Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Historical themes - British-Celtic Orthodoxy


The religion of the Celts

Debunking the neo-Pagan claims that the ancient Celts were only pagans and not Christians.

Bible cover with the 4 Evangelists and cover of Saint John's Gospel
Book of Kells  (created by Celtic monks ca. 800 A.D.)

A person once sternly reminded online that that the word "Celt" should always be pronounced with a "hard c". I don't know how s/he could tell how I pronounced it, considering s/he was reading something I posted. I was certainly thinking "hard c" when I typed it, if that counts! But please rest assured I DO pronounce "Celt" with a hard c, so for those of you who can't wait to write me as a soft c pronouncer, that's one thing you won't have to worry about.

When people think of "Celt" they may think of a Boston basketball team, but that's not what this page is about. The Celts are one of the "almost" indigenous peoples of Europe (the Basques are apparently the natives). Celt is actually an umbrella term for several hundred tribes, with multiple languages and different mythologies that varied from one group to another. Historically, Celtic lands ranged from Ireland, Great Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and other places in Europe.

Most Neopagans see all ideas about what Celts do and donít believe as entirely subjective, since they think the Celts have "vanished". So if someone says Wicca has nil to do with ancient Celtic religions, Wiccans would say you were wrong, because no one knows what the Celts believed,  and therefore they are correct in saying the Celts actually practiced Wicca since there is no proof otherwise.

Depsite what many (not all but many) if not most Neopagans/Wiccans/Neodruids think, there are still Celtic people around, and we do know quite a bit about what the ancient Celtic Pagans believed! Besides, the idea that "something is true just because you canít prove it's not true" isn't logical. It's like saying "The ruins of Atlantis lie under the Statue of Liberty", and thinking everyone must accept this idea as true since it can't be proven or disproved.

Many of the largest cities in the U.S. and Canada have huge Celtic communities (particularly Irish, Scotch and Welsh). It's estimated there are 2-3 times more people of "pure Irish decent" in The U.S. than in Ireland itself! The Celts also includes, the Cornish, the Scotch, the Saxons, the Welsh and the Angles, among others.

Wiccan authors are no doubt the biggest inventors of pseudo-Celtic history. Gavin and Yvonne Frost for instance claim in their book "A Witchís Guide To Life" that the Celts were people who came from the Steppes of China into Northern Europe in 2000 B.C. and supposedly conquered and civilized as they came. They were in turn conquered by other invaders. The Celts fled to Glastonbury, and finally were conquered by the Belgae (ancestors of Belgians) in 52 B.C. Historians are puzzled as to why the Frosts chose 52 B.C., apparently they drew it out of thin air, since no explanation is given. What the Frosts donít realize, is that the people who conquered the Celts they describe, were just another set of Celts! The Belgae who conquered them were also Celts.

Perplexed by the Frosts' claim, author Peter Bedford Ellis states, ďAn explanation shows their scholarship deeply rooted in 16th and 17th century balderdash with a mind blowing reinterpretation of history...Ē {The Druids pg 277} What he politely calls ďa mind blowing reinterpretation of historyĒ might be better described as "history revision"!

With the invention of Wicca, a mountain of materials arose out of thin air about Celtic culture...much of it not very authentic. One freelance writer wrote a magazine article a few years back about how he attended a seminar on what he thought was going to be about Celtic religion, only to find it was about crop circles (which even back then had been debunked as a hoax). There are Celtic dream cards, Celtic Tarot decks, Celtic crystal wands, and other such rubbish...none of which are Celtic. Much of this comes from "filling in the blanks" mentality of Wiccans/Neopagans/Neodruids/various occultists, that quickly snowballs out of control. There are also of course, people who simply lie about Celtic history to get money, like the televangelist Rev. Ike selling "miracle good luck coins" to uneducated poor people. Someone greedy for instance, can create a "Celtic healing workshop" and charge $120 a head, teaching an amalgam of occult beliefs that are no more Celtic than the corned beef and cabbage meal of St. Patrick's day in America is.

To add to this problem,  there was a romanticizing of Celtic mythology in the 19th century (and in centuries prior, as well), and many Neopagans are only too happy to accept fraud as fact, even when Professor Ronald Hutton (among others), himself a Wiccan, has now debunked it. Any fairy tale, odd custom, even if minutes old, or simply an idea that sounds good with no proof to back it up, becomes evidence of "survival of Celtic Pagan culture/religion".

It is not, however, impossible to separate fact from...witch-ful thinking. The Celtic people are still around, and they are usually quick to tell people that Wicca (or Wicce, Witta, whatever you want to label it) and its Neopagan clones are NOT an ancient Celtic religion! Neither are the various fanciful Druid groups practicing actual Druidism, etc.

There's a mountain of blarney out there to back up claims of witch-ful thinkers. In trying to sort out fact from fiction, it can be difficult to refute the claims of Neopagans/Wiccans/Neodruids promoting their non-Celtic faith (oops, forgot, you guys don't promote your faith, because that would be proselytizing <snicker>).

