This book, which appears for the first time on the Internet at sacred-texts.com, is one of the best scholarly treatments of the ancient Celtic religion. Written early in the 20th Century, Religion of the Ancient Celts includes extensive treatment of that perennially fascinating subject, the Druids.
There is very little documentary evidence to go on. In particular, we have no actual sacred texts of the ancient Celts, as their texts were transmitted orally only to initiates, and disappeared forever when the last Druid died. Christianity became the dominant religion in the Celtic area before the oral traditions could become written down, unlike the Vedas in India. Ancient Celtic religious beliefs must therefore be inferred from second-hand classical accounts, hints from Celtic mythology, legend and folklore, as well as archaeological and comparative anthropological evidence. MacCulloch marshals this body of evidence, extensively footnoted, so that an authoritative and clear view of ancient Celtic religion emerges.
MacCullough details the Celtic belief in reincarnation and a spectral otherworld; documents the enormous pantheon of now-obscure gods and goddesses, including many local deities; and describes totemistic and animistic beliefs. In addition, MacCulloch does not flinch (nor sensationalize) when describing the darker side of Celtic practices, including the famous ‘Burning Man’ human sacrifices, cannibalism and exogamous incest.
With so much spurious, flawed and poorly cited information floating around on the Internet about Celtic beliefs, it is important to review what is actually known about this subject. Hopefully putting this book online will provide some balance.
Ogham Translator, Transliterator, Transcriber — what’s the difference?
Ogham is not a language, but an alphabet. Much like the English language uses the Latin alphabet, the ancient Irish spoke Primitive Irish and used the Ogham alphabet.
A translator translates from one language to another, whereas a transliterator or transcriber converts letters from one alphabet to the corresponding letters of another alphabet.
This tool simply converts Latin characters (eg. ABC) to Ogham symbols (eg. ᚐᚁᚉ) – this is called transliteration. This tool does not translate from English to Primitive Irish and there is no such translator in existence.
If you are looking for examples of the Primitive Irish language as used with Ogham, please see the Wiki article Ogham inscriptions.
link to almost 80 photographic examples of ogham inscribed stones
- Any wood carvings have of course long vanished: the Celtic runes are known principally from inscriptions cut on the edges of rough standing gravestones. These are found primarily in west Ireland, but they have also been found in Wales, Cornwall, western Scotland, the Isle of Man, and the Shetland Islands.
- The Irish had no other written alphabet until Christian missionaries introduced Latin (though runes may have also been used).
- Ogham ceased to be used after the first few centuries of the Christian era, as the use of inscription languages (like runes and ogham) was reviled as a pagan practice.
The Ogham script recorded the earliest Old Irish texts dating between the 3rd and the 6th century CE. Ogham inscriptions are found exclusively in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Mostly they are genealogical inscriptions in the form of “X son of Y” on corners of large stone slabs. After the 6th century CE, Old Irish was written with the Roman alphabet, and Ogham disappeared from general but the knowledge must have been preserved in some form because our knowledge of Ogham comes from the chapter Auraicept na n-Éces in the 15th-century work The Book of Ballymote (Leabhar Bhaile an Mhóta), which also contains geneologies, mythologies, and histories of Ireland.
Various opinions exist on the exact origin of ogham. Some claim that it stemmed from a cryptic way of writing runes, some say that it was inspired from the Roman alphabet, and yet others hold that it was independently invented.
The Ogham letters are divided into four groups, each containing five letters. This yields a total of 20 Ogham letters.
When inscribed on stones, Ogham is written vertically from bottom to top. The following chart lists all Ogham letters in their vertical forms, along with their Old Irish names and meanings.
Following is my interview with Conor about Ogham. After reading the interview, if you still have questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below!
Wales has the greatest number of Ogham stones of any region outside of Ireland (35 stones with definite Ogham inscriptions), but as can be seen from the map below, they are unevenly distributed, with large numbers in the south-west and the south-east, and only a handful in the north :
Ogham inscriptions in Ireland, Wales, and Scotland
HW was also a great admirer of The Story of a Red Deer by Sir John Fortescue, younger brother of the Earl Fortescue, whose family seat was nearby at Castle Hill, in the tiny hamlet of Filleigh, North Devon, on the southern edge of Exmoor. In early 1925 HW asked Walter de la Mare if he would approach Sir John on his behalf to ask if he would be willing to write an introduction to Tarka. This approach proving successful, in due course HW sent off a typescript copy of his book to Sir John.
