Tag Archives: Ronald Hutton

Blood and Mistletoe 2

Blood and Mistletoe 2

hutton

 

Blood and Mistletoe

By Ronald Hutton

A Review

Dr Hutton’s style is fluid and he manages to weave stories with the information he tries to share.

When I started reading Blood and Mistletoe I had intended to create a chapter by chapter review. My eagerness resulted in the first post which can be found here ….

So I started on this task…

But then something else took over.

It became apparent that the story Hutton was telling was one which itself denied such reductionism. To simply report on the work chapter by chapter does the book a great dis-service since it is about the evolving ‘image’ of Druids and Druidry rather than about key moments in history.

Chapters 2,3 and 4 speak of what could be seen as the political manipulation of the image of the Druid. From one perspective within the myths of the Druids we find cultural icons and iconographies which, once easy to dismiss and distance ourselves from, actually speak of ‘ancient’ seats of learning; wisdom and reverence. Just as the Arthurian myths gave some kind of legitimacy to kings who needs to cast themselves in the role of being saviours of the land. (for example Henry VIII’s creation of the ‘Winchester Round Table’ with him painted as central to him), the Druidic history was polished, and refined in order to create nationalist propaganda.

Chapter 5 deals with a name and character familiar to all who have read anything about Druidry – Iolo Morganwg (Edward Williams), Of course this name is muttered with almost equal amounts of respect and annoyance; a literary collector and, for want of a better phrase, forger who manages to muddy the already murky waters of Druidic history and lore.

It was a time of passion for all things ‘Celtic’ and inspired the romantic approaches to such histories by people like William Blake. Perhaps the most sobering thing in this whole episode is that many of Williams’ forgeries are better known that many of the original texts. The influence he will have had on Lady Charlotte Guests version of The Mabinogion must be questioned.

Chapters 6 and 7 really record the growth and development of British Druidry to an all time high. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were in many ways times of ‘rediscovery’ of all kinds of esoteric teachings and ‘magical lore’. However by the 1860’s interest in Druidry seems to have been in decline.

In Huttons book chapters 8 and 9 are really dedicated to an exploration of this fading of the ‘druidic star’. The Gorsedd of Bards of the British Isles had been established by Williams (1792) and the society of poets, musicians and artists continued. Today, like the Cornish Gorseth (established 1928) serve to keep the British Celtic Languages alive – Welsh and Cornish in these particular examples.

The final chapters of Huttons work explore what he calls the ‘afterglow’ and what can only be described as the revivalist movement within the neopagan tradition… and that brings us up to date.

So whilst the image of the Druid has been borrowed, stolen and annexed by particular people at particular times the re-invention of a nature based, Celtic inspired approach to spirituality has caught the green-spiritual zeitgiest the tag line offered  by the Reformed Druids of Gaia holds more than a keen element of honesty –  “we’re doing religion the old fashioned way — making it up as we go!”.

Ronald Huttons book is best considered as mammoth read and full of well referenced, well researched information considering the development of Druidry from the point of view of its waning and waxing socio-political significance. Not necessarily sidling the spirituality but placing everything within a framework which leads to the comforting notion that we are involved in a vibrant re-creation and re-invention of a system and not keepers of stale, traditional lore.

It is a MUST read for all interested  in really getting to grips with the background of the path they are walking,

Consider Purchasing Ronald Hutton’s Superb Works here …

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Published: July 13, 2014

Blood and Mistletoe – Chapter 1

Blood and Mistletoe – Chapter 1

Good-Hutton-Pic

One of the most respected authors in neo-pagan traditions and practices is Professor Ronald Hutton. An academic with a sense of the poetic and a great way with sharing what he has learned.

As part of my own development I am working bit by bit through his book Blood and Mistletoe (The History of the Druids in Britain). Whilst I am prepared to be reminded of the recreationist, revisionist, reconstructionist nature of Druidry or Druidism I am expected to have some sacred tress rocked and some ideas challenged.

So this Chapter by Chapter blog will be my immediate reflections from reading the book and perhaps encourage some debate with fellow bloggers and Facebookers. I will NOT be going into all of the details in the book, I would hope that if intrigued you will read it yourself.

Introduction and Chapter 1

Huttons perspective and standpoint on what we ‘really know’ about Druidry has been mentioned else where on this website and in the introduction we are guided through some of the challenges faced in any attempt to talk ‘with authority’ about how the Druids were. I am reminded of the wonderful parody song Stonehenge by Spinal Tap  …

In ancient times…
Hundreds of years before the dawn of history
Lived a strange race of people… the Druids

No one knows who they were or what they were doing
But their legacy remains
Hewn into the living rock… Of Stonehenge

Spinal Tap : This is Spinal Tap
 

The key phrase … “No one knows who they were or what they were doing”… and indeed this the case.

