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T HE G AOL N AOFA FAQ 1 of 98 www.gaolnaofa.com

THE GAOL NAOFA FAQ

Published by An Chuallacht Ghaol Naofa. www.gaolnaofa.com

Published November 2012. Third edition. Update 11 June 2014.

Copyright © 2007, 2012, 2014 Treasa Ní Chonchobhair, Annie Loughlin, Kathryn Price NicDhàna, and Tomás Flannabhra. All Rights Reserved.

Published in Scotland. Original typography and interior layout by Aestas Designs.

Special thanks to Pól MacAmhlaoibh, Sky Davis, Richard Bounds, and Brandon Sweeney for the initial read-through and feedback, and to Isaac Davis and Tom Leigh for language assistance.

Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owners and the above publisher of this book.

If you are downloading this from any site other than www.gaolnaofa.com or www.scribd.com/GaolNaofa please know that you've downloaded a stolen and illegal copy.

Disclaimer

The following FAQs speak only of Gaol Naofa and our lifeway of Gaelic (Reconstructionist) Polytheism 1 —not for the entirety of Celtic Reconstructionism or other traditions of Gaelic Polytheism. While we have in a way modeled this after The CR FAQ, a lot of our questions are phrased differently, are written for those with a specifically Gaelic focus, and/or have different answers than in The CR FAQ. 2

1 Or, as we in Gaol Naofa refer to our tradition: Our Gaelic Polytheist Lifeway (GPL); in Gàidhlig, Ar Dòigh-Beatha Ioma- Dhiadhach Ghàidhealach, and Gaeilge, Ár nDóigh Bheatha Ildiach is Gaelach. Gaol Naofa has coined this term to better describe our specific tradition and beliefs, as practiced by the members of Gaol Naofa. This is partly in order to distinguish ourselves from other Gaelic Polytheist groups, but also to emphasise our commitment to our spirituality as a way of life. Although admittedly a bit of a mouthful, we feel the phrase speaks to the heart of Gaol Naofa's philosophy and community.

2 The CR FAQ is a broad-based, consensus document, written by representatives from different Celtic Reconstructionist traditions, some of which only had the core, basic principles in common; in it, a diverse group of people managed to arrive at answers the group could all live with. Thus, in places the authors had to go with the lowest-common- denominator answer, and in others a "some see it this way, others see it that way" approach. As Gaol Naofa has a specific tradition of Gaelic Polytheism, we have the luxury of being able to be more specific and unified about our beliefs in this FAQ.

Table of Contents

Disclaimer

3

Table of Contents

4

Organisational Matters

10

What is Gaol Naofa?

10

Is Gaol Naofa a religious or cultural organisation?

10

Is Gaol Naofa a Neopagan organisation?

11

How is Gaol Naofa coordinated?

12

Are you Democrats, Republicans, Socialists, or Nationalists?

12

Does Gaol Naofa host public rituals or other events?

12

Does Gaol Naofa charter or sponsor groups?

12

Is Gaol Naofa 501(c)(3) certified?

13

Does Gaol Naofa offer any courses in Gaelic Polytheism?

13

Does Gaol Naofa offer mentoring?

13

Does Gaol Naofa offer classes in any of the Gaelic languages?

14

What is Gaol Naofa's opinion on Neopagan and/or New Age conventions, festivals, and gatherings?

14

What about writing for New Age and Neopagan publications and presses?

16

Where does Gaol Naofa stand on racism, oppression, and Neo-Nazism?

16

Membership Questions

18

Who can join Gaol Naofa?

18

Do I need to be of Gaelic descent to join Gaol Naofa?

18

Do I need to be a certain age to join Gaol Naofa?

19

Do I need to have any prior experience in Gaelic Polytheism to join? Do I need to have

studied for so long? Read so many books?

19

Does my political affiliation matter?

19

Can I remain in, or join, other organisations whilst being a member of Gaol Naofa?. 20

General Questions

22

What

is

Gaelic

Polytheism (GP)?

22

What is Gaelic Reconstructionist Polytheism (GRP)?

22

What

is

the point of Reconstruction?

23

How do Celtic Reconstructionism and GP/GRP differ?

23

Is Gaelic Polytheism an ancient tradition?

24

What is the living Gaelic cultural continuum?

24

If Gaelic Polytheism is a reconstruction of pre-Christian beliefs, why does the cultural

continuum matter? Isn't it Christian?

How do Gaelic Polytheists decide what aspects of Gaelic culture to keep and discard?

25

 

25

What are your ethics?

26

Is learning any of the Gaelic languages a requirement for Gaelic Polytheism?

26

What is Gaelic lore? Where can I find it?

27

What books do you recommend?

28

What sort of books should I avoid?

29

Theological Questions

30

So Gaelic Polytheists have no "creation myth"?

30

Land, Sea and Sky? What's that all about?

33

What is the Otherworld?

33

What is a worldview? Why do I need to adopt a Gaelic worldview in order to practice

Gaelic Polytheism?

 

34

Is Gaelic Polytheism dualistic?

36

Is Gaelic Polytheism a nature-based religion?

38

Is

Gaelic

Polytheism

ethnic-based?

38

What is the holy/central text of Gaelic Polytheism?

39

Do you really believe in

those myths?

39

Some of the Gaelic mythos has misogynistic undertones. Does this mean Gaelic

Polytheism is sexist?

40

Who do Gaelic Polytheists worship?

41

Who are the Dé ocus An-Dé?

42

Do you believe your gods are the "true gods"?

44

What about matron and patron deities, do you guys have those?

44

What

is the fairy-faith?

 

45

Are the Fomoiri demonic forces or entities?

46

What is UPG? How much UPG is acceptable in Gaelic Polytheism?

46

When it comes to the polytheistic aspects that need to be reconstructed in GP/GRP, how important is Proto-IE and IE mythology?

47

Do I need to study Vedic mythology in order to practice Gaelic Polytheism?

47

Does Gaelic Polytheism borrow from other religions or cultures?

48

Do Gaelic Polytheists have any sacred symbols? What symbols do you reject?

48

Does Gaelic Polytheism have clergy?

49

So you guys don't refer to yourselves as Druids?

49

Ritual and Practice Questions

51

How does one become a Gaelic Polytheist? Where does one begin?

51

How

do Gaelic Polytheists worship?

51

What are considered acceptable

offerings?

53

Does Gaelic Polytheism include ritual sacrifice?

54

What festivals/holidays do Gaelic Polytheists celebrate?

55

What about the solstices and equinoxes, do you celebrate those?

56

Do you celebrate secular cultural holidays as well as religious ones?

57

Is Gaelic Polytheism something that can be practiced in urban and suburban areas?.57

How involved/immersed in Gaelic culture should one be?

58

How important is tradition to Gaelic Polytheists?

58

Who are the Elders?

60

How important is family and community within Gaelic Polytheism?

63

How are these family groups organized?

64

So you don't allow room for solitaries?

64

How can I include my child/children in my practice?

65

Do I have to have children to be a Gaelic Polytheist?

66

Are there any different paths within Gaelic Polytheism?

67

Is magic an acceptable practice in Gaelic Polytheism?

69

Do I need to practice folk magic or divination in order to be a Gaelic Polytheist?

69

What is flametending? Does Gaol Naofa have a flametending order?

70

Do I have to tend a flame in order to honour Brigid?

71

Where does Gaol Naofa stand on male flametending?

71

Isn't opposing male flametenders a subjugation and hatred of men, or members of the

LGBT community?

72

What are Gaol Naofa's feelings about the participation of transwomen in flametending rituals? What about the Biddy Boys? Do festivals that include cross-dressing provide a basis for male flametenders? What is cultural appropriation? How can I avoid it?

that include cross-dressing provide a basis for male flametenders? What is cultural appropriation? How can I
that include cross-dressing provide a basis for male flametenders? What is cultural appropriation? How can I

74

74

75

I live in America (or Canada); is it okay to approach local spirits in the ways of Native

peoples?

76

Do you allow room for syncretism?

77

Do you allow room for eclecticism?

79

What about Interfaith work?

80

Misconceptions

82

There are people besides Gaol Naofa who call themselves "Gaelic Polytheists". Does everyone who calls themselves GP or GRP have the same beliefs and practices as Gaol

Naofa?

82

Isn't Gaelic Polytheism just the same thing as Druidism? What about the Avalonian traditions?

82

Are you all "Celtic Shamans"?

84

Isn't Witchcraft the same thing as folk-magic? Doesn't that mean you call yourself Witches?

85

But hasn't the meaning of Witchcraft changed?

87

Do Gaelic Polytheists keep a "Book of Shadows"?

88

Is there a list of correspondences somewhere to aid me in ritual?

88

Do Gaelic Polytheists cast circles, or invoke elements and quarters during rituals?

89

Do you guys wear pentagrams or pentacles?

90

I was in a Wiccan coven for three years and took my third degree so I am an Elder now

90

I'm fifty now. I'm an Elder

90

Do you celebrate the festivals in the same way as other Neopagans?

91

Do Gaelic Polytheists follow the "Celtic Tree Calendar"?

91

You worship a Sun God and Moon Goddess right? Maiden, Mother, Crone? Where's

that Horned God fella?

91

But wait … doesn't Gaelic mythology mention triple goddesses?

92

Do you use the gods for spells and such?

