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Why Wicca Is Not Celtic
By
Ian MacAnTsaoir and Dawn O'Laoghaire

The following is by no means an indictment of the religion called Wicca. Wicca is indeed a valid and powerful path for those who truthfully walk it and understand it. However, there is an increasing body of people who believe that Wicca is the descendant of the religious ways of the Gaelic or other Celtic peoples (or 'Celts' as a general nomenclature).

The following is meant to be a brief comparison of the Wiccan religion and Celtic religion. It is by no means to be taken as an in-depth survey of either religion. There are a great many questions that could be answered for people if they would read the books written by solid academicians instead of profit-oriented, new-age writers. I will place at the end of this article the sources that can be used to substantiate what is said herein. I encourage you to investigate each source given, to check the veracity of the statement for yourselves.

When we talk about Celtic religion, we must define what we are talking about. Precisely put, we are talking about religious beliefs, practices and world views that existed in Gaelic and other Celtic cultures during the golden age of the Gaelic Celts. This would be from 400 BCE to roughly 1300 CE. While that date includes Celtic Christianity, for this article we are addressing Classical (pagan) Celtic theology. The pagan methodology of Gaelic spirituality existed that long and longer. This is however, the era to which Gaelic Traditionalists look when establishing their practices.

An example of what existed in Classical times, when compared with what began afterward, is the use of the Maypole. Prior to importation by Germanic invaders, the Maypole was not in use in Gaelic lands. The High Days, which were fire festivals, saw people gather at the local river to make votive offerings, as well as light bonfires on the hill tops. It wasn't until the coming of the Saxon that the Maypole came to Gaelic lands, and even then the use of the Maypole stayed in the areas where there was a Germanic population, and was not adopted by the indigenous Gaels.

The spirituality of the various Celtic peoples has not changed. The Gaelic peoples still recognize that there are spirits of the Sky, the Sea, and the Land. It is only in their official methodologies concerning the Upper Realm, that concepts and methodologies have changed. Yet there are a great many who claim that things that have never been a part of the Celtic paradigm are Celtic. Wicca seems to be a religion that is particularly prone to this. The people who make the statement that Wicca is Celtic are usually of two sorts. These are the new people who, either for their own reasons truly believe this to be the case, or they have fallen prey to some unscrupulous teacher who uses the allure of things "Celtic" to draw in new students or ensure profits. In both cases the problem is exacerbated by the fact that solid information is not easily accessible to the general public. The people who fall for the antics of the unscrupulous teacher usually do not have access to the information it takes to refute the falsehood. All religions have these types, and the fact that these will also exist within Wicca should not serve as a reason to condemn that path.

People who, with utter conviction, state that Wicca is a Celtic path usually have derived this idea by one of two common arguments (taking for granted that they haven't been misinformed). The first is conveyed by the person stating something to the effect of, "... _____ (usually Gardner is named) drew upon Celtic lore when putting it together... ." The second statement used is, "...it just *is* Celtic, it's always been Celtic, it's always been in places like Ireland and Scotland." Both of these arguments are easily disproven. The following shall go toward that end.

Traditional Celtic religions, as is the case with all religions, are cultural manifestations. In tribal cultures the people's spirituality is part of their identity and world view. Gaelic Traditionalism, for example, holds within the Gaelic culture. The Gods are the First Ancestors of the people, and are individuals. In all elements of the traditional practices, consistency is maintained by remaining accurate within the culture, and by not taking on elements from outside the culture.

In the Gaelic experience the Mother of the Gods is Danu, and her mate is Bile. From that union came Dagda and Bride, who are described in some articles of lore as mates themselves. From those texts we see that the Gods were born of that union. Scholars have noted that when Celtic culture entered an area, the Celtic gods of the Upper Realm went in with them. These then intermarried with the local goddesses of the land (the goddesses of sovereignty). Extant genealogical texts chart how the ancient Gael believed that they originated from those unions. Hence the very Gods of the people are their First Ancestors.

The various ideas surrounding the Ancestors manifest in a host of customs, such as the Feast of the Dead. Also, such concepts as that of the dead reincarnating through blood lines, in conjunction with the customs of the Gaelic peoples, provides a sense of continuity and identity that cannot be missed.

