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Why Wicca Is Not Celtic v.3.2
by Iain Mac an tSaoir and Dawn O'Laoghaire
The following is by no means an indictment of the religion called Wicca. Wicca is indeed a valid and powerful path for those who truthfully walk it and understand it. However, there is a body of people who believe that Wicca is the descendant of the religious ways of the Gaelic or other Celtic peoples (or 'Celts' as a general nomenclature). This simply is not the case.
The following is a brief comparison of the Wiccan religion and Celtic religion. The purpose of this exercise is to dispel the notion that Wicca is Celtic, or derived from Celtic religion. It is by no means to be taken as an in depth survey of either religion. There are a great many questions that could be answered for people if they would visit with the elderly people in the rural areas of the Old Countries, or at least read books written by solid academians instead of profit oriented, new age writers. We will place at the end of this article the sources that can be used to substantiate what is said herein. I encourage you to investigate each source given, to check the veracity of the statement for yourselves.
When we talk about Celtic religion, we must define what we are talking about. Precisely put, we are talking about religious beliefs, practices and worldviews that existed in Gaelic and other Celtic cultures, as these developed as natural manifestations within the cultures. While this would include Celtic Christianity, for this article we are addressing Classical (pagan) Celtic theology. The pagan methodology and understandings of Gaelic spirituality survived the coming of Christianity and have continued to this day within the ways of people who are by and large nominally Christian. This is however, where Gaelic Traditionalists, both pagan and Christian, look when establishing their beliefs and methodologies.
An example of what existed in Classical times, when compared with what began afterward, is the use of the Maypole. Prior to importation by Germanic invaders, the Maypole was not in use in Gaelic lands. The High Days, which were fire festivals, saw people gather at the local river to make votive (in an anthropological sense) offerings, as well as light bonfires on the hilltops. It wasn't until the coming of the Saxon that the Maypole came to Gaelic lands, and even then the use of the Maypole stayed in the areas where there was a Germanic population, and was not adopted by the indigenous Gaels.
The spirituality of the various Celtic peoples has not changed. The Gaelic peoples still recognize that there are spirits of the Sky, the Sea and the Land (X). It is only in their official methodologies concerning the Upper Realm that concepts and methodologies have changed. The Three of Power can still be found in prayers and incantations such as recorded by Alexander Carmichael at the early part of the 20th century. Yet there are a great many who claim that things that have never been a part of the Celtic paradigm are Celtic. Wicca seems to be a religion that is particularly prone to this. The people who make the statement that Wicca is Celtic are usually of two sorts. These are the new people who either for their own reasons truly believe this to be the case, or they have fallen prey to some unscrupulous teacher who uses the allure of things "Celtic" to draw in new students or ensure profits. In both cases the problem is exacerbated by the fact that solid information is not easily accessible to the general public. The people who fall for the antics of the unscrupulous teacher usually do not have access to the information it takes to refute the falsehood. All religions have these types, and the fact that these will also exist within Wicca should not serve as a reason to condemn that path.
People who, with utter conviction, state that Wicca is a Celtic path usually have derived this idea by one of two common arguments (taking for granted that they haven't been misinformed). The first is conveyed by the person stating something to the effect of, "... _____ (usually Gardner is named) drew upon Celtic lore when putting it together... ." The second statement used is, "...it just *is* Celtic, it's always been Celtic, it's always been in places like Ireland and Scotland." Both of these arguments are easily disproved. The following shall go toward that end.
Traditional Celtic religions, as is the case with all religions, are cultural manifestations. In tribal cultures the people's spirituality is part of their identity and worldview. Gaelic Traditionalism, for example, holds within the Gaelic culture. This just as a Traditionalist Lakota would remain faithful to their culture.
In the Gaelic experience, though regional variants of the name would exist, the Mother of the Gods is Danu, and her mate is Bile. From that union came Dagda and Bride, who themselves are described in some articles of lore as mates. From texts and folklore we see that the Gods were born of that union. The Gods are the First Ancestors of the people, and are individuals. Scholars have noted that when Celtic culture entered an area, the Celtic gods of the Upper Realm went in with them. These then intermarried with the local goddesses of the land (the goddesses of sovereignty). Extant geneaological texts chart how the ancient Gael believed that they originated with those unions. Hence, the very Gods of the people are their First Ancestors.
The various ideas surrounding the ancestors manifest in a host of customs, such as the Feast of the Dead. Also, such concepts as that of the dead reincarnating through blood lines, in conjunction with the customs of the Gaelic peoples, provide a sense of continuity and identity that cannot be missed.