93

Appendix: Gluais (Glossary)

94

Organisational Matters

What is Gaol Naofa?

Gaol Naofa 3 is an Irish phrase that roughly translates to "sacred kinship/affinity." As an organisation we are committed to the practice and further advancement of our Gaelic Polytheist Lifeway (Ar Dòigh-Beatha Ioma-Dhiadhach Ghàidhealach / Ár nDóigh Bheatha Ildiach is Gaelach), and to the preservation and protection of the Gaelic cultural continuum as a whole. The purpose of Gaol Naofa is to take an active role in the preservation and revitalisation of the pre-Christian, earth-based spiritual traditions of our Gaelic ancestors. We do this by gathering people together and creating an environment for the exchange of resources, information, research and ideas, and by providing a medium for the propagation of knowledge. We are dedicated to preserving the earth-based cultural traditions that survive, and, through careful scholarship and collaboration, reconstructing the ways that have been fragmented or fallen into disuse. Gaol Naofa's vision is the practice and preservation of our Gaelic Polytheist Lifeway (GPL), in the context of modern life and in strict accommodation with history and tradition, and to affirm our ancestral traditions as a fulfilling way of life for Gaelic people.

Is Gaol Naofa a religious or cultural organisation?

Both. As our religious beliefs and practices are rooted in a cultural context we believe that religion and culture are inextricably intertwined, permeating our everyday life and existence. Because of this, Gaol Naofa believes that cultural preservation, conservation and education are

3 Gaol Naofa is pronounced GWEEL NEE-fah. The full name of our organisation is An Chuallacht Ghaol Naofa ("The Community of Sacred Kinship"). Abbreviations frequently used: Gaol Naofa (GN). Gaelic Polytheism (GP). Gaelic Reconstructionist Polytheism (GRP). The latter two are often used interchangeably though, strictly speaking, our modern practices usually contain at least some degree of reconstruction.

vital elements of our organisation's outlook and remit, in addition to providing spiritual support and community. Preservation is therefore at the heart and soul of Gaol Naofa: the preservation of Gaelic languages, sacred sites, tradition (both oral and written), ethics, and the entire Gaelic cultural continuum from loss, misrepresentation, or damage. We view cultural conservation as a sacred duty and encourage all of our members to support these aims as well. For example, many of us supported the campaign against the Tara-Skryne M3 development in Ireland, as well as campaign against the hydro-electric plan that threatened the Tigh na Caillich shrine in Scotland, and support charities and organisations that promote language preservation and education.

See also: Organisational Matters: "Where does Gaol Naofa stand on racism, oppression, and Neo-Nazism?"

Is Gaol Naofa a Neopagan organisation?

Although Gaol Naofa is a modern polytheist organisation, we do not feel that the "Neopagan" label is representative of our beliefs or practices and do not identify with it in any meaningful way beyond acknowledging the role reconstruction has, of necessity, played in the revival of our lifeway. "Neopagan" was initially defined as "Modern Pagan," and when that was the sole definition, yes, it fit all practitioners of modern, earth-honouring, non-Abrahamic religions – including us. But over the decades the term has come to include a number of additional meanings, such as an eclectic, Wiccan or Neo-Wiccan approach to religion, as well as explicit support for cultural appropriation. 4 Since none of these additional meanings apply to us, we feel we must now reject the label outright in order to distance ourselves from practices we consider to be harmful and offensive to indigenous cultures and their ancestral beliefs. We have the utmost respect for all paths and perspectives, but find more commonality

4 "Definition of neo-paganism in English: neopaganism – noun – 'A modern religious movement that seeks to incorporate beliefs or ritual practices from traditions outside the main world religions, especially those of pre-Christian Europe and North America. Neopaganism is a highly varied mixture of ancient and modern elements, in which nature worship (influenced by modern environmentalism) often plays a major role. Other influences include shamanism, magical and occult traditions, and radical feminist critiques of Christianity." Oxford Dictionaries, accessed 6/6/14.

with the outlook and attitudes of those who follow and preserve other, Earth-honouring ancestral traditions outside of Neopaganism. Our belief is that we must be rooted in our own culture and traditional ways and not steal from, nor denigrate, the ceremonies or traditions of other cultures.

See also: Organisational Matters: What is Gaol Naofa's opinion on Neopagan and/or New Age conventions, festivals and gatherings? and General Questions: What is the living Gaelic cultural continuum?

How is Gaol Naofa coordinated?

Gaol Naofa was founded in 2007 by Tomás Flannabhra and from 2009–2014 was administered by Treasa Ní Chonchobhair. As of January 2014, Gaol Naofa is currently administered by Annie Loughlin with the assistance of a Council of volunteers, Elders, and allies residing in the US, Scotland, Canada, and Ireland who willingly commit their time and energy to sustaining and advancing the organisation, Gaelic Polytheism, and Gaelic culture. Gaol Naofa supports and interacts with its members and advisers on an individual and collective basis.

Are you Democrats, Republicans, Socialists, or Nationalists?

Gaol Naofa does not promote or associate itself with any political party, ideology, or faction; in short, Gaol Naofa is an apolitical organisation.

Does Gaol Naofa host public rituals or other events?

Members are welcome to host free public events (cultural gatherings, rituals, workshops, etc.) under the banner of Gaol Naofa, but only after first contacting the Council with a fully detailed description of the event and the proposed presentation, and receiving written approval to do so. For more information, please contact us at gaol.naofa@gmail.com.

See also: Organisational Matters: "What is Gaol Naofa's opinion on Neopagan and/or New Age conventions, festivals, and gatherings?"

Does Gaol Naofa charter or sponsor groups?

We do not dispense local charters or sponsor groups at this time. While some Gaol Naofa

memberships are of households and extended families, being a member of an in-person group is not a requirement.

Is Gaol Naofa 501(c)(3) certified?

Gaol Naofa is not currently working to receive 501(c)(3) status, nor to incorporate itself as a non-profit religious organisation.

Does Gaol Naofa offer any courses in Gaelic Polytheism?

Gaol Naofa has no plans to ever create anything like a correspondence course in Gaelic Polytheism akin to The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF), New Order of Druids (NOD), or other organisations that might offer similar kinds of courses for their own traditions. We view Gaelic Polytheism not as a course one passes—but a way of life. It is something that you put your entire being into, not just a few hours of your time on the weekends. Members are encouraged to use our Yahoo mailing list, Facebook, and/or web forum as a place to ask questions and discuss any subject or issues that might arise during the course of their studies and practice.

See also: Organisational Matters: "Does Gaol Naofa offer mentoring?"

Does Gaol Naofa offer mentoring?

Of sorts. We believe the most helpful kind of mentoring takes place through bonds of mutual affection and support—through community, fellowship, discussion, and guidance—not formal courses or class work. Mentoring within Gaol Naofa takes place initially through getting to know us via our Yahoogroup and other web forums, and may lead to deeper relationships via the phone and in-person meetings. Members are also free to email us privately to discuss anything they do not feel comfortable sharing to the entire group. Our core members have bonds of family with one another, and our extended families are interconnected; some of us have chosen where we live and arranged our priorities so that we can share our daily lives with one another. Collectively, the Council has over 90 years of experience and study in the Gaelic traditions and

living diaspora, and our circle of advisors includes elders in their 80s as well as those from living traditions.

See also: General Questions: "Who are the Elders?"

Does Gaol Naofa offer classes in any of the Gaelic languages?

We are not at this time offering formal Gaelic language classes (whether Irish [Gaeilge], Scottish [Gàidhlig], or Manx [Gaelg]). All the Council members are language students with varying degrees of study under our belts, yet at this time none of us are fluent or certified as teachers. As we are dedicated to preserving the Gaelic languages in their entirety (rather than just learning a few terms for matters spiritual), we feel it best serves our ancestors and descendents for learners to acquire the languages in a solid manner, from fluent and experienced teachers (and native speakers, where possible). What we can do is answer any questions on language to the best of our ability, help out with phonetics and simple translations, and provide a list of resources to aid your own study. Depending on where you live, we may also be able to direct you to our colleagues, friends and advisors who are qualified to teach full courses. As a community of learners, we can also share our progress informally among ourselves.

See also: General Questions: "Is learning any of the Gaelic languages a requirement for Gaelic Polytheism?"