Wicca tends to draw from various cultures and ideologies. What allows the practitioners of Wicca to put elements from various religions together is the modernist ideology that has at it's root the Jungian concept of archetypes. Wiccans tend to work heavily in the idea of archetypes -- "All goddesses are the face of the Goddess". They focus on the traits which various deities share, much the same way a Jungian would focus on the shared traits of heroes in a Jungian analysis. Wiccans also speak heavily on the subject of masculine and feminine dualities (anima and animus), which are central to Jungian theories of personality. Some Wiccans focus on claiming the shadow side, or "dark" side of individuals, which is a straight lift from Jungian theory.

Gaelic Traditionalists, and traditionalists of all types, reject this type of analysis and state that the Gods are individuals who are the Ancestors of the people. As stated, traditional peoples further hold that the Gods are tied to the people by familial links. As an example, while a Gaelic Traditionalist might agree that your mom and their mom (or your tribe's Mother Goddess and their tribe's Mother Goddess) share some traits by virtue of both people being moms, it is a mistake to say that just because both people are moms, they are interchangeable. To the perspective of a Gael, the basic fallacy of extending Jungian analysis to far is this; your mom isn't their mom, no matter how mom-like both people are. Needless to say, one can't hold an archetype relationship to either the God or the Goddess and a direct and intimate personal relationship to your people's gods at the same time. The two ideas contradict each other.

Another of the signs telling of the Jungian foundation in Wicca is the constant 'borrowing' of concepts, icons and sacred relics from other cultures and their religions. This causes a great deal of friction to exist between people of other cultures and Wiccans. This friction manifests itself in such passive things as traditional peoples separating themselves from and establishing communities aside from communities wherein there are Wiccans. It also manifests in such things as the literal Lakota Declaration of War against those who "steal" (words the spiritual leaders of that People used) that culture's spirituality. The unanimous opinion of the people in the various traditional forms of spirituality is that Wicca and Wiccans spend too much time "borrowing" everything under the sun and throwing it all together. Yet, to be fair, from Wicca's archetypal-based viewpoint, that's both okay and logical. This is, however, a place of extreme dissonance and friction between peoples.

From a traditional Gaelic view point, and traditionalists of other cultures say the same things, these practices dishonor the Ancestors, distort the fundamental truth (your mom ain't my mom), and interfere with the duty that traditional people generally feel to preserve and restore traditional Gaelic and other cultures. This is because, to them, Wicca sucks up the time, interest and energy of people who might otherwise be helping to find ways to preserve their culture. Wiccans also often present themselves as the "true" Celtic religion which prevents some people from finding their way back to the path of the Ancestors, which would, in the view of a traditional person, honor the gods properly. Meaning, as individuals and as the 'First Ancestors'. What causes even more friction is that while most Wiccans don't have better information than they have been given, many embrace the misinformation regardless and refuse to deal with conflicting ideas or views when faced with facts.

Having established the Jungian foundation that allows for misinformation to remain unchecked in the Wiccan community let's start dispelling some of the fallacious notions that exist. The first notion to be addressed is that Wicca is what the Celts of old practiced. Toward dispelling this idea, let's state some things that are fairly well established as fact because of the preponderance of evidence. The first is that modern neo-paganism is highly impacted by, and reflective of, Gardnerian Wicca and its derivatives. The second is that, when Gardner was putting his creation together, he drew upon Eastern philosophies, Egyptian ideologies and Judaic ceremonialism, in addition to Celtic lore.

This easily becomes confusing, but when something is made up of components, the whole mechanism is not solely of any one of those components. To state such denotes a severely faulty argument. Let me demonstrate this. For a great many years American Motors Corporation (AMC) put out a whole line of automobiles. These automobiles very often had Chrysler engines, Ford transmissions, Chrysler brakes, Ford seats and, I believe in one instance, even General Motors instrumentation. All of those components, motors, transmissions, seats, etc, were fixed into a body made by AMC. Yet the complete car wasn't a Ford because it had a Ford engine, nor was it a Chrysler because it had their transmission. It was an AMC, a creature all its own. The same is true about Wicca. It has a Hindu engine, an Egyptian torque converter and a Celtic transmission. These things were set in a ceremonial body that, while reflective of the bodies used by the Hermetic Orders, is Wiccan alone. It is a creature unto itself.

