Gael Ùr: Cànan, Sgeul 's Creideamh

Discussing Gaelic culture, advocating Pagan story, honoring the Earth and the beings who share it with us.

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C.S. MacCath

C.S. MacCath

 C.S. MacCath is a writer of fiction, non-fiction and poetry whose work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Clockwork Phoenix: Tales of Beauty and Strangeness, Murky Depths, Witches & Pagans and other publications. Her poetry has been nominated twice for the Rhysling Award, and her fiction has received honorable mention in The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Sixth Annual Collection.


Ceallaigh's first collection of fiction and poetry entitled The Ruin of Beltany Ring has been called 'wonderful, thoroughly engaging, always amazing', a book of 'tiny marvels' and 'well-worth reading'. At present, she's working on a science fiction series entitled Petals of the Twenty Thousand Blossom and a second collection of fiction and poetry.


 

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Evil Thrives on Secrecy

Many of you will have already read that long-time Pagan leader Kenny Klein was recently arrested for possession of child pornography. If you have not yet read this news, you can do so here. I was already aware of certain allegations against him stemming from a problematic incident in the 1990s, but the information came to me third-hand, and so I was reluctant to credit it. However, the way the information came to me - via someone who said she was breaking a coven oath to impart it - left me thinking about secrecy in the Pagan community for a long time afterward. More recently, Kenny himself posted a blog entry to the PaganSquare community about the issue of secrecy in magical communities that I thought was a good exploration of the topic, and I commented with a link back to my own discussion of secrecy among Pagans when speaking with non-Pagans.

In the coming days and weeks, I expect there will be a great deal of public conversation among us around Kenny's arrest, what the community knew or believed about his character and what the press might make of his faith. And while I am indeed using him as an example to re-introduce the topic of secrecy in the Pagan community, I am not willing to speculate in this entry or in the comments about his guilt or innocence. Rather, I want to have a conversation about silence; the kind we offer one another as Pagans and the kind we visit upon outsiders.

I am a reluctantly graying Pagan who came to the faith in the 1980s and lives in a conservative, Gàidhlig, island community now. So silence about my faith has always been a matter of active negotiation for me. That said, I believe in a certain level of transparency and accountability within the Pagan community, which is another kind of active negotiation, one that involves us all. I wrote about that negotiation some years ago for PanGaia's "Toe-to-Toe" series, and I am reprinting that article below because I think the discussion is timely. I encourage you to seek out PanGaia #46 for commentary on the subject by fellow contributors Alex Bledsoe, Nicholas Graham and David C. Webb.

Evil Thrives on Secrecy

I’ve been Pagan for more than twenty years, and in that time I’ve observed many fellow Pagans engaging in behaviors that were damaging to themselves, to their inner circles of friends and family, and to the Pagan community in general.  Some of these behaviors were egregious in nature, and I’ve often found myself shaking my head in disbelief or shaking with anger at what I’ve witnessed.  On more than one occasion I’ve responded to these behaviors with varying degrees of tact - proportional to my age and wisdom, as you might expect – and on more than one occasion I’ve found myself at loggerheads with various members of my community out of a sense of personal outrage, or duty, or whatever I was calling it at the time.  I’m not very good at the “shut up and sweep it under the rug” thing, you see.

But even though I’ve matured over time and learned to express my righteous indignation more diplomatically, I’ve never regretted the impulse that drove my younger self to right the wrongs I found in my community; to encourage mentally-ill friends to seek professional help, to report fellow Pagans to the proper authorities when I knew they were abusing their children, and to stand up to those leaders who used their influence improperly. I love the Pagan community; it was my refuge from the dark corners of my youth, it taught me almost everything I know about honor, and it brought me to a deep and abiding reverence for life.  I believe in fostering the same refuge for others who need it, and that isn’t always easy.

However, I’ve also observed – and been subject to – what happens to Pagans who speak out against the inappropriate behavior of other Pagans.  Often they are accused of inciting conflict whether their concerns are legitimate or not.  Moreover, those people who are charged with inappropriate behavior often hide behind the pretense of conflict avoidance and thereby escape censure whether they are guilty or not.  This is not appropriate, and over the years it has left me wondering why our community appears to favor conflict avoidance over straightforwardness and accountability.  It’s a hard question, and I think it demands that we look at the reasons why we avoid conflict in the first place.

One possibility is that because we have had to fight hard for a long time to be recognized as a legitimate faith path in the eyes of non-Pagan culture, we want to put on the very best face we have for the public eye. Internal conflict mars that public face and makes it more difficult for us to interact with non-Pagans. Therefore, it is possible that the Pagan community has, in its desire to be seen as positive and life-affirming, sought to quash dissent rather than deal with those problems illuminated by dissenters.

