A Note On Celtic Reconstructionism


I’ve noticed so much confusion around social media lately about reconstruction, and Celtic Reconstruction in particular that I’m going to make my small part to hopefully unmuddy the waters. See Lairbhan for another effort on this for recon in general. One thing that really gets me is ‘the I like flush toilets, I need my insulin, I couldn’t really live on a sheep farm’ type statements. Yet no one has ever said that being a Celtic reconstructionist means living in an Iron Age reenactment (even if that were possible). Can we please stop saying these things? Reconstruction is not reenactment of a past age.


Then we get the stereotype that has been going for at least a couple of decades. Recons don’t practice spirituality, they “only” read books. From the very early days we had people like Erynn Rowan Laurie saying we are based on archaeology and aisling (vision/dream). That was always at the foundation. A few years ago this got refined to Aisling, ársaíocht, agus agallamh, with arsaiocht meaning lore, or basically antiquarianism and agallamh being colloquy, the discussion. https://finnchuillsmast.wordpress.com/2011/04/03/revisiting-the-r-word-toward-an-experimental-reconstructionism/


So a triad, and what could be more Celtic? Sure this does create tension, and balance, but this is a good thing. The lore and the vision should be in dialog. Nothing is just passively accepted (which seems to be what a lot of neopagans want.) Then there’s that ridiculous stereotype that CRs are ‘mean’, but some of this is from people having to repeatedly challenge the same nonsense from those who have suckled on some fantasy of Celticity, like that Wicca is Celtic.


Vision can’t but help but be a crucial element of the redevelopment of Celtic polytheisms, the filid and seers played a central role in traditional Celtic societies. They also received substantial educations and they had plenty of debate.


Unfortunately, in my opinion, a lot of people come in from a rather New Age-y context where people just make statements and debate is actually frowned upon, considered ‘negative’.


And that is part of the process where some CRs have downplayed aisling.


Another part of this, though, is that study is a form of piety too (of which I will write more of later).


Another common misunderstanding goes back to the Iron Age thing (our detractors seem to love that phrase). A lot of us, certainly myself while trying my best to learn how religion operated at that time before the coming of Christianity, see that plenty of the spirituality did survive, even if in a circumscribed way. Offerings to the Good People hardly stopped and plenty of the values of old Ireland continued on down the generations. The folk practices of the nineteenth century are a great treasurehouse for my own practices, even if they were interwoven with Christian threads, they reflect a profound connection to land, sea and sky that far predated the coming of the Church. The Carmina Gadelica is a key resource for such; I suggest checking out Morgan Daimler’s paganized versions in By Land, Sea and Sky: www.amazon.com/Land-Sea-Sky-Morgan-Daimler-ebook/dp/B00N5TWKYW/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1427517405&sr=1-7&keywords=Morgan+Daimler


Finally, for Celtic reconstructionism the culture, the languages, are integral—this may not be so much true for some other reconstructionist approaches. For people who would challenge this, I ask them to remember that these are the languages that our deities manifested in and these languages open doors to understanding Them better. They also show a respect and responsibility on our part to both ancestors (of blood or heart) and the living communities.


*CR aims to recreate the old ways for our current times but our ways often challenge views of the so-called ‘overculture’.


ReWilding Poem

Here’s a rewilding poem for this vernal weekend.


I celebrate the return of the wolves

to California, the beavers to England,

The resurgence of the European bear

scouting the woods of Italy and Iberia,

The regrowth of the Caledonian forest and

The prairies of the upper Missouri,

Coyotes with sleek coats, content

In San Francisco’s parks,

Porpoises in the bay,

The millennium forests of Ireland,

The appearance of the golden lessingia,

And the rewilding of Romania.

The wild grows back

Pushing through concrete,

the floret of dandelions

In the storm drain, the crows

On the apartment ledge

With their huge messy nest.

With a little push here and there from us

It happens faster, there is no denying it.

A fire burns in our hearts,

Whether the seven-ton heart of the blue whale,

The supercharged one of the tiniest hummingbird,

Beating ten times a second,

Or the too often banked one of the human animal.

Smothering the green fire leads to the death of

Both imagination and soul.



“In Wildness is the preservation of the world.” Thoreau

Greek and Roman Animal Sacrifice, A Book Review

A Book Review

I read this book a few months ago, when there was a lot of discussion on the subject in the blogosphere, and am at last getting around to putting this review up. I think it is relevant not only to those interested in Greek and Roman practices and attitudes, but for the wider Indo-European field, including Celtic.