Concerning the second argument they use, I direct your attention at two areas. These two areas will suffice nicely in dispelling the false notion that Wicca just *IS* Celtic. The first area is the theologies of the two systems.

The two systems, Wicca and Celtic, and in particular Gaelic, contradict each other on several points. These contradictions are enough to, as a whole, form a severe dissonance between the two religions. In Celtic religion, there are three basic spheres. These are the Sky, the Sea and the Land. Each of these has a ruling body. For the Sky the sun, for the Sea the Moon, and for the Land the Earth.

By careful study of the ancient texts, as well as the language itself, we see that both the sun and moon orbs were feminine. Though in some Gaelic areas, there is evidence to show that there is a masculine aspect to the moon (Manannan). In Gaelic Celtic folk tradition they are presented as two sisters. In Gaelic the names of both luminaries are feminine, and in invocations and spells they are both addressed as feminine beings. Yet they can change gender according to which of their attributes is brought to the fore. The nurturing, warm sun who promotes growth is feminine, the light, as personified by Lugh, is masculine, and the scorching sun just before Harvest is represented by Balor. This contrasts sharply with Wicca which is based wholly on a Feminine Moon and Masculine Sun.

Wicca is a religion whose philosophical foundation is dualism. A Goddess and a God as archetypes. Not only is Celtic religion vastly different in that it is truly polytheistic, totemistic and animistic, but the very processes of logic upon which the whole of Celtic culture was based were Triune in nature. In Celtic theology there are the Gods of the Upper Realm (sky), the Gods of the Middle Realm (land) and the Gods of the Underworld (related to the sea). The fertility nature of Wicca addresses the land Gods almost exclusively. When Gods of the other realms are named, they are usually outside of the place held for them in their traditional pantheons. In Celtic theology each is held and venerated in their traditional capacities.

The nature of The Rede is untenable to Celts. The whole morality of Wicca is "harm none". While it is a theoretical statement, it is one with little real life practice. This is because it's a rule that must be broken just to survive and as a result leaves interpretation and application to individuals, and common sense isn't always there.

Such statements as are typical of the Rede are not a part of the Celtic paradigm in which we find a heroic morality. In real life, the term "harm none" is typified by the moralities of Wicca, Christianity, and others where the primary imperative is to not hurt others. Heroic is typified by Celtic and Norse religions primarily, though other examples exist. Heroic morality is summed up by the Gaelic hero Caelte as, "truth in our hearts, strength in our arms, and fulfillment in our tongues". Heroic morality is rooted in concepts of personal honor, responsibility and fulfillment of duty. These are all traits of the Heroic morality, but like the Tao, it is an intangible concept that cannot truly be adequately defined.

Because Wicca and traditional Gaelic spirituality arise out of different analytical perspectives, their moralities -- the "scripts" they create for their adherents -- are radically different. Wicca is a religion that is based on a logical extension of Jungian analysis (and yes, Jung was big into religion) -- thus it's sole ethic "Harm none and do what thou wilt." tends to reflect a personal, individualistic practice. Traditional Celts living a "heroic" morality focus on heroism, personal honor, tribal honor, and duty to the tribe, and "Do what you wilt" is the last thing on their mind. What honor and duty calls for are at the opposite end of the spectrum from what the individualistic bent of Wicca would call for.

The vision conceived and portrayed by Wicca, of what comes after this life, is limited and vague. Celtic religion, on the other hand, has a complex and intricate conceptualization of the OtherWorld. In fact, OtherWorld's interaction in this world is, in many ways, the pivot point of Celtic religion.

Wicca is primarily an invocatory/ecstatic religion which revolves around special rituals. The 'formularies' used by Wicca can be traced back through the lodges of ceremonial magic. In Celtic religion, the tenets are votive in nature and stress ethics and morality, only secondary importance is placed on ritual. To Celts, life itself is ceremony, with every thought, word and deed being spiritually significant and magical.

The very foundation of Gaelic culture was the home. The hearth was the cornerstone of the spirituality of the people. In Gaelic religions great emphasis is placed on the sanctity of the home, and strength of the family. Families, to Gaelic Traditionalist folk, include people who have adopted each other. The individuals are encouraged to walk in strength and to fulfill their responsibilities to their families. These components are not found in Wicca.