Another possibility is that our desire to foster diversity makes us hesitant to question people whose behavior bespeaks a need for intervention when they insist their activities are integral to their path-working. Many of us know people who use psychotropic substances to facilitate visionary experience; who are we to determine how much is too much? Many of us know people who are nurturing non-traditional romantic and familial relationships; who are we to determine whether or not those relationships are equitable for all parties involved? We exist in a community full of radical and experimental forms of expression, and most of us know that we can’t possibly understand them all. Perhaps we are worried that we might not understand them enough to know when the line between progressive and problematic has been crossed.

A third possibility is that many of us come from broken places and have brought our psychological baggage with us into the Pagan community. Conflict is sometimes personal and painful for people even when they are not directly involved in it. As previously mentioned, a number of us sought refuge here in the hope that we could recover our strength and thereafter make positive contributions in the lives of others.  Therefore, it is certainly possible that some Pagans simply have little tolerance for discord.

But whatever the reasons for this ethic of conflict avoidance, the consequences are the same. We decay from within when sick members of our community do not seek wellness, and we enable their sickness with our silence. We are viewed negatively by the outside world when we do not censure members of our community who have harmed others. And most importantly, we fail to do the spiritual and environmental work the multiverse brought us together to do, since that work can only be done in a spirit of perfect love and perfect trust.

We all fall ill and make mistakes from time to time. I am not suggesting that we punish the imperfections of our fellow Pagans by permanently excluding them from our community. However, I am insisting that we overcome our fear of conflict and demand that our fellow Pagans seek help when they are ill and account for their mistakes. Our community is important and good and holy, and we all need to be healthy and productive together if we are to survive, thrive, and be a place of safety for our members.

"Evil Thrives on Secrecy." PanGaia Apr. 2007: 12. Print.

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  • Deborah Blake
    Deborah Blake says #
    Very well said!

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

Creideamh a' Bhata Bhuidhe: The religion of the yellow stick. A Coll priest of former times was accustomed to drive recalcitrant natives to church by a smart application of his walking stick, those who yielded were thus said to come under “creideamh a' bhata bhuidhe.” Another version says Hector, son of Donald Maclean of Coll, was the one who applied the yellow stick. Hector was laird in 1715 and as the religion of the yellow stick was introduced into Rum in 1726, it is beyond dispute that Hector was the author, or propagator of it. He was dignified in appearance and stern in manners and could no doubt wield the yellow stick gracefully and with efficiency. - Dwelly's Illustrated Gaelic to English Dictionary

I was raised a Jehovah's Witness and forced by my parents to attend Kingdom Hall three times a week. So you'll understand if I confess a visceral reaction to the prospect of being beaten with a stick for the sake of piety. In fact, I still deliberately linger in bed on Sunday mornings, and it's been nearly thirty years since I had to attend a weekend service. But that's one of the lovely things about being Pagan, isn't it? We don't adhere to a rigid belief system, so we don't punish our members when they fail to think or do what such a system might dictate. Rather, the religious beliefs of Pagans are diverse, perhaps far more than members of mainstream religions. Around the circle at any given public ritual, we might have Dianic Wiccans, Celtic polytheists, Heathens and others, each nurturing an internal spiritual narrative unique to her needs.

Of course, that's precisely what faith is, an internal narrative about the way the universe works. In some religions, that narrative is externally prescribed, which helps to create unity among practitioners but also leaves them vulnerable to manipulation. In others, the individual is expected to function as his own guru, which helps to foster spiritual resilience but can leave him feeling isolated. However, in both cases, people of faith are receiving or creating sacred stories overlaid upon the unknown. No Christian actually knows if the serendipity in her life belongs to God or chance, no Wiccan is certain whether or not his magic is working, and no cartomancer can tell you why her efforts at divination are more than random but never wholly reliable.

Simply put, we tell stories to heaven, and sometimes we think heaven answers.

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  • Jose M
    Jose M says #
    Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant!!
  • C.S. MacCath
    C.S. MacCath says #
    Thank you!
  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor says #
    This is deeply thought-out and exquisitely expressed for its clarity. I can see why your writing has been nominated for so many a

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Sgeul

True story.

I met a Notable American Druid (NAD) in Ireland while I was on scholarship as a Celtic Studies student, and we traveled together from time to time while we were there. One evening, after touring County Donegal, we stopped at a pub in Carrick on the way back to Glencolumbkille. I don't remember what NAD drank that night, but the publican taught me to make what he called 'Hot Bush'. Here's the recipe:

Boil the kettle.
Pour hot water into a mug.
Boil the kettle again.
Pour the water out of the mug.
Put 3 cloves, a teaspoon of sugar and a shot of Bushmills into the mug.
Pour boiling water into the mug and stir.

It was good insurance against the temperamental June weather on the island, and I drank a lot of it during my stay. Anyway, so there we were, listening to a session, me drinking Hot Bush and NAD making conversation with the locals. One of them, a portly, middle-aged woman told me her son had done bass work for the Pogues and invited me to contact him about the undergraduate project I was working on (I never did). She also told me that her family had been involved with the IRA and specifically that her mother had moved weapons for the organization. She was a great conversationalist, and she seemed to like me too, so we were getting on well together.

