Another “Celtic” Illusion Shattered

This may come as a shock to some, but the Asterix the Gaul comics do not present an accurate view of the ancient Gaulish people, according to a new museum exhibit in Paris.

No dolmen-moving, etc.

Next thing, they will be telling us that Vikings did not wear horned helmets like Hägar the Horrible.

Shocking.

Gallimaufry in Traffic

¶ So M. and I are in traffic behind a Cadillac SRX with the vanity license plate “S-N-M” and a custom-painted “Sanguine Addiction” above the license-plate holder. That’s a Colorado metal band, but the driver did not look like any of the musicians. Here is what we were arguing about: Did the big wholesome Denver Broncos logo in the vehicle’s rear window add or detract from the overall effect?

¶ The Colorado Springs Gazette ran an autumn equinox story on the alleged Ogham writing in Crack Cave and other SE Colorado sites. For videos of this and other sites, see Scott Monahan’s video page. (Yep, that’s me in one with Martin Brennan.) Am I a “believer”? Not exactly. I remain perplexed — and perplexed at how Colorado Pagans ignore these sites too.

¶ Anne Hill, on my blogroll at Blog O’Gnosis, is now also blogging about dreams at the Huffington Post.

The Invention of Scotland…

… or why the kilt was invented for the benefit of factory workers.

Ronald Hutton told some of this story in Witches, Druids And King Arthur, but here is a review of a new book on the invention of Scottish-ness, the late Hugh Trevor-Roper’s The Invention of Scotland: Myth and History

Knee Deep in the Bloody Ford of History

Sometime around age 15 I took home Vol. 49 of the Harvard Classics from the Fort Collins (Colo.) public library and read for the first time Beowulf and The Destruction of Dá Derga’s Hostel. (The Ring saga is in there too, but I had already encountered it.)

Beowulf
is an understandable story, while The Destruction at least introduced me to the concept of geis, which is actually fairly troublesome when you are that age and trying to figure out where the walls are.

Not until my undergraduate years did I discover The Gododdin, which is totally different from the above. Like petals on a blood-soaked daisy, it is a series of short elegies for warriors who fought and died (more or less to the last man) at the battle of Catterick, c. 570 CE in what is now Yorkshire. (Poetic samples are at the link above.)

There is no narrative; it is as though you had short poems about Paul Revere, Molly Pitcher, George Washington, Daniel Morgan, Benedict Arnold, Baron Von Steuben, John Paul Jones, etc., without needing to tell the reader about the American Revolution.

Many critics as well as authors of fiction based on the poem tend to create dichotomies about it such as these:

  • It’s the Romano-Celtic (mostly Christian) British versus the (Pagan) Anglo-Saxons, with the Celts carrying faded remnants of Imperial Britannia and the Saxons representing ignorance and barbarism.
  • It represents a nonlinear “Celtic” way of thinking versus the linearity of, say, Beowulf.
  • It is typical of how glorifying “beautiful losers” is part of the Celtic soul or something.
  • It demonstrates the tactical deficiency of mounted fighters without stirrups against the Anglo-Saxon “shield wall.” (But cf. Battle of Hastings.)

Recently I picked up John Koch’s The Gododdin of Aneirin: Text and Context from Dark-Age North Britain (University of Wales Press, 1997).

I have no background in the Welsh language, so I cannot really follow his discussions of changes in phonetics and orthography over many centuries, nor the 24 types of medieval Welsh poetic meter, for example.

But I do appreciate the point he made about 6th century versus medieval nationalism. In the 6th or 7th centuries, there was none. What is now England and Scotland contained many little kingdoms — and yes, some were ruled by Old Welsh-speakers and some by Old English-speakers, but they did not line up neatly on ethnic lines.

He argues that there were other Celto-British forces, allied with the Saxons, on the winning side at Catterick, and that another Old Welsh poem represents their heroic versifying about their victory. So much for beautiful losers.

Later, by the Middle Ages (13th century), when the line between England and Wales was drawn on the map and a greater sense of separation existed, The Gododdin was cast as Celts versus Saxons and used to reinforce that sense of separation.

Once again, the lesson is to be careful about projecting our categories backwards on the past, especially on the distant and mostly unrecorded past.

A Day for Desk Work

It is a damp, grey day here on Hardscrabble Creek, with the temperature struggling to climb out of the 40s F. It’s a good day to be indoors editing Pomegranate articles. Were the weather warm and sunny, I would want to be doing chores outdoors–all the little jobs that built up over the winter.

Meanwhile, some links:

&para: Articles on Pagan infiltration of Quaker meetings and other creeping Paganism from Christianty Today and Modern Reformation. Via Cat Chapin-Bishop, who is quoted in the former, being one of the infiltrators.

