The Celtic Traids
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”
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 …
- Three false sisters: “perhaps”, “maybe”, and “I dare say”
- Three keys that unlock thoughts: drunkenness; trustfulness; love
- Three things from which never to be moved: one’s oaths; one’s Gods; and the truth.
- There are three things excellent among worldly affairs: hating folly; loving excellence; and endeavoring constantly to learn
- Three manifestations of humanity: Affectionate bounty; loving manner; and praiseworthy knowledge.
- IIn three things a person may be as the Divine: justice , knowledge , and mercy.
- Three roots of every evil: covetousness, falsehood, and arrogance
- There are three foundations of law and custom: order, justice, and peace.
- 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.
- Three things which the good poet preserves for posterity: memory of the praiseworthy, delight in thought, and instruction in knowledge
- Three to whom it is right to give food: the stranger, the solitary, and the orphan.
- Three things which we cannot control: the Void , the planets , and truth.
- There are three things that are never at rest in anyone: the heart in working, the breath in moving, and the soul in purposing.
- Three things which keep their word faithfully: death, retribution, and remorse.
- Three things never end: the flowering of charity, the soul, and perfect love.
- Three kinds of knowledge : the nature of each thing , the cause of each thing , the influence of each thing.
- There are three springs of knowledge: reason, phenomenon, and necessity
- Three things necessary for the doing of every act: knowledge, ability, and desire
- Three things essential for the wise to know: their Gods, themselves, and the deceits of the world.
- 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.
- 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..