The Summerlands
Introduction to Celtic Traditions Class

The Summerlands is pleased to offer an eight-week course called, "An Introduction to Celtic Traditions." This course was first offered in 1997 as an orientation to Celtic tradition for new members and those who are just getting started in their search for their roots. This class is hosted by Searles O’Dubhain and is conducted in conjunction with our Aonach Ceilteach section. The currently offered version of this course also runs eight weeks, and will cover new material that is not in the original. It will also provide additional information and detail regarding existing class materials. The direction of the course will be interactively determined by both the teacher and the students..

The Aonach Ceilteach message board was available to students in the original course for in-depth discussion of course materials. The message board was also used for answering any questions by the students that required further explanation or clarity. If a student missed a class, or if they could not attend the classes at night, they could still participate as "correspondence" students, receiving the same handouts and transcripts as full-time students, and also having the same read and write access to the message board. In addition, students can subscribe to the message board using the subscription function, which allows all students to receive emails of all messages that are posted to the board. It is expected that we will continue to incorporate the message board functions and features in this year's course.

The course itself was designed to serve as a general introduction to Celtic culture. The instructor can, at his option, cover a variety of Celtic traditions: everything from their life as a people, their arts, customs and their languages, to Celts as individuals and famous personalities. The discussions will be contain a threefold approach to Celtic tradition: academic discussions, traditional customs and creative speculation. Each class will consist of at least two hours of online discussion, HTML reading assignments (online in specially reserved areas of The Summerlands), and homework assignments, which are evaluated and noted by the teacher. Classes will be conducted at 9:00 PM EDT every Tuesday evening in The Summerlands IRC Room at StarLink-IRC. Please read the information about making IRC connections that is available in the "General Info" at the Crossroads section. Also check the Summerlands Activities Calendar for last minute changes and class topics. A comprehensive suggested reading list is provided and linked at the bottom of this introductory message. These books and references were selected by the teacher to allow the students to broaden and deepen their Celtic knowledge. Most of the course material is drawn from this knowledge base with augmentation for the class information also being provided based upon student/teacher interaction.. Extensive use has been made of readily available Celtic information from internet resources and the instructor’s years of experience in the field. These practices should reduce student expenses and enhance their learning experiences, as all of these resources are freely available and of excellent quality. Every effort has been made to contact authors of this online material to verify that it will remain freely available to the students and to also insure that correct and proper attribution is made. In most cases, The Summerlands has hosted a mirror of the material, listing authors and organizations, as well as providing a link to the original document or home organization. We have done this to standardize the format of the information that is provided for each in reading and we have tried to insure that student usage does not place a heavy burden on the bandwidth of the resources' web servers.

Searles O’Dubhain is the teacher of our Celtic Traditions Class. He is a longtime student and a recognized teacher of Celtic traditions, Celtic history and esoteric methods with over 30 years of combined experience in these disciplines. He formerly taught the online Celtic Workshop on the CompuServe network and is currently a featured writer in the Journal of the Henge of Keltria. He is a member of the Henge of Keltria, a follower of the Druid Way, a co-founder of The Summerlands online community and also a co-founder and co-moderator of the Draíocht email list server. Searles also is one of the founding members of the Order of the White Oak email list and has been an invited instructor at the Ard n-Draíocht Féin (ADF) Wellspring gathering. In addition to that he has undertaken a lifelong study of the Ogham, a key to the knowledge of the ancient Draiothe and Filidh of Ireland. He will soon be teaching a course here in The Summerlands on the use of the Ogham in divination. This course will be based on his new book, Ogham Divination, A Study in Discovering and Re-creating the Ancient Ways of the Druids.

Class Sections
(Each section is constantly updated as classes
are held and new information becomes available)

1. Who Are the Celts?

This is a question that is both easy and difficult to answer... easy if you are a Celt already, and difficult if you’re trying to determine if someone else is a Celt. Before I give a lot of details, I think that the best way for me to describe a Celt is my first meeting with Declan Conroy.

Declan seemed like everyone else when I first met him. He was your average middle-aged European type living in America. Not much about his outward appearance indicated that he was a Celt of any specific sort... but then he began to speak and his language (though English) had a certain *quality* to it. Then I noticed that his spirit was shining through as each word was spoken and he was a *radiator*!!! :-) He seemed to genuinely care about everyone that he met and was as open as a person can get. He also loved to tell a story and reveled in the ones about the Otherworld in particular. He could also drink in the Big Leagues (though he has told me that he has given that up for now.