What is

Gaol Naofa's

opinion

festivals, and gatherings?

on Neopagan and/or

New

Age conventions,

Gaol Naofa firmly believes that our allies matter, and that everyone is known by the company they choose to keep. With this in mind, we would not encourage anyone to attend events such as this, simply for the fact that the majority of them are breeding grounds for teachings and rituals that are nothing more than racist appropriations of other cultures—not just Gaelic cultures and tradition, but those of our allies as well. 5 We believe that a person cannot

5 The New Age Movement is characterised by pay to pray and "if it feels good (to me), do it." Rarely does this movement acknowledge any source of authority outside of the individual ego/self. This contrasts with traditional, community-based structures that prioritise the community over the individual, and include systems of checks-and-balances on ceremonial people. The New Age is a consumerist and capitalist system that is destroying traditional cultures. If one is looking for

claim to support Indigenous struggles and traditional, living cultures, and then happily help line the pockets of exploiters—not unless they want to be viewed as deceitful and duplicitous within the community. We would also add that another problem with many of these kinds of events is that there is often—unfortunately—a dark underbelly of exploitation. Vulnerable people might pay good money to attend a convention or gathering, looking for guidance and fellowship, only to find that they are being fed ignorance and massaging the egos of wannabe "Elders," but only after having bought into it hook, line and sinker and wasting a lot of time and money in the process. With these issues in mind, we would generally not encourage members to attend events like this. A common argument for accepting a gig as a speaker at a dodgy event is that some people convince themselves that they can provide a legitimate alternative to the exploiters. Gaol Naofa does not agree with this. Ultimately, we do not believe that one should have to pay to pray, and this is essentially what these gatherings or conventions are. From this point of view alone we consider attending these events as supporting something that we find deeply wrong, but to attend as a speaker is tantamount to condoning and encouraging pay-to-pray racist appropriators and exploiters. Not all Neopagan events are frowned upon, however, but we still offer cautions. If the roster at a free, open event like Pagan Pride Day looks fairly neutral, or a mixed bag where there is a reasonable amount of sane people, we believe it's OK to table and provide a quiet alternative. 6 But tabling at a Pagan Pride Day is not the same as putting oneself on the roster with exploiters and selling experiences that should happen in community, not among strangers who have paid for the experience.

networking opportunities, Gaelic or Celtic cultural festivals, or interfaith events run by non-exploitative, traditional spiritual people, are a more appropriate place to find allies.

6 Though if one wants to do so as a representative of Gaol Naofa, we would ask you to let us know first; we can provide a variety of handouts or fliers for you to print and take along.

What about writing for New Age and Neopagan publications and presses?

Basically, the same criteria as above ("What is Gaol Naofa's opinion on Neopagan and/or New Age conventions, festivals, and gatherings?"). In some cases the best choice is to show up and offer an alternative perspective, even at the risk of being briefly in the company of those who write misinformation; in others it's not worth it if your participation will directly or indirectly lead to the promotion of exploiters. Authors who submit to anthologies usually have no say in who else will appear in the book; the editor and publisher control that, and often will not inform individual authors of who else is being included in the collection. In these cases we simply advise members to use their best judgement: If a publisher or editor has routinely published gross misinformation, appropriated or exploitative materials, we would of course avoid having anything to do with them. If a publication regularly features appropriators and exploiters, and advertisements for pay-to-pray and inappropriate merchandise, it is of course best to steer clear. Sometimes it takes longer to find a publisher for quality material, or self-publishing becomes the best option. We encourage the writers among us to pursue their craft, and can offer support in navigating the sometimes frustrating and difficult world of publishing.

Where does Gaol Naofa stand on racism, oppression, and Neo-Nazism?

For people of Irish, Scottish, or Manx heritage, Gaelic Polytheism provides a framework for understanding and experiencing the world that is rooted in the wisdom, customs, thought, traditions, ethics and character that formed the worldview of our Gaelic forebears. This worldview and spirituality still lives in the traditional music, lore, and customs of the living Gaelic cultures, and it is our life's work to preserve, protect, and revive these ways. That being said, one does not need to be of Gaelic heritage in order to participate in Gaelic Polytheism. Our community is about culture, not blood quantum. We respect the ways of other, Earth-honouring ancestral traditions, and our friends and allies who preserve those ways of life for their peoples. Our belief is that we must be rooted in our own culture and traditional ways and not steal from, nor denigrate, the ceremonies or traditions

of other cultures. Many of the Gaol Naofa Council members also hold council seats with an activist and preservation organisation called CAORANN, or, Celts Against Oppression, Racism and Neo- Nazism. 7 As such, Gaol Naofa—by extension—takes a firm stance against oppression, discrimination, racism, sexism, bigotry, ignorance, intolerance, misrepresentation, the destruction of sacred sites, media biasing, and the spread of white supremacy in any culture.

See also: Ritual and Practice Questions: "What are your ethics?"

Membership Questions

Who can join Gaol Naofa?

Anyone who shares our goals and is in accordance with our principles. Membership and participation in Gaol Naofa is not dictated by race, ability or disability, gender, blood line, income, social status, martial status, sexual orientation, nationality, or political orientation. The only things we discriminate against are racism, white supremacy and privilege, hubris, bullying, cultural appropriation, "pay to pray," eclecticism, sexism, homophobia, fascism, Nazism, misogyny, disrespectful attitudes toward tradition (of any culture), non-historical syncretism, lying, sockpuppeting and other dishonourable behaviours. These have absolutely no place in Gaol Naofa.

Do I need to be of Gaelic descent to join Gaol Naofa?

No. Questions of ethnicity or cultural heritage are not included on the membership application and are irrelevant to the membership process altogether. People of Gaelic heritage are more likely to be drawn to Gaelic Polytheism, and more likely to have Gaelic cultural survivals in their families of origin, but having Gaelic ancestry is not a requirement to participate in Gaelic Polytheism or to join Gaol Naofa. While we maintain that Gaelic Polytheism is an ethnic tradition rooted in the culture, worldview, values, and character of the Gaelic peoples, we believe a sincere desire to adopt the Gaelic culture and worldview, to participate in the Gaelic communities, and to honour the Dé ocus An-Dé (Sengoídelc [Old Irish], "Gods and Un-Gods") are the only necessary prerequisites.

Do I need to be a certain age to join Gaol Naofa?

To join as an independent adult you will need to be at least eighteen years of age. Younger members of our community are of course welcome to participate in Gaelic Polytheist activities in their families and local communities, and may be included as a part of a family membership. 8 We encourage youth with an interest in Gaol Naofa to discuss it with their parents, or other adult members of their extended families, to see if their parents or guardians may share an interest in our community.

Do I need to have any prior experience in Gaelic Polytheism to join? Do I need to have studied for so long? Read so many books?

No, you do not need to have studied for x-number of years or read x-number of books. However, we would appreciate your desire to join, and learn, to be sincere and serious. For those new to a spiritual path or to a Gaelic Polytheist lifeway, there will (and must) be a period of learning. While to become fluent and expert in Polytheistic Reconstructionism does demand study and immersion (and this has led to the misconception among some that we are solely about research), the most important thing is that we live our beliefs. While you may not have much experience in Gaelic Polytheism, you will at least need to know, understand, and seek to observe what it is prior to joining Gaol Naofa. This can be accomplished by reading this entire FAQ. If you understand and agree with what is written in this FAQ, then there's a good chance that Gaol Naofa is the right community for you.

Does my political affiliation matter?

No. Gaol Naofa does not dictate members' political ideology. That being said, if your political ideology includes racism, white supremacy and privilege, cultural appropriation, sexism, homophobia, fascism, Nazism, and/or misogyny, we would please ask you not to join.

8 Provided the parents or adults of that membership give consent for minors to join.

Can I remain in, or join, other organisations whilst being a member of Gaol Naofa?

Yes, but with caveats. We do not mind dual memberships to other organisations as long as the member remains true to the principles of Gaol Naofa. We understand that face-to-face reconstructionist community might be hard to come by for some Gaelic Polytheists, and if there are no Gaol Naofa households in your area you might also join a local organisation in order to have face-to-face cultural and spiritual community. However, we would suggest that you not regularly participate in ritual or ceremony that has a liturgy, theology, and cosmology drastically different to Gaelic Polytheism. 9 This means that holding a dual membership to a religious

organisation that is significantly different to our Gaelic Polytheist Lifeway (i.e., Shinto, Wicca,

Hinduism, Heathenry, Buddhism, Hellenismos, Kemeticism, Religio Romana, Christianity

not recommended. Why? Because while being a respectful, occasional guest at another culture's observances is acceptable, trying to practice multiple lifeways at the same time can lead to confusion and serious internal conflict. As protocols for interacting with the spirits can vary greatly between cultures, trying to combine these ways can lead to serious, if unintentional, offences against the spirits that will have very real consequences in your life. Belief informs actions; belief is what gives actions their meaning, resonance, and power. If you have fully placed your being within the Gaelic worldview, then dedicating oneself to another religion alongside GP is basically impossible; such dual membership would require setting aside one religious worldview for another, undermining any dedication to either religion. 10 It suggests that your heart and mind are not in the same place and that you compartmentalize yourself. This is not how we in Gaol Naofa see the Gaelic worldview and Gaelic Polytheist Lifeway. However, we very much encourage you (and your family/community) to be a part of cultural organisations such as An Comunn Gàidhealach, An Comunn Gàidhealach Ameireaganach, Cumann Lúthchleas Gael, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, Comunn na Gàidhlig,

is

)

9 e.g., Participating in ritual with theology and practices that have no origin in Gaelic tradition. In some reconstructionist groups, different groves may have different "hearth cultures," meaning their focus of group worship is not necessarily Celtic, let alone Gaelic in focus.

10 This differs from syncretism which is unifying of two or more worldviews to create a unique one.

Cumann Carad na Gaeilge, The North American Manx Association, The Celtic League, and other Gaelic societies, organisations and associations.

See also: Ritual and Practice Questions: "Do you allow room for syncretism?"

General Questions

What is Gaelic Polytheism (GP)?

To begin to understand what Gaelic Polytheism (GP) is, it is first necessary to define a few key terms. Gaelic is a subset of the larger Celtic language grouping; it refers specifically to the Goidelic-speaking peoples and their descendants who inhabit Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. Polytheism combines the Greek words poly ('many') and theos ('god'), thus referring to the worship of many goddesses, gods, and spirits. Gaelic Polytheism is the reverence of the Gaelic deities, ancestors, and spirits of nature, as defined by historical record and the living, cultural continuum.