Greek and Roman Animal Sacrifice: Ancient Victims, Modern Observers,

edited by Christopher A. Faraone and F.S. Naiden. Cambridge: 2012.


This book focuses on Greek and Roman practices but has wider implications. In the latter part of last year ‘discussion’ flared up on the issues of animal sacrifice in pagan/polytheist contexts today. One can hear some proponents of the practice stating that it is “central” to their particular tradition. In fact it’s widely thought as of being the case among the two cultures of the title. The editors begin the book with an interesting statement, “In recent scholarship, animal sacrifice ranks as the central ritual act of the Greeks and Romans, yet this was not always so.” They go on to show how it was Walter Burkert and J. P. Vernant. (with Marcel Detienne) that gave it this central placement, and that their views became the norm. The French and German schools of interpretation were distinct but both agreed that animal sacrifice was a distinct practice and served social functions of political solidarity.


In recent years, many scholars have challenged Burkert’s and Vernant’s views, questioning its centrality. The Greeks lacked a word specific to animal sacrifice. The usual term thuein/thusia means to make smoke. The basic Roman words were sacrificare, meaning “any act by which something was put into the possession of a god.” 4 Also immolare, which meant to sprinkle meal. The central act of Roman worship, the authors say, was the burning of incense. Those who were suspected of refusing worship of the emperor were required to make an offering of incense and wine. The Christians like certain NeoPlatonics (see Porphyry, for example) were against the sacrifice of animals. I came away from this reading thinking it may have been the Christians who made it a separate category with heated disapproval (they believed Christ’s sacrifice was the only sacrifice), and then leading pagans to defend it, creating a conceptual category that had not previously been there.


Bruce Lincoln gives a history of modern western thoughts and theories on sacrifice from the late 19th century to the present. Fritz Graf discusses the abandonment of ‘great theories’ a generation after Burkert’s and Vernant’s works. John Scheid writes all acts of eating and drinking were shared with the gods, whether plant material, meat, wine.…” Certain vegetable offerings, like the pure wine and the incense, were themselves a representation of the gods, and were in a certain sense even more important than animal sacrifice, because by offering them the Romans made the gods present, and opened a space for ritual communication with them.”

F.S. Naiden problematizes the idea that the Greek animal sacrifice was a widely shared communal meal by marshaling a vast amount of archaeological evidence from recent years based on faunal remains, size of ancient animals, which were much smaller than contemporary ones, and other osteiological evidence. He concludes that with certain exceptions there just wouldn’t have been a enough meat for it to have been shared by a whole community.



Jas Elsner writes complexly on the evidence of Roman art and warns of the tendency to take it as realistic representation. Something striking though is in a change from 200CE, one of mostly depicting vegetal sacrifice and libations, although this is the period of the mounting Christian attacks on the bloodiness of Roman rites. The historical evidence does suggest a lessening of the animal sacrifice during the later Empire and he notes one religion of the time, Judaism had turned away from it after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70CE. I found his last sentence eye-opening: “The bigger ‘theological’ argument, however, that we as a scholarly community have systematically overrated the significance of animal sacrifice within the general ritual complex of ancient religions and specifically within Roman religions, by contrast with other elements within the sacred system (such as libation). In doing so we have effectively not only followed but swallowed hook, line, and sinker the suggestions made by our polemical Christian sources in their brilliant rhetorical rant against the religious world that preceded them” (my emphasis).


Richard Neer, an art historian reminds readers that what was often sacrificed were treasures, objects made by humans, and that some of the most famous temples of all including the Parthenon and the Hephaestium in central Athens show no signs of a much looked for altar for animal sacrifice, the buildings themselves being expensive offerings. I note that archaeological evidence from the Celtic world shows a similar propensity for the sacrifice of beautifully wrought human-made objects.