Hutton points out that all we know of the Druids is really drawn from a very few historical sources and even they are suspect.

200 BCE    Sotion of Alexandria (quoted in Diogenes and wrongly attributed to Aristotle) mentions the Druidas of Keltois and Galatis

50  BCE     The writings of Julius Caeser mention two groups of Gaulish people well respected in their tribes. The Equites (horsemen) and theDruides. This latter group are described as priests, judges and teachers. It was also noted that those wishing to ‘learn’ came to Briton to study.

36 BCE      Diodorus suggests that the Gaulish people have adopted some of Pythagoras’ teachings, namely the transmigration of the soul

20 CE        Strabo mentions bourdos (speakers of stories and satires); drouidos philosophers and theologians) and ‘vates (seers)

60 CE       Tacitus reports on the savagery of  the Celts and  Druids and in particular of the Battle of Menai (mentioned elsewhere in this blog).

70 CE       Pliny speaks of Druids their beliefs and practices

And apart from a few other spurious sources that’s it!

More importantly we can question the motivation of some writers as well as their authenticity. Some researchers question whether Tacitus was ever present at the events he reported on and my simply be quoting from another source whose works are lost (Agicola) and Pliny’s is questioned as a reliable source.

Clearly we have reports of a people who are on the one hand ‘philosophical’ and ‘wise’ and on the other ‘barbaric’ and ‘wild’. There seems to be now middle ground and of course this may well be due to the need for spin-doctoring of information by ruling or invading forces. The desire to set Rome up as the exemplar society must, in some cases, require other cultures to be less favourably viewed.

In the Course Books for the Celtic Shamanism Course being offered through The Cornwall School of Mystery and Magick we deal with the problems of authority and the desire to look at the past to find some idea of the roots of magical practice within the UK and the opening chapter of Blood and Mistletoe reminds us of the challenges. Of partcular resonance for me tho’ was the calling into question the nature of some of the ‘traditional’ works – the epics and stories – often quoted as forming the basis of reconstructionist  approaches.

More to follow …..

Alan /|\

Consider Purchasing Ronald Hutton’s Superb Works here …

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Published: April 23, 2014

The Celtic Triads

The Celtic Traids

500px-Triple-Spiral-Symbol.svg

 

Wikipedia notes that “The Triple Spiral symbol, based on motifs found at the prehistoric site at Newgrange, Ireland, and used as a neo-pagan or Triple Goddess symbol.”

Well that’s fine as far as it goes, but notwithstanding the oversimplification of The Divine Feminine (i.e. the Triple Goddess  – something I commented upon in the article on Bath in the Cornwall School of Mystery and Magick)) – there is something more to be said about the importance and nature of triads, triples and three-somes within Celtic culture.

Whilst the Celts may not have been much for writing, their oral tradition survived through the telling of tales and the speaking of laws. Many of these laws, traditions and tales are summarised in the form of Triads are have been recorded in numerous manuscripts albeit in an Christianised form.

So whilst we can agree with Ronald Hutton that :-

“All that we know about the Druids is that they were the most highly respected magical practitioners and spiritual experts of the tribes of
northwest Europe. The trouble is that we don’t have a single word of writing left by a Druid, and we don’t have a single archeological artifact that
everyone agrees is associated with the Druids. We know so little about  them in fact that they are almost legendary characters.”
Prof. Ronald Hutton

we are able to make some useful inferences from what does exist in early writings. Indeed it is these writings upon which much of the reconstructed (reinvented) Druidic practices rely.

One commentator writes:-

” It is a proven fact that most the old ways of the Celtic people were held onto. The olds ways were simply hidden under a thin veneer of the Christianity. With the Triads it was simply a matter of having the context of one or two words changed ; this then brought the old Pagan into line with the new Christian ; and in such a way as to bring into the Christian fold the stubborn traditionalists.”

John F. Wright

No I’m not overly happy with the ‘proven fact’ opening to the quote, but there is a very real sense in which the acculturalisation of pre-existing systems was common within Christian expansionism.

The Three Fold Universe

There are numerous sources which note the Celtic, and in all likelihood Ancient Briton’s (as they could be seen as one in the same, certainly in the later periods of pre-history ??)  notion of the three worlds of the Sea, Earth and Sky. – and we infer from this the idea that is from the sea that life emerges (consider the stories of discoveries and colonization of early people by Gods who came from the Sea); that the Earth is that space not only upon which we stand but also the place of our ancestral connection to place and Sky as being the realm of the ‘cosmic spirits’ and starry deities which influence and in some cases direct us.