What is Gaelic Reconstructionist Polytheism (GRP)?

Reconstructionism, in the polytheistic sense, is an animistic, religious and cultural movement that attempts to revive pre-Christian religions within a contemporary context. To accomplish this we look to sources such as archaeological and historical records, surviving prayers and poetry, material from early literary and mythological traditions, and surviving folk customs and beliefs. Reconstructionist religions base their practice on what is known of actual historical and cultural practices, and try to revive our ancestors ways that fell into disuse with the advent of Christianity. When we put this all together, Gaelic Reconstructionist Polytheism is thus the modern polytheistic, animistic, religious, and cultural revitalization of the pre-Christian spiritual customs and culture of the Gaelic peoples. In Gaelic thought, there is no distinction between the spiritual and secular—the two are interwoven to form reality. Every moment of every day is imbued with the sacred. Therefore Gaelic Reconstructionist Polytheism (usually referred to in Gaol Naofa as simply "Gaelic

Polytheism") is not something that is just "practiced," but lived. As Gaol Naofa defines it, Gaelic Polytheism is a lifestyle where one lives each day in traditional Gaelic thought, values, spirituality, ethics, and culture. While Gaol Naofa has respect for other traditions and perspectives, our tradition of Gaelic Polytheism is not eclectic, New Age, "magick"-oriented or culturally-appropriated. We do not align ourselves with the broader Neopagan or Neo-druidic communities, and we are committed to guarding the traditions and culture of our community.

See also: Organisational Matters: "Is Gaol Naofa a Neopagan organisation?"

What is the point of Reconstruction?

While Celtic Christianity provides a fulfilling and meaningful life for many of our relatives, we do not feel drawn to Christianity. We have been called by the spirits of the earth, the voices of our distant ancestors and the spiritual forces that gave shape and meaning to their lives, and now ours as well. To Gaol Naofa, Gaelic Polytheism is a spiritual expression of the Gaelic peoples as it originates directly from our collective experience of the world. It is an essential, core part of who we are, who we were, and who we will be; it is an intrinsic and deeply meaningful aspect of our ancestral heritage that would be shameful to lose or disregard. We find this connection with our ancestors and the spirits of the land to be liberating, motivating, inspiring, and spiritually fulfilling. It is perfectly meaningful and relevant to us today.

How do Celtic Reconstructionism and GP/GRP differ?

Celtic Reconstructionism (CR) is an umbrella under which various subsets are sheltered. There are Celtic Reconstructionists from other branches, who follow the ways of their Welsh ancestors, or the ways of the Celts from Continental Europe. Gaelic Polytheism is the branch of CR that focuses specifically on the Gaelic lands, peoples, and their traditions and beliefs. The Gaelic lands are Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man, though there are also smaller communities that have maintained some of these ways in the diaspora.

Is Gaelic Polytheism an ancient tradition?

Yes and No. Gaelic Polytheism is the lifeway of our ancestors, revived and, when necessary, reconstructed to the best of our ability. While the Gaelic languages and cultures have survived, we have had to revive and even reconstruct some of their polytheistic ways. This is why the most accurate terms for us include 'Reconstructionist' in the name, even though we often shorten it out of convenience. Gaol Naofa is a modern organisation based on the ancient ways and the living cultural continuum of the Gaelic peoples, combined with scholarship and intuition to create what we believe pre-Christian polytheistic Gaelic religion would be like today had it been allowed to continue undeterred by Christianity. While some others wish to pretend that no reconstruction or revival has happened, there is no such thing as an elaborate, undamaged, complete, Celtic polytheistic religion that has been practiced continually since pre-Christian times, and anyone trying to say different is peddling snake oil.

What is the living Gaelic cultural continuum?

The Gaelic cultural continuum is the living culture, aspects of which have survived intact. The Gaelic cultures twist and twine from the ancient days right down to today: Seisiúns of traditional music in pubs, ancient tales told to children in our native tongue, festival processions and parades, visits to holy wells, and milk in saucers on the windowsill, these and so many more are customs that existed alongside Christianity, or that adopted only a thin veneer of Christianity, and still survive today. 11 Gaelic cultures are not "dead" cultures, known only by their ancient artefacts; they have grown, rooted in their past, nurtured by tradition, legend, lore, and language. Of course they change, influenced by other cultures and social changes through the years, but there is also a bright cord in the centre, passed from generation to generation, connecting us to our ancestors.

11 See for example: Ó Giolláin, 'The Fairy Belief and Official Religion', in Narváez (Ed.), The Good People: New Fairylore Essays, 1997.

If Gaelic Polytheism is a reconstruction of pre-Christian beliefs, why does the cultural continuum matter? Isn't it Christian?

The cultural continuum matters because Celtic Reconstructionism and Gaelic Polytheism do not focus exclusively on any one epoch. Gaelic Polytheism is not an anachronistic but a living one. As such we look at the living cultural continuum rather than solely at the Iron Age to inform our way of life. The traditions and source material we seek to preserve span centuries, from early Irish literature like Lebor Gabála Érenn to modern folk rituals that have survived for generations. A great deal of the Gaelic pre-Christian polytheistic beliefs and practices were subsumed by Celtic Christianity and preserved by it. As such, Gaelic Polytheists usually have a good relationship with Celtic Christians because we have a lot in common. Gaol Naofa believes there needs to be humility and respect towards the living Gaelic cultures, and we give no toleration to people who ignore the living cultures in favour of romanticized fantasies (or even worse, people who insult the living cultures openly).

How do Gaelic Polytheists decide what aspects of Gaelic culture to keep and discard?

Our first goal is to reconstruct and revive what we believe the pre-Christian polytheistic religion of the Gaels would have looked like if Christianity hadn't subsumed it. As such, tradition and culture are upheld as much as can be but since we are not the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) and do not wish to fully recreate the Iron Age in today's world, things will need to be adapted to fit our lives today and our contemporary ethical, social, and legal structures. Head-hunting is right out and, for the most part, so are Iron Age caste systems, 12 and

12 Some extended families and larger communities may implement some degree of the ancient tribal structures for groups. However, there is no King () or High King (Ard Rí) of Gaelic Polytheism and our numbers are far too small for anyone to claim they are in a túath, which was the size of a nation. "It is also offensive to the living Celtic cultures to attempt to radically redefine what these terms and titles already mean, and as we are involved in the living Celtic cultures, it would not even occur to us to do something so offensive. While we may strive toward the better ideals of tribalism, community and collectivism, we do not believe it is our place to claim a region of the country as our "territory" and attempt (or pretend) to rule over it in any way. It is our desire instead to interact with the spirits of the land, the ancestors and the deities in a respectful way, and to coexist peacefully and constructively with our human neighbors, no matter their background or religion." — NicDhàna et al, The CR FAQ, 2007, p 52-53.

The Brehon Laws (or your particular interpretation of them) should not supersede the laws of your country.

What are your ethics?

Gaelic Polytheists do not have an established set of ethics or creeds, but rather we share a common set of cultural values, principles, and standards based heavily in the ancient heroic values as well as the standards of common decency, mutual respect and interdependence with which we were raised. Among these values are hospitality, self-responsibility, respect for self and others, courage, kindness, loyalty, honesty, duty, and justice. We believe in a strong bond between the individual and their family and community, and the responsibility of the community as a whole to uphold our values and hold our members accountable for their behaviour. We believe in supporting and contributing to our communities to the best of our ability so that we may prosper and live in health and harmony. Equal rights, living as free people without tyranny, and fair treatment of all individuals without regard to their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or social standing are among our deeply cherished principles. And while we honour our warriors, we do not condone those upon that path (or any path) who wish to use bullying, abuse, trolling, lying or disrespect as a means of communication—whether online or in person. We believe the people of Gaelic Polytheism should seek to display excellence and honour in all conditions, and refuse to accept mediocrity, falsehood, or other shameful behaviours.

Is learning any of the Gaelic languages a requirement for Gaelic Polytheism?

Not required, but emphatically recommended. Why? Because language is the medium through which a culture is best expressed and understood, and so any serious endeavour to understand the Gaelic cultural traditions should include some study of a Gaelic language (even if fluency is not a possibility). As Gaol Naofa considers itself not only a spiritual organisation but a cultural one as well—dedicated to preserving our cultural heritage—we strongly encourage the

study, learning, and use of the Gaelic languages as they are an intrinsic and vital aspect of our culture. That being said, Gaol Naofa fully believes that some paths within our Gaelic Polytheist Lifeway (Dòigh-Beatha Ioma-Dhiadhach Ghàidhealach/Dóigh Bheatha Ildiach is Gaelach) do indeed call for language fluency; among them, filidecht/filidheachd, draoí and sruith. Elders and those with important liminal roles in the community should be able to converse with the spirits in their own language, as well as be able to listen and understand them in return.

See also: Organisational Matters: "Does Gaol Naofa offer classes in any of the Gaelic languages?" and Ritual and Practice Questions: "Are there any different paths within Gaelic Polytheism?"

What is Gaelic lore? Where can I find it?