A letter from Sir John (from Windsor Castle, where he was librarian) dated 4 May 1925 (two days before HW’s marriage to Loetitia Hibbert – thus HW probably received it on the morning of his wedding, giving him much needed confidence) states:
I return your story . . . I read it once & liked it well; twice & liked it better. I am willing to write a little introduction for you . . . but I think the book striking enough to stand without need of any such prop. You have taught me more about otters than I ever dreamed of, & of many other creatures besides otters . . .
Sir John does suggest HW avoids ‘outlandish words’ and gives a couple of examples (‘autochthonic’ being one!). Sir John was currently writing a multi-volume History of the British Army and his work as Royal Librarian was quite arduous. One letter refers to ‘editing George III’s papers, & there are tens of thousands of them’. Another has a ‘PS’ written across a corner:
I reckon that my history has brought me in ¾d a line gross. I could never make my living with my pen – you can. [Permission to quote from Sir John’s letters was given by the Fortescue Estate at the time of my HW biography.]
On return from the honeymoon trip to the battlefields HW was busy honing and refining his story. The file of business letters shows that he was also looking for the best publishing deal possible, once again taking this on himself instead of leaving it to his agent, Andrew Dakers. I have already explained the problems that arose with Collins (see The Pathway entry), his original publishers. By September 1925 HW had placed this new book with Selwyn & Blount, but then Richard de la Mare (who had been best man at his wedding) warned him that the firm was in financial difficulties, and he withdrew. The book was finally placed with Putnam (who were also publishing The Old Stag).
HW now went over all the details again, walking the river banks, visiting the various places where the major scenes were set and undertaking a great deal of revision to his tale. He noted details such as the plants growing in various places, and made diagrams of terrain to aid him with descriptions. For instance he walked up to Cranmere Pool (a remote, wild, boggy area high on Dartmoor, only reached with some difficulty) accompanied by his wife’s younger brother (Robert, but known as ‘Bin’ as if ‘Robin’: he features in the future Chronicle novels as ‘Sam’).
The Charles Tunnicliffe illustrated Tarka was published later that year with 23 full page woodcuts and 16 line drawings as ‘tail-pieces’: the illustrated The Old Stag appeared in February 1933; The Lone Swallows later that same year; and The Peregrine’s Saga in February 1934. (There were many reprints of these books, including, in 1945, a new uniform limited edition of 500 copies each.) Tunnicliffe had never before drawn falcons at close quarters. HW sent him off to a professional falconer in August 1933. The artist was totally overwhelmed by this bird, sending HW a letter headed with his first sketch of the head of a peregrine (see AW’s biography, Henry Williamson: Tarka and the Last Romantic, p. 150) which is so powerful that the bird seems alive.
The awesome Jordan Peterson. I do like listening to him.
Dr. Jordan B Peterson has been a dishwasher, gas jockey, bartender, short-order cook, beekeeper, oil derrick bit re-tipper, plywood mill labourer and railway line worker. He’s taught mythology to lawyers, doctors and businessmen, consulted for the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Sustainable Development, helped his clinical clients manage depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and schizophrenia, served as an advisor to senior partners of major Canadian law firms, identified thousands of promising entrepreneurs on six different continents, and lectured extensively in North America and Europe.
He has flown a hammer-head roll in a carbon-fiber stunt plane, piloted a mahogany racing sailboat around Alcatraz Island, explored an Arizona meteorite crater with a group of astronauts, built a Native American Long-House on the upper floor of his Toronto home, and been inducted into the coastal Pacific Kwakwaka’wakw tribe.
With his students and colleagues, Dr. Peterson has published more than a hundred scientific papers, transforming the modern understanding of personality, and revolutionized the psychology of religion with his now-classic book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. As a Harvard professor, he was nominated for the prestigious Levinson Teaching Prize, and is regarded by his current University of Toronto students as one of three truly life-changing teachers.
In 1999, Routledge published Peterson’s Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. The book, which took Peterson 13 years to complete, describes a comprehensive theory for how we construct meaning, represented by the mythical process of the exploratory hero, and provides an interpretation of religious and mythical models of reality presented in a way that is compatible with modern scientific understanding of how the brain works. It synthesizes ideas drawn from narratives in mythology, religion, literature and philosophy, as well as research from neuropsychology, in “the classic, old-fashioned tradition of social science.”