In Wicca, sacred space is 'created'. In traditionally based Celtic religions all of the land is sacred. The Land is the Goddess of Sovereignty and holy unto Herself. Sacred space is omnipresent, it is the history of a place or some other distinguishing element that causes certain places to see different religious usages. What is done at a site depends on the natural predisposition of an area or its history. That the Ancestors saw things in this way is established through such literary evidence as the Dindsenchas (a book of place histories).

Related to the concepts of the land is that, the Gods that Celts took with them into a new land (Sky Gods/Gods of the People), mated with the Land Gods already in that land. Out of those unions came the oldest Gaelic families, out of which came later Gaelic families. What this means is that the Celts saw the Gods as their relatives. Hence we see one of several manifestations of ancestor veneration. Wicca has no component for venerating or developing a relationship with the Ancestors, or the Goddess of the Land, or other land spirits of the lands that a people live in. These are big items in traditional Celtic religions.

Wicca is an initiatory mystery religion. Gaelic and other traditional Celtic religions are inclusive, with very few initiatory elements. Within Wicca there are various degrees and levels, each having its own mystery, each mystery being revealed by someone in authority. While the scope of this article is not designed to explore religious functionaries in pre-Christian Celtic cultures, in Celtic religion, the declarations of the Gods are found in the Order of Nature. The revelations are from the Gods themselves and, in general, each person, with sincerity, seeks to understand the natural world (which includes the "supernatural" world) around them and their place in it. There is also the concept of interacting with the natural world as co-inhabitors of the world.

Wicca uses the classical elements as a fundamental concept. Celtic religion does not use the classical elements (air, fire, water and earth) in any way even remotely similar to Wicca. Some point to the inclusions of the four mythical cities of the Tuatha Dé Danaan, as recounted in the Lebhar Gebhala Erenn as proof of, or a model of, the use of the elements of the later Greek pattern. They also attribute the four treasures that came from those cities in the same way. However, scholars tend to think that these were included only at the hand of Christian monks to bring things more into line with the Roman concepts as typified by the Roman Vulgate. Some will argue that the floor plans of sacred sites support the concept of the use of directions in conjunction with the elements. First, such associations would be speculation only. Secondly, these floor plans are of the square temples that are found primarily on the continent. This floor plan was carried over to the Isles with the Romans, and is found as a part of Romano-Celtic culture. The majority of insular temples were round. Typical of this genre is the important ritual structure at Emain Macha which was itself round. Archaeological diggings have shown that the site was based on five concentric rings (perhaps associated with the same five circles placed around a new born) of oak posts, with an opening to the west. Circular sites aren't plagued with such concerns as which side faces which direction. Indeed, the sitting arrangement of the five kings at Tara, indicate an association with the directions, but these need to be addressed within the framework of the culture. This framework would be winds, not the 'classical elements'. If we want to address the four treasures, we must recognize exactly what is being stated in the texts. Amongst them, one was the Sword of Nuada and the other the Spear of Lugh. Lugh did not come with the Tuatha Dé Danann when They came into Ireland. Lugh did not show up until much later on, just prior to the second battle of Maig Tuired (Moytura). In that battle Nuadh was killed, and it was after the battle that Lugh took the kingship. Hence, by seeing that Nuadh was gone, and Lugh ascended, Nuadh's solar symbol (the sword) was replaced by Lughs solar symbol (the spear). This helps us to see that the significant number involved is 'three'.

For Celts, the basic spheres are Sky, Sea and Land. These have their correlating Fire (Sun), Water (Moon), and Earth (land); these are legs upon which the Cauldron of the World is set. The traditional Celtic view is not cognate to the later Greek pattern of elements in each direction. It would be impossible to accurately correlate the two systems in this manner. The closest thing to an elemental system amongst the Gaelic Celts is what is called a dhuile system. These systems contain anywhere from seven to eleven, usually nine, items ranging from sun to lightning to rock. Wicca has nothing along these lines. The dhuile were a way of understanding the relationship of the person to the cosmos, with each item found in the cosmos relating to a part of the person. Wicca has nothing of this nature.