Our lore is the body of traditional knowledge of the Gaelic peoples and consists of mythology, folktales, conventional beliefs, folk-history, poetry, and songs. To know the lore is to know something about the Gaelic ethos, for it embodies and transmits a worldview, values, beliefs, and principles. The lore stimulates the mind and the soul, aiding one to recognize the truths of humanity and spirituality revealed through the experiences of the Gaels. It is said that "the lore of the past sustains a man," 13 and this is true, for the lore is an inheritance from generations of our ancestors and relatives, passed down to us to impart meaning, value and inspiration in our lives and the lives of our descendants. As reconstructionists, we must study and examine a variety of sources to understand, adopt and (in cases where the older spiritual traditions have fallen into disuse) restore the polytheistic Gaelic traditions of our ancestors. To do this requires looking at the native language(s), law tracts, social organisation and mores, folk-customs and beliefs, mythology and native lore, art, archaeological records, and the cultural continuum. A great deal of the lore can be found online through places like Google Books, Scribd, and the Internet Archive; there are also websites like Tobar an Dualchais and CELT (a useful and more complete list of resources can be found on our website). Don't forget resources like your local

13 Carey, 'The Book of Invasion,' The Celtic Heroic Age, 2000, p271.

library, university libraries, and the Inter-Library Loan as well. Some academic articles on the lore can be found freely available for download through Google Scholar and JSTOR, both of which are valuable resources to the reconstructionist.

What books do you recommend?

Here you will find an entire book list but a few authors would be Kevin Danaher, Séan Ó Súillebháin, Alexander Carmichael, F. Marian McNeill, Ronald Black, John Koch, Bernhard Maier, Nerys Patterson, Maire MacNeill, Proinsias Mac Cana, and A.W. Moore. Gaol Naofa encourages its members to read as widely as possible in order to gain a broad understanding of different perspectives and subjects. There are an awful lot of books to choose from, however, and we understand that it can be difficult for the beginner to know where to start, and where is best to invest their time and money. The prospect of a large reading list can be daunting, and there are many books on many different subjects that can help inform your practices—from the lore to the festival calendar, to straight forward histories. Some of them may be more appealing to you than others, so our advice would be to start with what interests you and take it from there. Some books are more helpful than others, and the names listed above have been chosen with this in mind as some of the most helpful authors that we think the beginner will find particularly useful. Whatever you end up reading, we would offer a few more bits of advice: Just because a book or author comes highly recommended, that doesn't mean they're not without their problems. In particular, some of the books that are the most helpful to Gaelic Polytheists are up to a hundred years or so old now, and the reader should bear in mind that research techniques, attitudes and approaches have changed during that time. Read with a critical eye, and don't take anything at face value. And ultimately, if you're not sure about something, you can always ask other members.

What sort of books should I avoid?

Pretty much anything published by occult and New Age presses like Llewellyn, New Page Books, Capall Bann, Red Wheel/Weiser and others will contain misleading and mistaken "facts" skewed through the lens of Wicca and other eclectic brands of Neopagan and New Age thought, 14 usually tainted by racist, appropriative (and simply inaccurate) "Core Shamanism"/"Celtic Shamanism" or just sheer fantasy. These things will simply mislead those looking for the ways of our ancestors and, if adopted and passed off as Gaelic or Celtic, contribute to cultural genocide. Of course, you are welcome to read whatever you like, and reading books like these will help in learning to discern fantasy from fact. This is just serving as a warning that the majority of authors published by occult and New Age publishers (or are self-published in that genre) are known for perpetuating fallacies and romanticism about the Celts. 15

14 i.e., Modern concepts or practices like the Maiden-Mother-Crone triple goddess, horned god, four elements and "invoking the directions," casting circles and invoking deities, etc, all of which have nothing to do with Gaelic cultures.

15 See: NicDhàna et al, "How do you pick which authors to believe?," The CR FAQ, 2007, p 31.

Theological Questions

So Gaelic Polytheists have no "creation myth"?

Not exactly. But, it's complicated It would be more accurate to say that there is no single, unified Gaelic creation myth as those from other cultures might expect to find one: There is no Gaelic myth that survives today that tells us how the fundamental basics of the world came to be—how all matter first came into

being, how the gods came to exist, or where human souls originate. For the Gaels, there is no "In

there is no equivalent of the Christian Bible's Genesis, or the Norse

Ginnungagap. 16 Instead, what we find is a world where the basic substance of matter and individual souls seem to have always existed, but it is a world that is in the continual process of being shaped and moulded as the deities, spirits and ancestors leave their mark on the land. Our creation stories tell us how a certain feature of the physical world was created—a mountain, a loch, a river, a plain, and the rest of the landscape that surrounded our ancestors and surrounds us now. From our point of view a creation myth isn't just a story about how the world came into being; a creation myth tells us how a culture views the world about them—how it was made, where it came from, and how the people, gods, spirits, and the lands, seas and skies all fit into that view. In Scotland and Ireland we have spirit women like the Cailleach and Boann who create the mountains, rivers and lochs. Often this happens by accident, through personal sacrifice and hardship, and through interfacing with the dangerous powers of the Otherworld. As anyone attending a birth can attest, giving birth to someone—bringing physical matter into this world

the

beginning

";

16 See: King James, The Holy Bible: 'Book of Genesis,' or the Norse myth of Ginnungagap, where the first sparks of life were created by the meeting of the ice of Niflheim and the fire of Muspellheim (See: Snorri Sturlson, The Gylfaginning).

and a spirit across from the other side—is not usually easy, pleasant or pretty. 17 The same is true for the land. A certain amount of bleak humour is present in the tales of these spirit women and the hard but necessary creative work they do, and it is a type of paradoxical reverence and humour which we embrace. In looking for these creation myths, we can look at the Dindshenchas ('Place-name Lore'), and there are also numerous local creation stories in both Ireland and Scotland that remain a part of popular lore today. The Dindshenchas describes the origins of the river Boyne and Shannon, for example, 18 while the local legends in Scotland tell us how Loch Awe, 19 various mountain ranges, rock formations and other kinds of distinctive features came about. 20 We should also mention the Lebor Gabála Érenn ('The Book of Invasions'), but strictly speaking this is an origin legend, not a creation myth. 21 The LGE has been deliberately set in a Christian framework—starting with the Genesis story—which means that it does try to behave like a creation myth, but since it is not something that reflects a pre-Christian concept of creation, the overtly Christian beginning has to be considered inauthentic (in terms of looking for pre-Christian beliefs). This doesn't make the whole tale unhelpful, however; like the localised legends, it does show us how Ireland was shaped in stages, with each successive wave of settlers leaving their own mark on the landscape. 22 Our view of these many creation stories may seem to be a little at odds with some other interpretations you might be familiar with. Some academics and reconstructionists have gone in search of what a Gaelic creation myth might have looked like, and the search generally begins with assuming that a Gaelic creation myth would be very similar to the creation myths of our Indo-European cousins. This is the first place one runs into problems, as the Gaels are only

17 It also hurts like a bugger, may require stitching, and often results in stretchmarks.

18 Gwynn, The Metrical Dindshenchas Volume III, 1906, p27-39 (Boand I and II); Stokes, 'The Prose Tales from the Rennes Dindshenchas,' in Revue Celtique Volume XV, 1894, p315-316/p286-297 (Sinann I and II); Joynt, 'The Fate of Sinann' in Miscellany Presented to Kuno Meyer, 1912, p192.

19 Grant, Myth, Tradition and Story from Western Argyll, 1925, p9; John Gregorson Campbell, 'The Sharp-Witted Wife' in The Scottish Historical Review Volume XII, 1915, p416.

20 e.g., Campbell, Tales of the West Highlands Volume II, 1890, p147 (Tale XXXIV); Hugh Miller, Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland, 1935, p30.

21 See: Carey, The Irish National Origin-Legend: Synthetic Pseudohistory, 1994.

22 An accessible version of the Lebor Gabála can be found online here.

partially related to the Indo-European neighbours; the Celtic tribes who came to Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man from the European mainland were considered Indo-European, but the indigenous people they found there, and intermarried with, were not Indo-Europeans. 23 This accounts for many of the differences between Insular Celtic and Continental Celtic cultures, 24 and it is in dealing with the subject of creation in particular that we feel such cultural differences are important to consider. 25 One of the biggest differences is that our Gaelic creation stories are based in a different conception of time, matter and spirit, and instead of Sky Gods taking the most active role, we find Goddesses of the Landscape who are the primary creative forces. While there are certainly some surviving elements in our stories that might relate to Indo-European creation motifs (such as dismemberment or creation from death, for example), the creation stories that we have already mentioned really are significantly different from anything you might find in other cultures. As a result, we feel that our creation myths should be looked at on their own terms, first and foremost, and not through the blurry lens of Indo-European generalisations. In doing so, we see that the stories embody beliefs about the spirits who shape the land, and our role in this process as humans who can also shape matter and influence spirit. Matter, and our bodies, have a beginning and end, but the spirit that animates both is eternal. Creation is an ongoing cycle. We should probably note that there are a few contemporary authors (including some who self-identify as reconstructionists) who have each written what they are calling "The Reconstructed Celtic Creation Myth" (or variations thereof). The examples of these that we have seen, however, are not reconstructions, they are constructions—literary inventions that mix and

23 Dillon, Early Irish Literature, 1994, pxi.

24 The differences between "Insular" and "Continental" Celts are primarily rooted in language, with "Insular Celtic" languages encompassing both Goidelic (i.e., Gaelic) and Brythonic (i.e., Welsh, Cornish, Cumbric, Breton and possibly Pictish), while Continental Celtic languages include Celtiberian and Gaulish languages. In cultural terms, however, the differences in geography affected the way the different linguistic/cultural groups subsisted (primarily pastoral in Ireland, for example), lived (the kind of building materials and housing needed to accommodate different kinds of weather), and interacted with other peoples or tribes, and so on. Outside cultural influences (particularly the Romans and Greeks) also had an effect on how cultures evolved or expressed themselves, leading to some significant differences between Insular and Continental Celtic cultures.

