This column is about Gaulish Polytheism, for the most part, though it will no doubt include the odd foray into other territory here and there. You can expect to find scholarly discussion of concepts and worldview, discussions of deities and spirits, both scholarly and not, rituals, calendrics, invocations, poetry and personal spiritual experiences. You’ll probably find the occasional look at the life of a Northerner living in the woods of rural Florida. The place I live, it’s history and incorporeal inhabitants, are a constant presence in my spiritual life, so I’m sure I’ll be writing about them. Assuming I write a column once a week, I have many months of material to cover.
The question of whether I am precisely a Gaulish Reconstructionist is a vexed one, which does not admit of an easy answer. In the first place, I agree with C. Lee Vermeers that “reconstructionism” is really a method by which religions are developed, and not a religion per se. Secondly, as we will see, while much is known about early Gaulish religion, enough is uncertain to leave Gaulish Polytheism on the outer edge of where reconstructionism is even possible. In the end, the state of our evidence is such that we must rely on personal intuition to fill gaps. Sometimes we must make choices among various possibilities equally supported by the evidence we have. So, it is perhaps most accurate to regard me as a Gaulish Polytheist who uses the reconstructionist method where he can.
I am a hard polytheist, in that I believe that the Gods are essentially individuals, that they are not all faces of the One God or the One Goddess, or archetypes, or anything of that sort. Nevertheless this must be qualified to some degree. I am open to the possibility that some deities may be the same as others on a case by basis, particularly where their iconography is the same, and the names clearly the same name in different languages. I have in mind cases like Odhinn, Woden, and Wotan, or Thorr, Thunor, and Donner, or Lugh, Lleu, and Lugus. I am also open to the possibility that they may be different deities, or even that some cases like the three Brigids may, or may not, represent different deities with the same names.
My journey to Gaulish Polytheism has been a long and complicated one. It began with my finding a copy of Raymond Buckland’s Witchcraft from the Inside on my Junior High School library shelf in 1978, when I was 13 years old. I already had the idea from somewhere, probably television, that witchcraft was a surviving Pagan cult, though I believed it to be a bloody and awful one. The book cured that particular misapprehension, but I otherwise found it less intriguing than one might suppose. Its duotheism did not seem to match well with the polytheism of the other mythologies I had been studying.
Still, over time I found more books on witchcraft and came to identify with it. I became an initiate of an eclectic coven when I turned 18, in 1983. Indeed, I have continued to practice Wicca and other forms of witchcraft down to the present day, though now I keep such rituals separate from my Gaulish practice, and fit them into a hard polytheist theology. At the time I began studying Wicca, I read that it was the ancient Celtic religion, and I did not as yet have any reason to doubt it.
During my later high school years, I began reading on Irish mythology. This was a natural outgrowth of my interests in mythology, and Paganism. I quickly began to notice a discrepancy between the books I was reading on Irish myth, and the ones I was reading on Wicca. At first, it was possible to paper over the differences, but after my (eclectic) initiation, and the Wiccan rituals I participated in, it became clear that there was a gaping chasm between the two. So it was that, in 1984, still 18 years old, wholly on my own, I began developing a version of Gaelic Paganism.
In 1985, I went to Pagan Spirit Gathering. There, I met with Murtagh AnDoile and various other people, discussing how to develop a genuinely Celtic version of Celtic Paganism, as we called it then. The meeting with Murtagh, in particular was formative, influencing my development and confirming me on my Celtic path. In 1986, I taught a class at PSG, on Celtic myth, which was well-received. At PSG 1987, I held a private, non-Wiccan ritual in honor of the Irish deity Lugh, which was attended by three or four friends. I was a member of the Druid group Ar nDraoicht Fein from 1985 to about 1987 or 1988.
From 1987 to 1990, I studied in graduate school and alternated Wiccan with Celtic practice. Starting in 1991, I began practicing fully as a Celtic Polytheist, mostly in an Irish tradition. In 1994, I wrote an unpublished book entitled Walking with the Gods, which described my Irish practice as it had developed up to that time. In 1995, I joined Imbas , and was a member for a couple years.