As far as the directions are concerned, the overwhelming evidence shows that the directions were associated with the winds. Not only is evidence found in texts which record folklore and custom, such as the Carmina Gadelica, but also in texts far more ancient such as the Senchus Mór, the Saltair Na Ran, and the Hibernica Minora.

Wicca places little emphasis on mythology. Yet in Celtic religion, mythological stories are a central feature. These, in fact, form the core of magical practice, teaching and what ritual exists (manifested commonly in 'passion plays'). In Wicca there is no clear teaching of what is required to break past the cycles of rebirth. Yet in Celtic religion, the requirement can be clearly and concisely stated. That being to fulfill one's duty, to always be honorable, and to stand for the truth come what may, while understanding *why* what is honorable is considered so.

Wicca is a relatively recent addition to the religious paths of humanity. There is a lot of misinformation bandied about regarding it. It is sad that a great many of its followers have to do the religion such a disservice by claiming lineages that don't exist. I would point out the now tired joke about Wiccan grand mums. Celts tend to discount initiation, or any other device through which validity is gained through some person or agency. To a Celt, that one exists is proof of validity. The only generally recognized 'initiations' are those afforded by the process of life itself, with the two most important being birth and death, with marriage, parenthood and grand-parenthood coming along in a close second place.

Some well known writers have claimed a great antiquity for Wicca. Yet, if it has any age to it at all, then it is through the Wicce which were Saxon in origin, and patriarchal from the start. These are thought to have been members of the Lodges of Cunning Men. They have nothing to do with the mythological Druids (a product of the British Revival effort of the 18th century). The Wicce have even less to do with the historical Draoi. Such histories, as have connected the two groups of people, are in fact pseudo-histories, or as Margot Adler calls such ideas in her book, Drawing Down The Moon, "myths".

These same writers state that the word Wicca, derives from the Saxon word, "Witan". However, the Witan was the proto-parliament of old Saxon England. If one wishes to twist etymology in this way, it would be more correct to trace the word witch, back to the word 'wicga', which is Old English for the insect known as the earwig, and which literally means "creepy-crawly".

These same writers state that Wicca was practiced in the Celtic lands, and specifically name Gaelic lands where these practices were supposedly called "Witta". Yet, from the Gaelic language itself we can see the truth that Wicca is not descended from the Gaelic Celts, nor, because of the similarities in language, even the Cymru (those known to the Anglo tongue as the Welsh). The simplicity of this fact is seen in that that there isn't even a 'W' in the Gaelic language, so neither Wicca nor Witta as a derivation could be Gaelic. As concerns the Gaelic language, the sound [w] does exist in Gaelic, or at least in Old Irish, as a lenited /m/ or /b/, like the [w] in the current pronunciation of Samhain [sawhIn - thats a capital I]. But that never occurs at the beginning of a word.

In technical speak the 'w' does not exist in the language, nor is [w] ever its own phoneme, just an allophone of /m/ or /b/ (depending on the word). Since lenition is rare at the beginning of a word though, it is extraordinarily unlikely that any native Gaelic word would have a [w] at the beginning, and thus 'Wicca' is practically impossible in Gaelic even transliterated into the Roman alphabet.

The truth is that modern Wicca, as it is most commonly practiced, is a fairly modern construction, dating from the middle part of this century. This was best summed up by one Dr. Marilyn Wells, PhD, Anthropology Department at Middle Tennessee State University, who has referred to modern Wiccans as Neo-Wiccans. In other words, there is little to no connection between Gardner's creation and the Wicce of the middle ages, and no connection to the Celts; except for what modern Wiccans have borrowed and incorporated. As a matter of fact, if the veracity of The Pickengill Papers is complete, as many Gardnerians have vouched, then the Lodges of Saxon Cunning Men stood in the place of adversary to the Celtic Wise Women, which also goes to support this essay.