25 The many local creation myths tend to get overlooked in this approach as well.

match elements from the creation stories of several non-Celtic cultures into something that, to us, bears no resemblance to our traditional lore. In our opinion, these constructions are not very helpful, and if these authors understood what reconstructionism is, they would not misrepresent Celtic cultures in this way, and they would not misuse the word, "reconstructed," when they mean "invented." While these things may be interesting as creative interpretations, and perhaps even useful exercises for the individual on a personal level, if someone says something is the Celtic Creation Myth, or claims it is traditional in any way, check their sources. There are multiple Celtic cultures, and no creation story that would ever apply to them all.

Land, Sea and Sky? What's that all about?

The pre-Christian Gaels viewed the world in the form of Three Realms—land, sea, and sky (in Sengoídelc—Land: talam; Sea: muir; Sky: nem). This tripartite view is mentioned in some of the earliest Gaelic sources, and continues into the present day in traditional prayers and blessings. From the Táin to the Carmina Gadelica, the Gaels swear their oaths by, and ask for the blessings of, the Land, Sea and Sky. The Three Realms are intrinsic to a Gaelic Polytheist worldview and practice. 26

What is the Otherworld?

The Otherworld (Gaeilge, An Saol Eile) is the realm of the spirits, which is generally not visible to humans under normal circumstances, except by those with the "sight." The lore tells us that the Otherworld is accessed through the sid-mounds, under lakes, below the sea and land, through sudden mists and bizarre changes in the weather. Humans may stumble into the

26 This tripartite view differs from that of most modern Neopagan traditions—and some non-Celtic traditional cultures as well—which structure their ceremonies on the model of four elements and in four directions. Some Neo-druidic traditions that include Gaelic influences also incorporate the three realms, but how they are interpreted and approached in ritual can differ. Despite using a name ("druid," or in Gaeilge, draoí) from the Celtic languages, which Gaelic Polytheists reserve for only the most learned members of our societies, most modern druid orders are eclectic, and incorporate elements from numerous cultures. Don't blame us, we didn't have any say in what they call themselves. The Classical elements are a often fundamental part of how formal ritual is carried out among Wiccans and Neo-druids—as part of circle casting in Wicca, ceremonial magic, and in paths that are derivative of either two. These ways are foreign to a Gaelic approach.

Otherworld by accident, or the Otherworld may intrude upon this one when least expected. Those who seek entry to the Otherworld don't necessarily find it, or they don't find it in the way they expected. Encounters with the Otherworld usually take place at areas of boundary or liminality such as the sea shore, territory or property lines, and where "civilised" territory ends and the chaos of nature begins. There, in the Otherworld, the conception of time is quite different and it is inverted from the time here; what may seem like a few moments in the Otherworld may be many years here, and while it may be spring in this world, it is autumn there. In the Otherworld there exist many different plains and islands where Otherwordly inhabitants dwell (e.g., Tech Duinn, an assembly place for the dead, and Tír na nÓg where there is eternal youth and feasting among the deities and heroic ancestors). Just as there is no segregation of the sacred and secular, there is no firm segregation of this world and the Otherworld—the two are entwined to form the fabric of reality, and each influences the other.

What is a worldview? Why do I need to adopt a Gaelic worldview in order to practice Gaelic Polytheism?

A worldview is the lens through which we see and experience the world around us, and it can inform how we act and how we interpret other people's actions. Every culture has a worldview, and this defines what that culture might see as being right or wrong, offensive or inoffensive, and it also provides the basis for how that culture approaches its own spirituality. As Gaelic Polytheists, it is only natural to adopt, or continue to maintain, 27 a worldview that is based in the culture our belief system is based in. For those raised in modern, non-traditional societies without a spiritual upbringing (and even sometimes with), your worldview might usually consist of modernist views on life and thought. Modernism usually comprised of a demoted view of the natural world, family, community, tradition, and spirituality, with an elevated view of materialism, power, autonomy,

27 Some members of the Gaol Naofa community grew up in large, extended, rural families that maintained our values of community, interdependence and respect for the elders. However, we acknowledge that this is no longer the norm in mainstream society. In general, we tend to assume that those reading this FAQ are more likely to be coming to our community from a more mainstream background so will need to adopt these values if they were not raised with them.

consumerism and commercialism. Nearly everyone raised in a modern society has some degree of a modernist worldview and so an adjustment of how one views nature, family and community, tradition, and spirituality needs to take place in order to practice Gaelic Polytheism. The adoption of a different worldview changes how you regard the world around you, and for those raised outside of an Earth-honouring culture that prioritises the extended family and community, it may be an uncomfortable transition, involving an initial result of culture shock. However, if you are not already there, this transition in worldview is necessary in order to truly appreciate and experience a Gaelic Polytheist way of life. It is important to understand this point, so it bears repeating: Gaelic Polytheism is a way of life, not a separate part of ourselves that shuts off once our seasonal celebrations and rituals are over. To a Gaelic Polytheist, everyday life is full of simple ritual and prayer, and observing and upholding traditions that are deeply ingrained in the Gaelic worldview. This can affect how we behave throughout the day, as we act according to the traditions and beliefs that inform (and are informed by) our worldview. For example, as Gaelic Polytheists we observe and uphold the concept of deiseal and withershins – or túathal – in their cultural definitions as connected to movements of the sun, 28 and as such we see deiseal as an auspicious and favourable direction to go about, while a túathal direction is inauspicious and even indicative of ill intent. How we stir the

pot, sweep the floor, mow the lawn, pass something around a group

observed in a deiseal manner as a matter of habit because our worldview tells us that this is right

these things are

all

and good. This is a seemingly simple and even trivial example, but it is something that can affect a lot of one's actions each day, and it is something that gradually becomes second nature as one becomes accustomed to this new worldview. For those of us who have come from a Neopagan background in particular, adopting a Gaelic Polytheist practice can mean having to "unlearn" certain beliefs and attitudes that are common in many of the mainstream Neopagan traditions, and this is because there are some prevailing attitudes found in mainstream Neopaganism—

28 deiseal (Sengoídelc, 'sunwise; auspicious; right-hand; favourable') and túathal (Sengoídelc, 'lefthandwise; ill-sped; against the sun; withershins'). Definitions from eDIL.

which we might say are the result of such a modernist worldview that we've already mentioned— that are at odds with our own worldview and values. In particular, this includes the tendency and mentality to practice what feels right versus what is right according to tradition. It is common in many mainstream Neopagan traditions to find that traditional, cultural concepts have been taken out of their original contexts, and so—staying with the directions as an example—in some Neopagan traditions such as Witchcraft and Wicca we find that the concept of deiseal and túathal movements have been misspelled and altered to inform actions at certain phases of the moon instead of referring to movements with or against the sun. 29 As a result of this, it can take people coming from that background quite a while to get to grips a Gaelic worldview and leave behind the Neopagan lens that traditional concepts are often viewed through, in order to reach a place where they can sense what is and isn't in harmony with Gaelic tradition. A large part of this process of learning and adopting a new worldview and practice involves looking to the community for support and help in learning what is and is not compatible with a Gaelic worldview. Learning to be a part of a community can be one of the biggest changes to get used to: When one comes into Gaelic Polytheism one stops thinking about what is simply good for the self, and one must also think about how individual actions reflect on the community as a whole. As a community, those with more experience can be looked to as having knowledge and wisdom that can be shared with the less experienced, who are willing to learn and listen. It is essential to listen to one's Elders in the tradition; even after many years of deep experience, we must still rely on our Elders and peers to give us feedback and keep us on track; we must be accountable to one another in community. Otherwise, our community cannot thrive.

Is Gaelic Polytheism dualistic?