In about 1998, I got hold of Alexei Kondratiev’s The Apple Branch: a Path to Celtic Ritual. This was the book that really got me interested in Gaulish Polytheism, convincing me that a Gaulish revival was really possible, that enough was known. Still, at this phase in my life, I was deeply invested in Irish Reconstructionism, and convinced that there was not enough interest in the Gaulish path for it to be anything but a waste of time. I began practicing a mixture of paths, mostly Irish, but Gaulish in certain private rituals.
My interests waxed and waned. I developed close ties with various Irish deities, but something didn’t feel right. I felt very close to Them, but missed…..something. There was a sense of wrongness, a sense that my own deities were not as close to me as I thought, or perhaps were almost the deities I sought, but not quite. I was stubborn, and held to my course.
In 2004, my work, and my wife’s, took us to Florida, where we settled in the deep woods on the southern fringe of the Ocala National Forest. In 2005, I began to practice exclusively Gaulish, although my practice was still much inferior to what it would later become. In 2008, wanting to get some good from them, I rewrote and published the class handouts from a Gaelic group I had led, along with material from Walking with the Gods, as the book Celtic Flame, under the pen-name Aedh Rua. That book received mixed reviews.
From 2009 on, a new job led to my having the money to afford the latest research materials, and my Gaulish studies leaped ahead. I finally had reliable material, that could stand up to at least some scholarly scrutiny. My Gaulish Polytheism began to take the form you will discover here
In November of 2011, I was diagnosed with renal carcinoma. I had my right kidney removed on November 27, 2011, and endured a long and painful recovery from a surgery with complications. At least they got the cancer in one go. I returned to work after a couple months, but my heart wasn’t in it anymore. In October of 2012, I left my job and began managing my wife’s business. Over time, I again became active in online fora, and this has led me here.
My cancer diagnosis is directly related to this column. It made me far more aware of my own mortality, and the need to get things done in the limited time I have. No one, lying on their deathbed, remembers their career accomplishments. I want some good to come of my studies, of all the research I have done. I want to share my knowledge with you, help shape and develop the Gaulish Polytheist path. Information on Gaulish Polytheism is hard to get, and my column could be very useful to those who are called by the Gaulish Gods or Ancestors.
If you are so moved, I invite you to embark on this journey with me.
I’m in. Invitation accepted! I too am following a Celtic Polytheistic path. My investigation has been mostly in the Irish pantheon but I’ve been drawn to include Taranis in my devotions. I will look forward to reading more.
I look forward to reading the rest of your column, as it promises to cover exactly the type of information I am looking for currently. As a druid, I think it is important to try to honour the gods and spirits connected to the land I live on. Living in Belgium, that would probably be Gaulish gods, but as you mentioned, it is hard to find information about Celtic culture that does not focus on Ireland and the British Isles.
So, thank you for writing about this!
Neat resume !
I hope for you to get better health-wise!
Otherwise, You have left out one thing: why did you choose specifically “Gaulish” Paganism over its Irish, Welsh, Celtiberian or other counterparts? Also, I would be curious to know if you ever visited “Gaul” yourself.
Suauelo, Segomâre! This is a fascinating account, and I look forward to reading more from here in the future. Honoured to embark on that journey! I’m delighted to see Gaulish polytheism represented here. 🙂
I consider myself a Gaulish polytheist as well, although my definition is more territorial than ethnic. I wonder what your feelings are towards the predominantly Roman sources on polytheism in Gaul? For awhile, I used to try to tease apart the Celtic from the Roman, but I’ve now embraced the fact that these coexisted and that many of the same monuments that honour Cernunnos and Esus, for example, also honour Mercury and Apollo. I know this makes me a bit of a heretic among Celtic purists, however!
Also, if it wouldn’t be out of place for me to remark, with respect to Dantes’ question about visiting Gaul, that I fortunately have had the chance to visit France, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and Switzerland often, particularly when I was living in the Old World. Not only can you visit sacred sites in those places, from springs and holy mountains to ancient sanctuaries (some restored, most ruined, some now used as churches), but practically every town of more than 25,000 people or so seems to have a museum of local antiquities where you can see the monuments and cult objects of the ancients.
The Roman syncretism is where we get 90% of what we have, so I’m not opposed to it. I tend to like to focus on the Gaulish side of it, but I don’t rule out Romaan ideas, philosophies, cultural influences, practices, or even deities. All of them became integral parts of the religious tapestry that developed in pre-Christian Roman Gaul.
I would love to get over there – on so many levels.