So I guess you could say that I knew Declan Conroy to be a Celt from his language, his appearance, his attitudes and actions, his love for life and his awe at the numinous around him in both Present and Past.

Class Resources and References

Homework: A Short Personal Biography

2. The Celtic Concept of the Self

A birth reading by a Druid or a Seer would have taken into account many factors of the moment both seen and unseen. They were done as an art/science but also as an imbas or an inspiration. A psychic perception of sorts....kind of like first impressions when looking at everything and nothing. The trick beyond that was to remember the impressions and to be able to "crack" it apart into its components. Then to reassemble the information according to the way that the world influenced the elements of the self. That is basically what I will be discussing much of the evening. The Celts were a very tribal culture and as such they had some interesting concepts of the self. It is in how the self is divided into elements called dúile that we can relate ourselves to one another, the heavens, herbs and even health. I'd say that being a Druid required a study of the self in ways that can be called philosophy and religion today. They differed from most modern priesthoods in that they were closer to the Land and to science at the same time being almost poets. Every Celt was this way after a fashion and could relate to the members of his family through both physical and spiritual connections. It is the sense of connection to both immediate family, tribe and ancestors that best describes the flow and strength of the Celtic spirit. The sense of connection that each Celt felt for another and for the land goes straight to the center of the self It was through their center that a Celt would describe the world around them. This is why Celtic directions sometimes are not based upon a coordinate system such as we use today, but are more of a connection of center to center, from place to place, all along the periphery of their lands. The land itself was considered to be alive and filled with spirit. Indeed, even the Land had its own center. Sometimes, these sacred centers also contained Navel Stones or opthalamos. Usually these sanctuaries and sacred locations were also located upon a hill. And most often, they also contained a sacred tree. This tree was known as a Bile.

Class Resources and References

Homework: Bring your natal chart to class.

3. The Celtic Concept of Place

I'm going to start right in and talk about the Celtic concept of Place. There's no better place to start if you're a Celt than where you stand, which is where your center is. And that is usually upon the Land. Celts have always had a strong affinity for the Land upon which they lived. They took oaths by it. Saying that they would keep faith so long as the sky did not fall upon them, the sea did not rise to drown them and the land did not open to swallow them up. Even Gerald O'Hara, father of Scarlet O'Hara manifested this love of the land ... "The land Katie Scarlet... the land". It was the search for land that drove the Celts across the face of Europe and from there on to the rest of the world. This love of the land was typified by the fact that the land was viewed as a Goddess. The Goddess of Sovereignty. Parts of the land, such as hills or rivers or wells were often identified with this Goddess. Such as The Paps of Anu.

Class Resources and References

Homework: Discover a local dindshenchas around your home.

4. The Celtic Family

When I talk about a Celtic family, I'm really talking about a Tuath, which is kind of an extended family or tribe. According to the law, which is the Brehon law, the family group extended to four generations. this included all the descendants of a common great grandfather. Such an extended family is called a "Derb Fine". The family and the groups of families which made up the Tuath owned all the land in common. Each member of the tribe had certain rights and claims on the usage of the land. But no individual's rights were more important than the family's or the tribe's in general. In ancient Ireland, it's estimated that there were approximately 150 such tribes or tuaths. All of an individual's rights and the laws as they applied to them only existed within the confines of the tribal land. If a person were to journey through another tribe's lands, then special arrangements would have had to be made. The head of such a tribe would have been one of the many petty kings of the land. One of their functions would have been to make arrangements for such treaties between tribes. At certain times of the year, before fire festivals, everyone was allowed to assemble at the sacred sites. .. for their people or for the whole of the province.

Class Resources and References

Homework: What are your family origins?

5. The Sacral Kingship

This class discussed four topics: The King's Role in Celtic Society, the Idea and Concept of Sovereignty, a Guide for Kings called The Audacht Morainn, the Ogham Nuin or the "King's Truth." All of these ideas apply equally well for today's efforts at reconstructing Celtic society as well as for the ways in which that society functioned in the past. Simply put, the king's role in Celtic society was to serve as the connection between the people and the Land. The king also was the determining factor in how the Land prospered. This placed the king at the center of Celtic society, next to the sacred tree, well, and fire. This also meant that the king was required to marry the Land in a ritual known as the Banis Righ.