Just as Traditionalists hold steadfastly to their own culture, Wicca tends to draw from various cultures and ideologies. What allows the practitioners of Wicca to put elements from various religions together is the modernist ideology that has at its root the Jungian concept of archetypes. Wiccans tend to work heavily in the idea of archetypes -- "All goddesses are the face of the Goddess". They focus on the traits which various deities share, much the same way a Jungian would focus on the shared traits of heroes in a Jungian analysis. Wiccans also speak heavily on the subject of masculine and feminine dualities (anima and animus), which are central to Jungian theories of personality. Some Wiccans focus on claiming the shadow side, or "dark" side of individuals, which is a straight lift from Jungian theory.
The concepts that are traditionally part of Celtic religions reject this type of analysis and state that the Gods are individuals. Furthermore, as stated, traditional Celtic beliefs hold that the Gods are tied to the people by familial links. As an example, a Gaelic Traditionalist might agree that your mom and their mom (or your tribe's Mother Goddess and their tribe's Mother Goddess) share some traits by virtue of both people being moms. However, it is a mistake to say that just because both people are moms, that they are interchangeable. To the perspective of a Gael, the basic fallacy of extending Jungian analysis too far is this - your mom isn't their mom, no matter how mom-like both people are. Needless to say, one can't hold an archetype relationship to either the God or the Goddess and a direct and intimate personal relationship to your people's gods at the same time. The two ideas contradict each other.
Another of the signs telling of the Jungian foundation in Wicca is the propensity to constantly 'borrow' concepts, icons and sacred relics from other cultures and their religions. This causes a great deal of friction to exist between people of other cultures and Wiccans. This friction manifests itself in such passive things as traditional peoples separating themselves and establishing communities aside from the general pagan one. It also manifests in such things as the literal Lakota Declaration of War against those who "steal" (words the spiritual leaders of that People used) that culture's spirituality. The unanimous opinion of the people in the various traditional forms of spirituality is that Wicca and Wiccans spend too much time "borrowing" everything under the sun and throwing it all together. Yet, to be fair, from Wicca's archetypal-based viewpoint, that's both okay and logical.
From a traditional Gaelic viewpoint, and traditionalists of other cultures say the same things, these practices dishonor the ancestors, distort the fundamental truth ("your mom ain't my mom"), and interfere with the duty that traditional people generally feel to preserve and restore traditional cultures. This is because, to them, Wicca creates a distraction that sidetracks people looking for the traditional ways, as well as sucks up the time, interest and energy of people who might otherwise be helping to find ways to preserve their culture. Wiccans also often present themselves as the "true" Celtic religion, thus preventing some people from ever finding their way back to the path of the ancestors, which would, in the view of a traditional person, honor the gods properly (meaning, as individuals and as the 'First Ancestors'). What most traditionalists find deplorable is that many Wiccans embrace the misinformation regardless of fact and refuse to deal with conflicting ideas or views when faced with facts.
Having established the Jungian foundation that allows for misinformation to remain unchecked in the Wiccan community, let's start dispelling some of the fallacious notions that exist. The first notion to be addressed is, 'Wicca is what the Celts of old practiced.' Toward dispelling this idea, let's state some things that are fairly well established as fact because of the preponderance of evidence.
The first is that modern neo-paganism is highly impacted by, and reflective of, Gardnerian Wicca and its derivatives. The second is that, when Gardner was putting his creation together he drew upon Eastern philosophies, Egyptian ideologies and Judaic ceremonialism, in addition to Celtic lore.
This easily becomes confusing, but when something is made up of components, the whole mechanism is not solely of any one of those components. To state such denotes a severely faulty argument. Let me demonstrate this. For a great many years American Motors Corporation (AMC) put out a whole line of automobiles. These automobiles very often had Chrysler engines, Ford transmissions, Chrysler brakes, Ford seats and, I believe in one instance, even General Motors instrumentation. All of those components, motors, transmissions, seats, etc, were fixed into a body made by AMC. Yet the complete car wasn't a Ford because it had a Ford engine, nor was it a Chrysler because it had their transmission. It was an AMC, a creature all its own. The same is true about Wicca. It has a Hindu engine, an Egyptian torque converter and a Celtic transmission. These things were set in a ceremonial body that, while reflective of the bodies used by the Hermetic Orders, is Wiccan alone. It is a creature unto itself.
Concerning the second argument they use, I direct your attention at two areas. These two areas will suffice nicely in dispelling the false notion that Wicca just *IS* Celtic. The first area is the theology of the two systems.