¶ Beyond mere steampunk: Building a Victorian computer. Via Mirabilis.

¶ Bablestone posts on the difficulties of deciphering Ogham inscriptions. What looked like a description of a battle might in fact be a simple grave marker.

DNA, the Celts, and Roman Britain

I have started reading Stephen Oppenheimer’s The Origins of the British, which I referenced earlier in my series of “Who’s a Celt Now?” posts.

From a genetic analysis — his main tool — buttressed by linguistic studies and ancient written sources, he appears to be making these points:

  • The people of Ireland, Wales, western Scotland, western England, and the Atlantic coast of France came north from Iberia and southwestern France after the ice melted. These people spoke Celtic languages.
  • Conversely, they did not come from central Europe and are not connected to the so-called Hallstatt and La Tene cultures.
  • After the ice melted, eastern England did receive settlers from the Continent–but remember that back then, people could walk from what is now France to England, until the sea levels rose.
  • During the 400 years of Roman colonization, many (or most) inhabitants of the province of Britannia were probably speaking a Germanic language (related to Dutch or Frisian), not a Celtic language. If true, that is the biggest revelation for me.
  • The subsequent Anglo-Saxon invasion was not a genocidal “wipe-out,” but was more like the Norman Conquest of 1066. One ruling class replaced another, but life for Jane and Joe Commoner went on as before.

I will post again after finishing the book.

Gallimaufry with Big Rocks

¶ My copy of Fire Child: The Life & Magic of Maxine Sanders, ‘Witch Queen’ arrived, and I will post a full review soon. Short version: Better than I expected.

When the Goddess Ruled the Earth is a new quasi-documentary film on hypothesized Neolithic religion. The trailers are all shots of ancient megaliths with a “voice of God” (sorry) commentary. Looks like orthodox Gimbutas-ism.

My point is that you cannot necessarily tell by looking at a structure the religious views of its builders. You might be able to make an educated guess by analogy with known cultures, but without extensive, obvious archaeological evidence — and better still, written evidence — you cannot say. Is the “Venus of Willendorf” a religious artifact or a Paleolithic Barbie doll? Will we ever know?

¶ Fiacharrey, “the Bayou Druid,” is making YouTube videos on Celtic Reconstructionism. Here is one.

The Wind that Shakes the Pine Trees

It’s a sunny day with a brisk wind blowing. Pine needles are in the air. M. and I both slept in a little last night after returning at midnight from one of the Spanish Peaks International Celtic Music Festival concerts.

We went to one last year too, to hear Kim Robertson’s harp and to watch Jerry O’Sullivan fight the uilleann pipes and win.

It’s truly a little odd to hear stars of the Celtic music scene play in the old coal-mining town of Walsenburg, which is definitely in the non-fashionable part of Colorado, for all that they are trying to promote it now as “gateway to the Southwest.”

Last night the harpist was Lynn Saoirse, while Seamus Connolly played fiddle and emceed. Add cellist Abby Newton, her fiddler daughter Rosie, Connolly’s Maine neighbor Kevin McElroy, John Mullen, and the duo of Kim McKee and Ken Willson, who have moved to the area and whom my Celtic music-loving colleague wants to bring to campus.

Now: house-cleaning, cabin-cleaning, desk-cleaning, and somewhere I there I have to read essays from my creative-nonfiction class.

Gallimaufry

Time to dump some hot links in the stew pot:

¶ Crikey! Ambulance Driver has done it again! The man’s a bloody bloggin’ gawd.

¶ I have always been fascinated by Ozti the iceman, whose body was found on an alpine pass between Austria and Italy. I think it was Konrad Spindler, an Austrian anthropologist, who suggested that Otzi was fleeing some kind of inter-clan or inter-village or inter-personal conflict when he died. That Otzi bled to death from wounds suggests that Spindler was right. This book probably applies“.

¶ So you are interested in Celtic Studies? Here is your starter kit. Or maybe you just want this .

¶ Everybody wants to belong somewhere!.

¶ Having recently visited the Mendocino coast, M. and I are now watching movies filmed there. Last night it was The Russians are Coming the Russians are Coming!, a classic Cold War comedy with Carl Reiner (not one of my favorites), a young Alan Arkin, and Eva Marie Saint as a typical early-1960s perky female lead.

Its message is the eternal comic one since Plautus’ day: “The grown-ups are silly, but love will conquer all.” Arkin and Theodore Bikel, as the commanders of a Russian submarine, gesticulate and scream at each other like comic-opera Italians, nothing like the careful professionals aboard the Red October.

Next, Johnny Belinda with Jane Wyman. Just think, in a parallel universe she was our First Lady during the 1980s.