More evidence supporting this, can be found in a body of religious laws called the "Law of the Craft". While there are a great number of groups operating who do not use the set of  laws that Gardner wrote, these do, however, usually use some derivation. "The Law of the Craft" as it was created by Gardner, and forwarded by a great many people who received it from their grandmothers (a bit of humor), at the least shows the attitude present in the creators of this religion. The undertones still reverberate. There are printed copies of this body to be found in the public domain, in such books as Lady Sheba's Grimoire, and The King of the Witches by June Johns. There is also to be found on the Internet, a work comparing several versions of that body of law. There are three items of note, where that law is concerned. They are:

#1 The uniform appellation given to modern Wicca, as a brotherhood.
#2 The quote,"... as a man loveth a woman by mastering her...".
#3 The quote,"...let her (the high priestess) ever mind that all power is lent...from him (the priest)..." (Her power is absolute in Circle only, and even then lent from Him [the priest figure]) -parentheses added by author-

All three of these items fly in the face of how women were viewed by pre-Roman Gaelic people. Our people viewed women as equals to men, and this through the Brehon Laws which governed the society. Women had the right to possess and disburse property. They possessed the right to inheritance. They possessed ascendency to the throne; in many places above the right of men to do so. They possessed the right to keep and bear weapons, and be it noted that subjugating an armed populace is indeed a difficult thing to do. It was not until Christianity was firmly implanted that women lost these rights, and the equality of the law concerning women came into question.

Other corollary evidence comes from Wiccan statements about themselves. The best example being, that they "..are the priestcraft for the pagan people...". They are even "training clergy". Yet, within Gaelic/Celtic culture all people were considered capable of, and responsible for, the mediation of the Gods on their own behalf. Celtic regard for personal responsibility is amply abundant. This is particularly true as regards to mediating the Gods on one's own behalf, and is so obvious and well known that even pop culture books such as The Celtic Tradition tell of this truth.

This has even been seen by respected scholars as a mindset of the Gaels unto this day. This is not to say that there were not those who fulfilled religious functions. Nor is it to deny the fact that certainly after the coming of Christianity, and probably before, that there were probably orders of  Monks dedicated to the service of one or a number of deities. This is only to say that just as there were not temples of the Greek and Roman type, neither were there sacerdotes or "clergy", whose functions were to mediate and or intercede with the Gods on the behalf of other people.

Even the Triads of our people show where the redactors hands slipped on occasion, and let go expressions of the feeling among our forebears, that "kept priests" were an abomination. The idea evidently being that the first place we give up our personal power over our lives is to priestcrafts. From there on out, it is one piece of our lives at a time, until we are veritable slaves. Slavery is not a position taken with grace by our people.

When I was asked to write this essay, I was also asked to keep it as short as possible, yet not neglecting thoroughness. This should be enough though, to establish the premise quite securely, that Wicca is not descended from our Gaelic/Celtic Ancestors.

Prepared by:
Iain Mac AnTsaoir


Sources:

  1. Popular Superstitions, Sir William R. Wilde, Sterling Publishing, c.1995, ISBN 0-8069-0649-9
  2. The Druids, Peter Berresford Ellis, Eerdmans Books
  3. Clannada na Gadelica, "A Tripartite World and Triune Logic", Iain MacAnTsaoir, 1997
  4. The Pickengill Papers-The Origin of the Gardnerian Craft, W.E. Liddell, Capall Bann pub. ISBN 1- 898307-10-5
  5. Oxford History Of Britain, Oxford University Press
  6. Dictionary of Word Origins, John Ayto, Arcade, c. 1990, Library of Congress# 91-2958
  7. Celtic Women, Peter Berresford Ellis, Eerdmans Pub, c. 1995, ISBN 0-8028-3808-1
    The Women of the Celts, Jean Markale, Gordon Cremonesi, c. 1975, ISBN 0-86033-001-X
  8. A HISTORY OF WITCHCRAFT-Sorcerers, Heretics and Pagans, Jeffrey B. Russell, Thames and Hudson, ISBN 0-500-27242-5
  9. Drawing Down The Moon, Margot Adler, ISBN 0-8070-3253-0
  10. The Pickengill Papers, W.E. Liddell
  11. The Celtic Tradition, Caitlin Matthews, Element Books, 1989, ISBN 1-85230-075-2
    The Druids, Peter Berresford Ellis
    The Celtic World, Miranda Green
    Merlin : Priest of Nature, Jean Markale
  12. Some parts of this essay were based on an article by Lughaid MacRoberts, who encouraged the author of this article to utilize his paper which was copyrighted in 1988.
Copyright 1996, 1997, 1998 Clannada na Gadelica.
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