Something we cannot see protects us from something we do not understand. The thing we cannot see is culture, in its intrapsychic or internal manifestation. The thing we do not understand is the chaos that gave rise to culture. If the structure of culture is disrupted, unwittingly, chaos returns. We will do anything — anything — to defend ourselves against that return.
—Jordan B. Peterson, 1998 (Descensus ad Inferos)
On Quora, Jordan Peterson was asked this question:
“What are the most valuable things everyone should know?”
Instead of answering in a long essay, he wrote 40 maxims that I’ve presented below.
Before you read, keep in mind that these maxims are not your ordinary list of self-help tips.
They are simple. They are short. But they contain within each of them decades of study and thought.
Jordan Peterson said in his video entitled 45 minutes on a single paragraph of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good & Evil:
Both these chapters have contributed to the reputation of St. John of the Cross as a consummate spiritual master. And this not only for the objective value of his observations, but because, even in spite of himself, he betrays the sublimity of his own mystical experiences. Once more, too, we may admire the crystalline transparency of his teaching and the precision of the phrases in which he clothes it. To judge by his language alone, one might suppose at times that he is speaking of mathematical, rather than of spiritual operations.
Nowhere else does the genius of St. John of the Cross for infusing philosophy into his mystical dissertations find such an outlet as here. Nowhere else, again, is he quite so appealingly human; for, though he is human even in his loftiest and sublimest passages, this intermingling of philosophy with mystical theology makes him seem particularly so. These treatises are a wonderful illustration of the theological truth that grace, far from destroying nature, ennobles and dignifies it, and of the agreement always found between the natural and the supernatural—between the principles of sound reason and the sublimest manifestations of Divine grace.
I think that being kind, gentle, compassionate, courteous, considerate, tolerant towards others, is virtuous, ‘a good thing’.
On the other hand, what do you do if, through no fault of your own, some of those others are determined to injure you, kill those you love, drive you off your land ?
Being generous and gentle towards them is not going to work. There comes a point when either you give up, surrender all responsibility for those you should defend and for your property and heritage, or else, whether you like it or not, you are obligated to act and defend yourself.
That means becoming more fierce, deadly, ruthless, clever, than the other guy, or else they win the conflict and that’s the end of you and yours.
There’s nothing new about this dilemma, it’s been going on for thousands of years. It’s been addressed in the Bible, the ancient Chinese writings, by Buddha, by Shakespeare, all sorts of folk have had to face up to it.
You can try appeasement, like the Danegeld paid to the Viking marauders, but if you pay someone not to attack you it’s like being taxed by the Mafia, it’s never going to stop and will likely get worse.
To willingly pay taxes people have to be persuaded to consent on the grounds that it is in the interests of the common good, almost everyone benefits. That’d be things like a fire service, hospitals and ambulance services, roads, places to care for widows and orphans, that sort of thing. And police and soldiers.
It all makes sense at a certain scale. It’s obviously beneficial to pool the available funds of a community, whatever surplus there is above what folk rely upon to survive, and use those funds for things like say building a bridge across a dangerous ravine that’ll save travellers time and effort having to go many extra miles.
It’s easy to propose a convincing argument in such simple cases where the taxed community is of a certain size and they can persuaded of the general benefit. It gets tricky when it’s scaled up to hundreds of millions over vast areas governed by authorities of dubious virtue.
Even in a tiny region like Wales, with only around three million inhabitants, it’ll be difficult to persuade everyone to contribute some of their income towards the common good, and so some kind of threat is required to get people to pay taxes.
In the United Kingdom we’ve had at least a thousand years, you could argue far longer, to sort these kinds of dilemmas out and find optimal solutions. That’s why we have police and health and welfare services. So that we don’t have to step over rotting corpses in the streets, and women and children can – mostly – walk around without being robbed, raped, or abducted. There are plenty of parts of the world where the people, for a variety of reasons, are unable to organise this luxury.
I once met a market trader, in England, who took pride in the fact that he paid his taxes several years in advance, without any legal requirement to do so. He liked to see himself as someone who contributed more than most toward the general prosperity of all. He was a Tory voter.