Class Resources and References

General Introductory Remarks and Discussion
Class Transcript On Site Resources Off Site Resources
The Banis Righ    
The Wasting of the Land   Role in Society
Audacht Morainn a HREF="aonachclass/Audacht Morainn.html">Audacht Morainn Sovereignty
The King’s Truth Teagasc an Riogh  

Homework: What would be the role of a king in today’s world?

6. Celtic Deities

What we'll be discussing is everything from general archetypes to deities for specific Celtic traditions and also the deities that I associate most closely with the major festivals of the year. Unlike the Greeks and the Romans, the Celtic culture had many, many deities. In fact, they had over 300 of them. The reason for this multiplicity of Celtic deities is a combination of factors. The first factor is that Celtic cultures spread throughout Europe in a symbiotic fashion. This is to say that the Celts tended to incorporate the functions of the local deities into the functions of their tribal deities. The second factor is the fact that Celtic culture was tribal in nature. This tribal characteristic tended to assign differing names to the same general classification of deity. Very few actual pan-celtic deities are known to exist. The latter are more recently incorporated deities who tended to be widespread among the Celts due to the rise in the influence of the druids and to the more rapid migration of Celtic tribes during the last part of the Iron Age . These migrations were due primarily to pressure from Northern peoples such as the Germanic culture and due to their encounters with the Romans.

Class Resources and References

Homework: Who is your deity?

7. Celtic Traditions

We'll be discussing customs associated with Births, Marriages, Deaths, as well as, traditions relating to battle and work. In addition to that, we will cover the major festivals of the ancient Celts. Among the Celts, the most unstable times were those in-between times and places such as, sunup and sundown and the turning of the two major seasons of the year... summer and winter. Life also had such in-between-times. When the attention of the Otherworld would be focused on the life of the tribe and the family. The three most noteworthy instances of this in-between-sness are birth, marriage, and death. Each of these times represents a major change in the life of a person and their family. In Celtic traditional practice, one should always be warded, at such times, especially against theft by the Sidhe and the "Good People" of the Otherworld. Nowhere was this need more apparent for warding than in their birth traditions.

Class Resources and References

Homework: Your special family traditions.

8. Celtic Superstitions

This class is about superstitions among the Celts. When I talk about superstitions, exactly what do I mean? The dictionary of the word superstition is, "Any belief which is inconsistent with known facts, or rational thought, especially such a belief in omens, the supernatural, and other unseen powers. It can also mean any action or practice based on such a belief." What this tells us is that Celts were not an entirely rational people. They did not base their actions, beliefs, or lifestyle completely upon those things that can be deduced from observation and experience. They also interacted with their environment and reacted to the way in which it caused them to feel. The Celts also possessed a strong sense of wonder. Beyond this, they felt a part of the land and it was through this connection to the land and reality of it, that they were able to perceive a greater reality of spirit and the unseen. Many of the actions that a Celt would take that perhaps would seem illogical to a rational mind, were based upon the idea of Geis. Another word for this is a "taboo" or a prohibition. Just how did these geasa originate and how were they determined? It's my belief that the answer to this question lies within the need for balance within all of reality. To me, geis and karma are interrelated concepts. Geis is the closest thing that a Celt would come to that is similar to a karmic payback. They are also like road signs on the road to one's destiny or Dan. Geis were usually determined by a seer at the time of birth. These geasa were actions that one should avoid in life in return for good luck and fortune. In this, they are very like the oft quoted tale where a person might get three wishes if they didn’t reveal certain secrets or take a certain action.

Class Resources and References

Class Transcript On Site Resources Off Site Resources
A Sense of Wonder Geis  
Votive and Sacrificial Offerings   The Home
Associative Law of Magic   The Sidhe
First Days Reincarnation Afterlife
Other Superstitions    
Reading the Signs    

Homework: What are your experiences with superstitions?

Here are the books that will be used in the course (Get them at the Rowanleaf Bookstore):

If you'd like to know more about the Celts and Celtic tradition, this is your chance. We don't know where you'll find so much packed into one class and brought to your home courtesy of The Summerlands.

For signup information e-mail or go directly to the Celtic Traditions Class signup form.

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Created by Searles and Deborah O'Dubhain,
Copyright 1996 by The Summerlands, Inc. Last changed: 4/6/99 01:48:21 AM