This ‘evolutionary triad’ then forms a framework for laws of moral, ethical and civil conduct – also it is possibly easier to remember things in groups of three especially of there is some kind of rhyme involved.

In the Druid Path materials produced by The Reformed Druids of Gaia we read..

“”There are Irish Triads, Scottish Triads and Welsh Triads. Most of these are concerned  with history. The Triads were a method used by the Bards to remember things by associating them in groups of threes. A large body of the Triads concerns ethics. Following are some  examples we found were the most pertinent”

El Arseneau

To list all of these Triads is (a) to complex and task and (b) beyond the scope of this piece but we can get a flavour of them in the following. twenty-one celtic triads  …

 

  1. Three false sisters: “perhaps”, “maybe”, and “I dare say”
  2. Three keys that unlock thoughts: drunkenness; trustfulness; love
  3. Three things from which never to be moved: one’s oaths; one’s Gods; and the truth.
  4. There are three things excellent among worldly affairs: hating folly; loving excellence; and endeavoring constantly to learn
  5. Three manifestations of humanity: Affectionate bounty; loving manner; and praiseworthy knowledge.
  6. IIn three things a person may be as the Divine: justice , knowledge , and mercy.
  7. Three roots of every evil: covetousness, falsehood, and arrogance
  8. There are three foundations of law and custom: order, justice, and peace.
  9. Three chief obligations of a person to their country and family: to gain possessions by diligence and integrity, to profit their country and their kindred in all they do, and to seek lawful learning wherever they go.
  10. Three things which the good poet preserves for posterity: memory of the praiseworthy, delight in thought, and instruction in knowledge
  11. Three to whom it is right to give food: the stranger, the solitary, and the orphan.
  12. Three things which we cannot control: the Void , the planets , and truth.
  13. There are three things that are never at rest in anyone: the heart in working, the breath in moving, and the soul in purposing.
  14. Three things which keep their word faithfully: death, retribution, and remorse.
  15. Three things never end: the flowering of charity, the soul, and perfect love.
  16. Three kinds of knowledge : the nature of each thing , the cause of each thing , the influence of each thing.
  17. There are three springs of knowledge: reason, phenomenon, and necessity
  18. Three things necessary for the doing of every act: knowledge, ability, and desire
  19. Three things essential for the wise to know: their Gods, themselves, and the deceits of the world.
  20. Three teachers of humankind: one is event, that is from seeing and hearing; the second is intelligence, and that comes from reflection and meditation; and the third is genius, individual, a gift from the Mighty Ones.
  21. Three counsels of the yellow bird: do not grieve greatly about what has happened, do not believe what cannot be, and do not desire what cannot be obtained.

I had no particular message ti give in choosing these twenty-one triads other than that each will provoke some reaction and  I would hope inspire some meditation.

For those of you new to exploring aspects of what we could call ‘Celtic Spirituality’ there may be more here than you could have imagined and for those who are on a path spiritual development there is much you can learn.

In the Druid Prayer presented to Ross Nichols in the Book of Druidry we read that love can have three manifestations. This prayer exists in various forms but perhaps owes its orgin (or popularity) to – Iolo Morganwg,,,

Grant, O God/Goddess Thy protection;
And in protection, strength;
And in strength, understanding;
And in understanding, knowledge;
And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice;
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it;
And in that love, the love of all existences;
And in the love of all existences,

Perhaps you might like to create meaningful personal ‘triads’ from it…

The Three Paths of Druidry

Modern, reconstructionist Druid movements have within them a Three Fold system of training ..

Year 1 : The Bardic Tradition

The theme here is one of connection to ancestors and ‘traditional tales’. Self-discovery comes through exploring personal relationship between ourselves, each other the land and the cosmos.

Creativity, Ritual, Storytelling and Self Expression are linked to a study of the Celtic peoples, what we know of their culture and values and what myth has suggested. We explore altered states and grasp what may be meant by The Awen.

Year 2 The Ovate Tradition

The key themes are healing, divination and service. The Bard knows and connects and the Ovate develops intuition to become wise.

Year 3 The Druid Tradition

Broadly a ‘priest;y’ role in which all of the arts, crafts and magicks of the Bardic and Ovate grade are interwoven in a more complex tapestry of understandings. Shamanic based counselling and therapy will be developed within this grade and decisions on how best the Bard, the Ovate and the Druid can serve the land and their communities will be explored.

This framework forms the syllabus of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, The British Druid Order and The Cornwall School of Mystery and Magicks own training and Drudic Clan of  Celliwig. The Reformed Druids of Gaia also have a three-degree system.

The symbol of the Triskele is often used to denote someone who has walked the three paths..

aurora tr

 alan /|\

 

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Published: April 21, 2014

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