No. There is no evidence to support that the ancient Gaels believed the world was a stage for an epic battle between two opposing forces—one good and one evil. That is just not part of

29 As seen in 'The Wiccan Rede' by Doreen Valiente: "Deosil go by waxing moon, Sing and dance the Witches' Rune; "

Farrar, A Witches' Bible: The Complete Witches' Handbook,

Widdershins go by waning moon, Chant ye then a baleful tune 1987, p11-12.

our worldview. The (Sengoídelc [Old Irish], "Gods") behave like humans in the sense that they are capable of being both constructive and destructive, and they may also be seen as neutral or unpredictable. While some deities or mythological figures may have a bit of a trickster side to them, and may have different goals in mind than you might, this does not make them evil. There is no big, personified evil out to get us in Gaelic Polytheism. 30 While we acknowledge that there are differences between men and women, and a continuum of gender expression, Gaelic Polytheism does not see "gender polarity" as particularly relevant to our worldview, nor do we expect deities or spirits to automatically exist in boy/girl pairs. 31 Our lore shows the world to be more complex and nuanced in these matters and, like humans, the deities and spirits have a variety of relationships and associations. In the Gaelic worldview, however, there does exist a complementary relationship between nature and time; a perpetual interaction and interchange between samh (summer, day, light, order, this world, and the physical and active) and geamh (winter, night, darkness, chaos, the primordial, the Otherworld, and inspiration). As the night precedes the day, and as the winter precedes the summer, so too does geamh precede samh and samh emanate from geamh. Without one we could not have the other; the two are not just complementary, but interact with each other continuously —the day turning into night, the seasons changing in a succession of order, bringing growth and light, and then darkness and rest. However, we do not assign genders or moral values to these phenomena. It is this interaction between samh and geamh that forms the essence of nature and the existence of the entities it encompasses. This relationship can also be seen in the dividing of the year between An Cailleach (geamh) and Brigid (samh) in Scotland, or Áine (samh) and Grian (geamh) in Ireland. The kinship between samh and geamh is the only duality found in Gaelic

30 That said, not all spirits are good and friendly, just as not all humans have your best interests at heart. There is danger in the world, and there are dangers inherent in some kinds of work with the spirit realm, so exercising caution and good judgement is necessary when dealing with the spirits.

31 This is in contrast to Wicca, and Wiccan-influenced groups, who see the polarity between male and female—"god and goddess," "Lord and Lady"—as the foundation of their cosmology, theology, and approach to ritual.

Polytheism. 32

Is Gaelic Polytheism a nature-based religion?

The natural world plays a very important role in our practices, and so in many ways we might say that we are indeed a nature-based religion. The world is inhabited with spiritual entities that hold influence over the functions and processes of the natural world, and the (Sengoídelc [Old Irish], "Gods") often express themselves through natural phenomena. Our lore stresses that the observance and respect of nature fosters wisdom, and so we value a healthy relationship with the land and its spirits, and living in accordance with nature as ways of fostering health, wisdom and prosperity. Nature is a powerful force, and we honour and respect it not just in our daily practices but also in our festival calendar. Each quarter day celebrates the beginning of a season, and so we observe the cycle of life day in, day out, and year by year as well. Our practices reflect the rhythm of nature, and acknowledge our part in it, no matter where we might be. By observing nature and its cycles, we gain a better understanding of the nature of the divine, and our own nature as well.

Is Gaelic Polytheism ethnic-based?

Gaelic Polytheism is an ethnic, community-based tradition rooted in the culture, worldview, values, and character of the Gaelic peoples. However, cultural commitment and fluency are not governed or defined by blood. We believe all that is required to participate in the Gaelic Polytheist community is a sincere commitment to Gaelic culture and worldview, and the honouring of the Dé ocus An-Dé (Sengoídelc [Old Irish], "Gods and Un-Gods"). 33

32 An Cailleach is the Hag, who in addition to being a creator, is sometimes a personification of Winter. Brigid is the goddess of poetry, healing and smithcraft, and her festival heralds the coming of Spring. Áine is a deity of light, pleasure and abundance, celebrated at Midsummer. Grian is her sister, whose name means "sun," and is associated with the weaker, white sun of Winter.

33 More specifically, the deities, ancestors, and spirits of nature.

What is the holy/central text of Gaelic Polytheism?

Gaelic Polytheism has no holy or central text per se; nothing like the Holy Bible, al-Qur'an, or Torah, at least. The transmission of early Gaelic culture was completely oral, so what informs our practice is mythology, recorded folk traditions, archaeology, folk music, legal texts, and the surviving oral lore and customs, rather than one central text. Gaelic Polytheism is an orthopraxy as well as a faith, 34 and as such we place as much emphasis on ethical and liturgical conduct as we do on the specifics of belief (i.e., a right way of doing things rather than a right way of thinking and believing). While shared belief is central for many of us in Gaelic Polytheism, putting those beliefs into correct practice—practice that is true to the sources while allowing for regional and family variations—is also a primary objective. One way this manifests is that our extended families may attend cultural events together that for some of us are deeply spiritual, but for others are simply a fun sing-along or seasonal celebration. As a community, Gaol Naofa welcomes those for whom GP is a deep, spiritual quest, as well as those who may not be as spiritually-inclined or religious but who share a commitment to preserving the languages, songs, tales, and other aspects of Gaelic cultures with their family and friends.

Do you really believe in those myths?

As literal interpretations of history? Not exactly. While some of the tales contain fragments of actual history, for the most part the myths are valuable to us because they embody spiritual truths expressed through metaphors, allegory, and symbology. They help us to understand the deities and spirits, moral standards, nature, and our cosmos. Though in some cases thinly (or heavily) Christianised, the myths also contain clues to pre-Christian attitudes and beliefs that can be useful to us when reconstruction is called for.

34 "While orthodoxies make use of codified beliefs, in the form of canonized scripture, and ritualism more narrowly centres on the strict adherence to prescribed rites or rituals, orthopraxic religions are focused on issues of family, cultural integrity, the transmission of tradition, sacrificial offerings, concerns of purity, ethical systems, and the enforcement thereof." Quoted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orthopraxy (accessed 28 April 2011)

Some of the Gaelic mythos has misogynistic undertones. Does this mean Gaelic Polytheism is sexist?

Our traditional Gaelic myths contain a number of strong female figures—Medb, Macha, and Emer to name just a few—and the existence of these females (along with their Brythonic cousin Queen Boudicca and the relative lack of knowledge about the possibly-matrilineal Picts), has led to much wishful thinking, and many odd, outrageous, and just-plain-wrong claims being made over the years. Despite what the depressingly large body of romanticised and exaggerated modern literature that's out there will tell you, the Celts (whether Gaelic, Pictish or Gaulish) were patriarchal, not matriarchal. And while pre-Christian and early Christian Gaelic women enjoyed certain freedoms and powers that were unheard of by their contemporaries in other cultures, their society was not even what we could call egalitarian. To say that women had it better than those of other cultures of the time does not mean they had it good. The fact remains that by our modern standards, women were limited in many different ways in early medieval Gaelic society, and the arrival of Christianity and its rise to power only served to further restrict the few rights that women had. The medieval Christian Church was extremely misogynistic in its attitudes and outlook, and it is important to remember that many of the myths that have survived up until today were first written down by the monks of that same misogynistic Church. Their misogyny is quite evident in many of their interpretations of the myths as we have them today, and we know this because there are some glimpses here and there in different manuscripts and oral versions of tales (as they have been copied and recopied over time by different scribes), which show just a few of these examples of overtly misogynistic elements being added in. 35 Additionally, some of the tales where a "hero" behaves in a disrespectful manner towards a woman or goddess were probably not intended as examples of good behaviour, but rather as satire, and as an example of the dire consequences that could result from such offences. 36 Whatever the reason for all of this, just because some of our ancient mythos

35 See for example: Sessle, 'Misogyny and Medb: Approaching Medb with Feminist Criticism,' Ulidia, 1994, p135-138.

36 Yes, we're looking at you, Dog Boy: "Frank O'Connor suggested that the earliest layer of the story, incompletely preserved in the rosc passages, constitutes the remains of an ancient ironic anti-feminist poem." Kinsella, The Táin, 1969, p. xii.

displays elements of misogyny, it does not mean that sexism is an acceptable part of Gaelic Polytheist communities today; it's not. Our ancestors were not infallible. While we endeavour to be as traditional as possible in our lifeway, we simply will not perpetuate what we see as the mistakes of our ancestors, and just as we consider such things as slavery and human sacrifice to be bad ideas, misogyny is another one for the list of things that we will not continue, condone, promote, or approve of.

Who do Gaelic Polytheists worship?

To begin, "worship" may not be the best term for how we interact with the spirits and deities. Our relationships with the spirits are based on the traditions of kinship, hospitality, and clientship. The terms "honour," "revere," "communicate with" and "respect" are much more accurate descriptors. As "hard polytheists" we honour multiple goddesses and gods, and view each as separate and distinct deities, with their own personalities, histories, and preferences. The (Sengoídelc, "Gods") we honour are those traditionally revered by the Gaelic peoples before the arrival of Christianity. These can include divinities from the races of the Tuatha Dé Danann, Fir Bolg, Milesians, and Fomoiri. Also revered are our ancestors 37 and the spirits that pervade the natural world. 38 Gaol Naofa refers to this triune of spirit beings as Na Trí Naomh (Gaeilge), An Trì Naomh (Gàidhlig), or Yn Tree Noo (Gaelg), "The Sacred Three," 39 who may also be referred to as the Dé ocus An-Dé (Sengoídelc), the "Gods and Un-Gods." 40

37 Gaeilge, sinsear; Sengoidelc, sinser; Gàidhlig, sinnsearan; Gaelg, shennayraghyn.

38 Gaeilge, aos sí or daoine sídhe; Sengoídelc, aes sídhe; Gàidhlig, daoine sìth; Gaelg, ferrishyn. However, for those in the diaspora, the nature spirits may be very different from those in the Gaelic lands. For more on this, see: Theological Questions: "What is the fairy faith?"

39 Our inspiration for this phrase comes from the prevalence of triads in the Gaelic lore, and the use of the phrase (though

with an archaic spelling, or perhaps a spelling unique to Carmichael) in the Carmina Gadelica (For example, in 'Smaladh an Teine' [CG 84], "The first peat is laid down in the name of the God of Life, the second in the name of the God of Peace,

Tri numh – The sacred Three"). Gaol

the third in the name of the God of

in

the name of the Three of

An

Naofa's use of the phrase to apply to sacred triads in addition to this particular "three of light" is, as far as we know, a

modern adaptation based on these precedents.