James Redfield writes on sacrifice in comedy and Albert Henrichs on the situation in tragedy, where sacrifice gone awry, especially human sacrifice like that of Iphigenia, what he calls sacrificial perversion becomes a common theme. Henrichs also reminds us that while English has the one term sacrifice, ancient Greek had half a dozen. Sacrificial perversion includes sacrificing animals for the wrong reasons to the substitution of a human victim. Animal sacrifice is central to Greek tragedy, and Burkert focused on the evidence of tragedy for his theories of the sacrificial in general. According to Henrichs, Burkert in some of his publications make “the intriguing equivalence of animal and man…that casts the shadow of human sacrifice over al those holy altars in front of the temples.” Henrichs counters “Nothing could be further from the truth…human victims and animal victims are treated the same as far as the sacrificial language and the ritual process are concerned, but from an ethical point of view, they are worlds apart, as the tragedians make crystal clear”.


In the conclusion Clifford Amdo writes “When the Arval Brethren adapted earlier ritual forms to find a place for divinized emperors within pre-existing conceptions of the world, various forms of cognitive and communicative work were performed, and new forms of social differentiation and corresponding patterns of deportment were granted the dignity of legitimation in light of such antiquity and authority that orthopraxis treasured and could bestow.” A bit dense, but carries an important insight for those of doing reconstruction, I think. Overall the books dislodges blood sacrifice from centrality, and on the other hand does not deny its importance; the reality was complex, differentiated, nuanced in time and place, and the evidence we have always comes through interpretative and partial lens. I recommend this work for any polytheist who really wants to know what scholarship currently has to say about this topic. It clearly shows that there is no one way for this practice.






Ovid viewed Liber Pater  as the same as Bacchus (as did many Romans) and honored him as a god of poets. This is his festival day. Ovid was exiled on the remote Scythian coast on the Black Sea (Olbis, now in Romania) by Augustus.


On Liberalia


Let the poets congregate, if only in spirit,

And praise the gods, the ecstatic one of ivy

And vine, Etrucasn Fufluns, Liber

Liberal father of this day and your consort, Libera,

And Ariadne too, raised to the heavens.

Let us lift our glasses in toast

To the endless metamorphoses,

The masquerades of gender,

And the display of the calyx and stamen,

The colors held by the vase,

The offerings of honey cakes, sweetening

The sound of waves on exile’s shores.

Such a day it is with the wine flowing

In generosity lifted beyond sorrow

In Ovid’s calendar and so

I offer these words.


OvidBanished From Rome, 1838, J.M. Turner. J. M. W. Turner - The Athenaeum (http://www.the-athenaeum.org/art/detail.php?ID=21466)
Ovid Banished From Rome, 1838, J.M. Turner.
J. M. W. Turner. ( The Athenaeum (http://www.the-athenaeum.org/art/detail.php?ID=21466)).

Serra, Genocide, And A Letter For the Pope

Juniperro Serra, founder of the California mission system, spearhead of the Spanish conquest of California, established missions where native people were worked dawn to dusk to their death on 1400 calories a day and stated the Indians “should be put to the knife”. He administered daily floggings and was a vicious person. Yet, the Vatican wants to make him a saint. Here in San Francisco the local Ohlone people were lured into Mission Dolores, but once inside there was no exiting except via death. Men and women were kept locked in their own dormitories, husbands and wives separated. Yes, however charming the architecture, they were death camps. A little known fact is that the pavement between the back of the Mission and the Archdiocese offices covers a mass Ohlone burial. At least 60,000 California Natives perished in the Missions.



According to Elias Castillo, whose book A Cross of Thorns I want to read,


“The Spanish missions of California have long been misrepresented as places of benign and peaceful coexistence between Franciscan friars and California Indians …In fact, the mission friars enslaved the California Indians and treated them with deliberate cruelty, in my book I describe the dark and violent reality of Mission life, beginning in 1769, when most of the California Indians were enticed into the missions, where they and their descendents were imprisoned for 60 years of forced labor and daily beatings.”


An account of Mission Carmel by a French ship captain Jean-François de Galaup, le Comte de la Pérouse, upon his visit to Mission Carmel in 1786 described conditions like those of the worst slave operated sugar plantations that he had seen in the Caribbean. Yet public school children of my generation were taught that the Missions were idyllic places where the Indians were civilized and brought to the gentle care of Jesus. We were also taught they were extinct.


Despite these unpleasant facts the Vatican wants to make a saint out of Serra.

Please read the very informative and moving letter Valentin Lopez, the Chairman of the Amah Mutsun band of Ohlones has written to the current Pope. Heathen Chinese has the entire letter here: https://heathenchinese.wordpress.com/2015/03/04/amah-mutsuns-open-letter-to-pope-francis/