[Author’s note: this was intended for publication in the Hearthstone Community Church newsletter, 07/2016, it doesn’t seem to have gotten there!]
You might be a person interested in the Celtic path and looking around for a place to start.
First and foremost, blessings and welcome! When you’re looking for a new path, lead with your heart and your curiosity. If you are drawn to the Celtic path there is no DNA requirement. While many people choose a path to explore their ancestral heritage, an equal amount of people follow a path because they are engaged by the spiritual principles, and the way that the lore and the rituals express the inner faith.
The so-called Celtic Path actually offers many paths to explore.
You may wish to start by following a well worn track laid in place by many others who have spent years, or even decades, seeking out wisdom and ways of practice. For this you can look to in-country, out-of-country, and international or local Celtic/Druid groups that have already made some decisions for themselves. Check out what they have done and see if that is what you are looking for.
Here are a very few examples: OBOD, the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids is a long established, international organization with much to offer. They have been in existence for over 50 years and, while claiming Druidry as their specific form, they are very open in their practices, very Pan-Celtic and open to followers of all faiths. OBOD relies heavily on the Druid Revival movement of the late eighteenth century, as well as the deep well of Welsh myth and folklore.
Ár nDraíocht Féin is an international organization, incorporated in the U.S. 26 years ago, that defines their practice as Pan-IndoEuropean, NeoDruidism. Since their practice encompasses all IndoEuropean Pagan traditions, it matters what Grove or ProtoGrove you associate to if you are looking for a specifically Celtic practice.
For an out-of-country organization, the Celtic Druid Temple is the first Druid organization in Ireland recognized by the government of Ireland, and seeks to share a reclaimed indigenous Irish tradition.
A local organization dedicated to reconstructionist Celtic practice is Cró Dreoilín, they have meetups and they sponsor the annual Paths and Traditions Fair.
Each of these groups, and others like them, offer a great start on the Celtic path.
When I decided that I needed more information than I had at hand, I started with OBOD. I had enjoyed the rituals and workshops provided at DragonFest by the TreeHenge OBOD group out of Fort Collins, so that was a natural avenue. From such a broad swath of practitioners and information it was possible to find a starting place for myself. Eventually, I decided that I wasn’t interested in Druid Revival material, and, sometime after that, I narrowed my focus from a Pan-Celtic view to a passion for the Irish path.
To explore the Irish path and transpose it onto my own life I was going to have a better understanding of Ireland, Irish myth, folklore and manuscripts. That’s a tall order.
If you are looking to explore the history and lore by yourself, or if you already have some understanding of the tradition you are interested in but want to deepen that understanding, look for authorities on translation, and authors that can open up the keys to the great myths and folklore. I greatly enjoy the work of John and Caitlin Matthews. Particularly, these two titles: "Encyclopaedia of Celtic Myth and Legend: A Definitive Sourcebook of Magic, Vision, and Lore", and "The Encyclopaedia of Celtic Wisdom : A Celtic Shaman's Sourcebook.”
Yet I felt like somehow my understanding was second hand. I didn’t want to reinterpret the original words through the lens of my modern experience. I wanted to go into the original meanings. So,I was thrilled to find the Story Archaeologists podcasts. They can be an end in themselves, or they can lead you further on. They offer a deep dive on Irish Mythology that is unmatched, with new, original translations and a website that is packed with additional material. I listen to them over and over and always learn more.
If you are exploring the Celtic path as an ancestral path, you might want to start planning a trip. I have traveled to the region that my ancestors are from and I have stood in the standing stones and monuments there. It was a connection unlike any other for me. Nothing beats the real experience of being there, watching the sunrise and sunset, breathing the air, touching the earth, watching the rustle of the wind in the leaves of native trees and the way that the light interacts with the landscape.
Even if this is not an ancestral exploration for you, you may wish to see, rather than imagine, the landscape that produced your tradition. In the end, all the original Pagan practices arose out of the land on which it was practiced. After three trips to Ireland for a total of nearly two months of days in two different seasons, I feel like I know much more about the soil that formed the line of my people, and wrote the tales of their historical and spiritual world. I also feel like I know so much less than I would need to know to really understand.
And, because of that, I believe that you practice where you are, so I have personally made use of Steven Blamires suggestions in "Celtic Tree Mysteries: Practical Druid Magic & Divination" as a tool for practice in my local, Rocky Mountain region. I have used the USDA Plants database online to help me seek out the real, native, cognates to the original Irish “artificial” trees mentioned in the Scholar’s Primer in the Book of Ballymote. It is from this practice, among others, that I have provided the information in the Colorado Celtic Weekly Planner that I have been publishing for the last five years. The practice of growing in the knowledge of this land has deepened my spiritual connection to the Druid path.
I have been a part of the drumming up of the sun at the Winter Solstice and have seen the first rays of the Summer Solstice sun burst through a cleft in the mountains. I have slept on the banks of Western Slope rivers, and gazed up at the “fire in the sky” immortalized by John Denver, while snuggled in a sleeping bag, by the coals in a fire pit, high in the mountains. More than that, I have stood outside here in Colorado and honored my path at every moon over the last decade, when I wasn’t standing somewhere else. Colorado is sacred land and it is a simple thing to step out and begin to be a part of it.
There are many legitimate discouragements and many “experts” would find reasons to shoot down any of the suggestions I offer here. I’ll offer those counterpoints here:
Even in the best translated or oldest untranslated manuscripts much is Christianized. The Tree Moon stuff is a modern invention, scoffed at by many critics. In the original languages, even the names of the Goddesses and Gods are seemingly unpronounceable, place names are worse. All of the heroic figures are complex, some of the descriptions are simply bizarre. In Ireland, I was told directly that, if I wasn’t practicing in Ireland, I wasn’t practicing the Celtic path at all, and I was curtly advised to seek out Native American advisors for my Colorado practice.
You’d think I’d give up, wouldn’t you? I didn’t and here’s why.
The trees are a part of the lore, and associated to the Ogham, even if merely as mnemonic devices. We can seek them out and reacquaint ourselves. Open a modern Irish language calendar to the fifth month and you’ll see that May is still called Bealtaine, flip three pages to Lúnasa, flip three more to Samhna. Anyone who practices NeoPaganism or Wicca already has strong connections to the Celtic path. It is right there, like the otherworld, parallel to our own.
So, where can anyone start? If you are really looking for the Celtic path the worst thing is to stay lost in a new-age world where every "pantheon" can be substituted for any other “ antheon" and all things are equivalents. This is like treating all lovers like your first lover and never learning what the human being in front of you is really about. Be present. Open yourself up to the new, unique gifts of the path you are exploring. Abandon preconceived notions and dig in! Be challenged by the quirks and baffled by the languages. Let yourself be imperfect on the journey. Allow the gaps to be gaps while you look for the reasons for the absences and oddities.
Denver has more parks than any other similarly-sized city. We have accessible hiking and accommodations at our many state parks. The wilderness is still available for those who have made themselves prepared for its many moods and challenges. We have planetariums, open spaces, and back yards.
Above all, be true to yourself and begin. Now is the only moment in which magic can be made.
Peace of the forest to you on your path.