition in question. See also Ráithe.

 

Samhain: 'Summer's End', November 1st. One of the four major holidays in the Celtic year, it celebrates Celtic New Year, the beginning of winter and the Feast of the Dead. Bonfires are a traditional part of this time, as is feasting and divination. This is the most liminal of times in the Celtic year, and the time when the way between this world and the Otherworld is most easily traversed. This holiday, which was often considered to be three nights long, was re-sanctified by the Church as all-Hallow's Eve, All Saint's Day, and All Souls Day.

 

Tailtiu: ‘Great Land’, The Irish cognate of the roman Telus. A Fir Bolg queen and the foster-mother of Lugh. She instituted agriculture and died clearing the land that would become Co. Meath. Lugh instituted funerary games at Teltown, held on Lughnasadh, to honour both her and her accomplishments.

 

Talamh (Earth): One of the dúile, earth is the flesh of the world, and our flesh is made from it. In one's character earth is associated with generosity, practicality, sensibility, steadfastness, and often nurturing traits, but also potentially with slothfulness, heaviness and languidity.

 

Transcendent: Theological term.  That which is beyond the limits of all possible existence and knowledge, surpassing the universe or created being. The Divine as uncreated Source of all. In a Celtic pagan context Danu may be seen as a Transcendent deity, while in the Christian trinity, the Father in heaven  represents the Transcendent. See also Immanent, Local, and Locative.

 

Tuatha De Danann: 'Tribe of the Goddess Danu'.  The tribe of the gods, which can be very loosely equated to the Norse Aesir, Greek Olympians, or Hindu Devas. They trace their lineage to the goddess Danu, 'the Flowing One', and most represent light, law, creative or generative force, and culture in harmony with the elements. There are both nature gods and culture gods in their numbers. However, just as not all Fomoir are 'bad', not all of the Tuatha De are well disposed to humanity.

 

Uaine (Plant Life): One of the dúile, plant life grows from the earth as hair grows from the flesh, and our own hair is made from it. In one's character this dúile is associated with practical creativity, beauty, and nurturance, but also potentially with 'martyr-like' behaviour, and a tendency to alternating periods of sociability and withdrawal.