But it's still relatively easy to prove some things are nonsense, for example, the claim that there was an ancient "Irish Potato Goddess", as some Neopagans do. The potato comes from South America and wasn't introduced to Europe until the 16th century. Hence, it is easy to refute the potato goddess, but the massive bulk of faux documentation, combined with the automatic distrust by Neopagans of anyone  criticizing the authenticity of their "ancient" beliefs and "traditions" (and thus branding them a "lying Christian" in the process), make it very hard to have a rational dialogue. Add to this fact that Neopagans and occultists of all varieties enjoy the sport of trying to prove they know more than their fellow travelers, in a kind of esoteric one-upmanship...just visit a few Neopagan/occult NG's and BB's to see this in action. Emotions are the hardest obstacle to overcome. 

Wicca was created by Crowley disciple Gerald Gardner in 1950, and there's actually not much Celtic about it. There are some Celtic words borrowed to describe things like Holidays, but the eight holidays celebrated by Wiccans and Neopagans called the "wheel of the year", weren't celebrated by the Celts (see the Holidaze webage). Furthermore, names like "Samhain" and "Lughmas" weren't adopted until later. Those two holidays for instance were called  "November Eve" &"August Eve" at first. The 8 holidays are actually lifted in their present form from the O.T.O., the Crowley sex magic cult to which Gardner belonged.

Elements of Pseudo-Celtic religion are invented by taking things out of European Ceremonial magic, which arose out of the Middle Ages and was derived from many different things such as Gnosticism and the Cabala. The four elements of Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water are said to be Celtic by some writers, but aren't. The idea that the Celts believed in a god and goddess is also erroneous...their primary deities were males in sets of threes. The primary Celtic deities were a threesome of male gods, namely, Teutates, Esus, and Taranis, likewise the Germanic tribes  preferred a threesome of Odin, Thor, and Tyr. This is one reason, in fact, that Christianity spread through Celtic lands; The Christian belief of God as a Trinity wasn't an alien concept to them. The British Celts generally thought of things in terms of threes, rather than duos, hence no duo-theistic religion. There is also no evidence that the Celtic religions had goddesses as their primary deity, but seem to always prefer gods as their main idols. The idea of all gods being one god and all goddesses being one goddess that most Neopagans/occultists subscribe to is an invention of bad scholarship of the 19th century.

The best way to debunk the new pseudo-Celtic mythology is to point out that the Celts aren't long vanished like the mythical Atlantis. Believing that Celtic civilization has long since vanished leads to things like "We donít know what the Celts believed, but we can make educated guesses based on archaeology and their legends", being said. This opens a doorway in which any belief or idea can suddenly have a Celtic label slapped on it. But while many Wiccans/Neopagans/Neodruids think somehow that the Celts are long gone, but in fact, many modern Celtic communities exist. And I'm not saying ALL of them think this, but most of them certainly seem to. 

There are about 16 million Celts alive in the world today, even though only about 2 million speak a Celtic language such as Gaelic. There's frustration and some anger by Celtic people toward Neopagans, because their culture has been eroding for thousands of years - -caused first by Romans then later by English and Germanic people-- and now the Neopagans are further causing damage by reinventing Celtic culture to suit themselves, ironically thinking they are somehow saving it.

While Christians (St. Patrick in particular) get the blame for the end of Druidic Paganism, it was another group of Pagans, the Romans, that actually started the decline of Druidism in the British Isles. When the Romans first reached the shores of the Britain, the Romans recorded that the Druids were there to greet them by throwing curses and spells on them to stop their invasion. The result of all this sorcery by the "powerful" Druids was...the Romans conquered them anyway. It seems the magic of the Druids was about as successful as that of any occultist nowadays.

The idea of wide scale persecution to convert the people of the British Isles simply is not accurate. When Rome decided to send a missionary expedition to the British Isles in the 8th century, they were surprised to find the Christian Church was already well established there. The Celtic Church had evolved independently of Rome and had a few minor differences, (such as a different holiday calendar for instance), but it was definitely Christian! According to some accounts, Joseph of Arimathea established the first Christian Church in the British Isles circa 35 A.D. The New Testament records that Paul evangelized the Gauls (Celts) of Spain and Turkey. It is also believed he traveled to the the British Isles as well.

People of the Neopagan mindset seem to think that 2000 years of Celtic involvement in Christianity are somehow irrelevant. The Bible is the greatest testament to the Celtic Christianity, containing Paul's Epistle to the Gauls of Spain (Galatians).  Mass conversion of Celtic peoples from Pagan religions to Christianity was nearly bloodless, but no one seems to bother to ask why the Celts thought Christianity was a better deal. The transition of Paganism to Christianity is part of the history of the Celtic people. Christianity IS the religion of the Celts, and has been for almost 2,000 years. To try to make an archaic leap back to the superstitions they abandoned by choice is to basically write off one's ancestors as irrelevant, and trying to find one's roots is supposedly what Neoapaganism is about.


Article published in English on: 11-12-2010.

Last update: 11-12-2010.