Then NAD interrupted (during the whole running guns for the IRA bit) to tell the woman that he was a Notable American Druid, that he believed Ireland had been better off without Saint Patrick and that he thought the Irish should turn the island back over to the Druids altogether. Mind you, I didn't entirely disagree with the man, but I didn't think a pub in Catholic Carrick was the place to share that sentiment, and I didn't think the daughter of a militant family was the person to share it with. She seemed to agree, and over the next hour, I helped her edge him out of the conversation while we continued to chat about music, politics and life.

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  • C.S. MacCath
    C.S. MacCath says #
    I completely agree the idea is worth revisiting; in novels, short stories, poetry and new media. I want to see good markets contin
  • Deborah Blake
    Deborah Blake says #
    I love a good Pagan story. Your stories especially :-). I was really disappointed when I discovered recently that the first (and i

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

Thig thugainn, thig cò' ruim gu siar -  
Gus an cluinn sinn ann cànan nam Fèinn, 
Thig thugainn, thig cò' ruim gu siar - 
Gus an cluinn sinn ann cànan nan Gàidheal. 

Come to us, come with me to the west - 
And hear the language of heroes (of the Fèinn),
Come to us, come with me to the west,
And hear the language of the Gael.

- from Cànan Nan Gàidheal, written by Murdo MacFarlane

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An Introduction to Neo-Paganism for Non-Pagans

This month, I'm taking a break from my introductory series of posts (Gael Ùr, Cànan, Sgeul and Creideamh) to offer a transcript of the guest lecture I delivered this week at St. Francis Xavier University entitled An Introduction to Neo-Paganism for Non-Pagans. You can find a printable transcript and audio download of the lecture at http://csmaccath.com/itnp. As members of my community of faith, I invite your thoughts on the material. What would you have added? Subtracted? Where would your focus have been different? What are your thoughts on the areas of need I identified for the Neo-Pagan community?

As always, tapadh leibh airson a' leughadh, 's beannachd leibh,
(Thank you for reading, and bless you,)

Ceallaigh

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  • Lisa
    Lisa says #
    Really well done - I always enjoy reading your writing CS I'll listen to the transcript to give this life later, but so far I'm h
  • C.S. MacCath
    C.S. MacCath says #
    Thank you very much! And thank you for giving the lecture a critical read. It was important to me to represent Neo-Paganism fairly
  • C.S. MacCath
    C.S. MacCath says #
    Ha! Thanks a bunch for these. I finished this lecture at 1:00 AM the day I was scheduled to deliver it and appreciate the correcti

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

As I write this entry, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia is in full, autumn glory and the Celtic Colours International Festival is well underway. For those of you who don't know, Cape Breton is a Gàidhealtachd, a place where the Scottish Gaelic language is still spoken and taught, a place where Gaelic culture still lives. Every year in mid-October, people come from all over the world to celebrate the rich heritage of this place with concerts, classes, discussions and demonstrations rooted in the Gaìdhlig language that traveled here when so many of its native speakers emigrated from Scotland.

Cape Breton is also my home. An American by birth, I immigrated to Canada three and a half years ago after twenty years of Celtic Paganism and a Celtic Studies degree because I wanted to become a fluent Gaìdhlig speaker and advocate. My local Gaìdhlig learning began in Halifax, where Sgoil Ghàidhlig an Àrd-bhaile serves the community with a wide range of classes and workshops. I have since come to sit on the Board of Directors of that organization and maintain its web site, which has given me the opportunity to understand more about the mechanics of Gaìdhlig transmission in the province and also put me in touch with many wonderful Gaìdhlig speakers and learners. More recently, my husband and I bought the Presbyterian minister's manse where the Reverend A.W.R. MacKenzie lived when he founded the Gaelic College of Celtic Arts and Crafts in 1938, and it is our joy to bring the Gaìdhlig language back into this house where I sit, writing to you.

I've heard two terms applied to people like me, who come from outside the Gaìdhlig community and settle within. The first is the title of this blog and this entry, 'Gael Ùr'. It means 'New Gael' and is usually self-referential. The other is GalGael, a term I learned from Alastair McIntosh, which he described as an older word that referred to people who were not Gaels by birth but were assimilated. My native Gaelic friends are less circumspect; they often remind me that the Gaels were great travelers who collected people into their communities, who themselves became Gaels as they absorbed the language and culture.

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  • Deborah Blake
    Deborah Blake says #
    I love hearing about your journey--I think it is a great adventure!
  • C.S. MacCath
    C.S. MacCath says #
    You're pretty adventurous yerself, lass. =)
  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Ms. MacCath, Good for you, honoring your Gods! Half my ancestry is Celtic, though I am devoted to Hellenic deities and embrace Pl

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