40 See Theological Questions: "Who are the Dé ocus An-Dé?" and Stokes and Strachan, Thesaurus Paleohibernicus, 1901, p295; Carey, 'Scél Tuáin Meic Chairill', in Koch and Carey, The Celtic Heroic Age, 1995, p212; The Táin; Ó Cróinín, Early Medieval Ireland 400-1200, 1995, p33.

Who are the Dé ocus An-Dé?

The Dé ocus An-Dé are the "Gods and Un-Gods." This phrase comes from some of the oldest sources we have in the early Irish literature, 41 though it is something of an ambiguous term. As yet, there is no definitive consensus amongst Gaelic Polytheists as to how the An-Dé, the Un- Gods, are interpreted, but we do agree that they are the spirit beings who are not deities. Beyond that, it can get a bit complicated. Of the ("Gods") the Tuatha Dé Danann are perhaps the best known group of deities, but while many might see them as "the deities of the Irish pantheon," the lore is not that simple. Looking to the sources we might also include as gods the members of various tribes or "races" that, in the lore, are said to have invaded Ireland, or who were possibly indigenous to Ireland before the arrival of the Tuatha Dé. These might include members of the tribes of the Fir Bolg, the Fomoiri, 42 and the Milesians (the ancestors of the Gaels), as well as the Tuatha Dé Danann. Many of the beings depicted as deities or powerful spirits are included amongst these peoples—such as the Milesian Donn, the Fomorian Balor, and the Cailleach, whose name is not found in the main body of the myths at all. 43 As such, while many Gaelic Polytheists honour those of the more renowned Tuatha Dé Danann, in our practices we also honour some of the lesser-known Gaelic spirits and deities, who don't fit into a neat and tidy idea of an "Irish pantheon." This is where the An-Dé come in. Gaol Naofa acknowledges that the lore is not always

41 Ibid.

42 Some Celtic Christian texts also include the people of Partholón and Cessair, but both of these are clearly Biblical in origin. As polytheists, we aren't interested in including characters from the Bible, who may have no relevance whatsoever to the spirits of the Gaelic lands. Cessair is described as "the granddaughter of Noah," while Partholón is the Gaelic rendering of Bartholemew, the name probably being chosen because its Hebrew meaning has something to do with the sea. An older—now lost—version of The Book of Invasions lists Banba in place of Cessair, which makes more sense from a polytheistic point of view; the first settler of Ireland was Ireland herself. See Carey, The Irish National Origin-Legend:

Synthetic Pseudohistory, 1994.

43 See Gearóid Ó Crualaoich's The Book of the Cailleach. The word "Cailleach" itself ('veiled') is from a Latin word, so it couldn't be considered to be a pre-Christian name for a deity. Some might see Cailleach as a title rather than a name, for a goddess/spirit-woman or group of goddesses/spirit-women who are widely associated with creating local mountains, lochs, and all kinds of other geographical features in the landscape, as well as being associated with the weather (particularly storms) and the sea, fish, and deer. While we cannot know for certain, as the Cailleach tales are often about sovereignty and the creation of the land, it's probably reasonable to assume that the spirits described as Cailleachan had other names before a loan-word for them became popular.

consistent when describing how the spirits are seen or act over time, and we feel that many spirit beings simply cannot be placed into neat, solid categories. The spirits are powerful and numerous —there are many different kinds of spirits, and like the gods they can affect our lives in many different ways. Amongst them there are the aes síde—the "people of the mounds"—who we might also address as the daoine sìth (Gàidhlig: the "people of peace"), or Na Daoine Maith (Gaeilge: "The Good People"). While they can be seen in some ways as the gods in a different guise, demoted by Christianity, they can also include the nature spirits who populate the land and its features, our homes and surrounding regions. They may be hostile or benevolent or neither, but like hospitable neighbours we extend our kindness towards them to create peace with them, and in an attempt to live in harmony with the forces and beings of the land that we inhabit. 44 Many different types of spirits have been referred to as aes síde and according to Gaelic oral tradition, sometimes we might see our ancestors as living amongst them as well. 45 The sinnsear ("ancestors"), our cherished dead and heroic ancestors, are those who gave us life or greatly influenced/shaped our lives, whether by blood or of friendship, and they grace and guard our lines today. By honouring and remembering our ancestors, we not only keep alive their being and presence, but we honour and remember who we are as individuals and as communities, which is how we illuminate the future. Considering all of this—the complexities and overlaps only touched on here—some Gaelic Polytheists interpret the Dé ocus An-Dé to refer to the gods, spirits and ancestors as a whole. Others may include only the gods and spirits amongst the Dé ocus An-Dé, and address all three— the gods, ancestors and the spirits of nature—as Na Trí Naomh, "The Sacred Three." Some of us prefer this threefold view—Na Trí Naomh (or the Gàidhlig and Gaelg equivalents noted above)— to the Dé ocus An-Dé approach, especially when it comes to adapting the concept of the Dé ocus

44 Gaelic Polytheists who are in the diaspora must also consider the needs and nature of the spirits in their own area as well. While some spirits travelled to new lands with the Gaelic emigrants, Gaelic Polytheists in the diaspora must also consider their own localities—see the question below, "What is the fairy faith?" for more on this.

45 Untimely deaths are sometimes attributed to the individual being "taken" by the daoine sìth. Donn, in particular has such a reputation—see Logan, The Old Gods: The Facts about Irish Fairies, 1981, p34-35; Ó Duinn, Where Three Streams Meet: Celtic Spirituality, 2000, p67.

An-Dé into modern Gaelic languages. In modern Irish we can render the phrase as Déithe agus An- Déithe, but for Gaelic Polytheists who focus on a Gàidhlig practice it is not necessarily such a simple phrase to adapt. In Gàidhlig the gods are the Diathan, but articulating the concept of the Un-Gods is more difficult, because the Gàidhlig negative prefix would be neo-Diathan, and can imply a malevolent nature that doesn't necessarily gel with how we see the An-Dé.

See also: Theological Questions: "What is the fairy faith?"

Do you believe your gods are the "true gods"?

They are the true gods for us, yes, but Gaol Naofa is not interested in proselytisation. Gaelic Polytheism is not the right path for everyone and as such we have no interest in converting people from other faiths to ours. We also have no intention of belittling other people's gods and spirits, or claiming their gods and spirits don't exist. As "hard polytheists," we believe all deities exist and are distinct from each other. We simply choose—or are called—to devote ourselves only those of the pre-Christian Gaels.

What about matron and patron deities, do you guys have those?

Some Gaelic Polytheists may be called to follow a certain goddess or god, but these are not necessarily the same as matron/patron deities in the wider Neopagan community. Most Gaelic

Polytheists feel that the goddess or god chooses us instead of it being a deliberate choice from us, although we do believe that we have the choice to respond to that calling (although we would

add that ignoring a deity is generally considered to be a Really Bad Idea

matron or patron is not necessary or even desirable to everyone, and many of us develop a relationship with a number of deities and do not feel the need to formally dedicate ourselves to any of them. For some Gaelic Polytheists, responding to the call of a particular god or goddess serves as a core part of their practice and being. If you are seeking to become oathbound to a particular deity, please know that is it not something done lightly. It should only take place after time has been spent getting to know them, you understand what they may ask of you, and a connection

However, having a

).

has indeed been made. It is also very helpful to get to know others who are sworn to that deity, both for guidance and to observe for yourself what kind of experiences a variety of people have had with this arrangement.

What is the fairy-faith?

The creideamh sí, or fairy-faith, is a living and still evolving way of interaction with the spirit world, which survives in Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man (and to some extent in the diaspora). It is a strand of belief and daily practice which is often observed but little talked about or admitted to. What was once an accepted part of life—the closeness between this world and the Otherworld, and the influences that the daoine sìth (Gàidhlig, 'people of peace') have on our world and even our lives—is not now as widespread, but it is still an influence in some places, and in some families. The creideamh sí provides us with a rich vein of information about the worldview of the Gaels and their beliefs, practices and lore. What we see preserved in this lore can tell us not just about the deities, with whom the fairies, or daoine sìth, can be said to have become conflated with, 46 but also how they were—and are—worshipped, honoured, and approached (or avoided as the case may be). In the diaspora, the practice of the creideamh sí can get a bit more complex. Some spirits travelled to new lands with humans, and others did not. In some areas, usually those with a similar climate to the Gaelic lands and a long history of Gaelic families in the area, the spirits may respond quite well to a Gaelic approach. But this is not always the case. Those of us who currently live outside the Gaelic lands may find that the nature spirits where we live are not only not Gaelic, but they may even disagree with a Gaelic approach to ceremony and take an active dislike to the offerings and style of ceremony that are traditional in the Gaelic lands. Therefore we cannot refer to all the nature spirits in the diaspora as aes síde or daoine sìth. Those who live in a land where the nature spirits are not Gaelic, and not happy with Gaelic approaches, may find their

46 Ronald Black, in particular, has a good discussion about this in the introduction to The Gaelic Otherworld.

practice connected less to the land (and wind up doing ceremony indoors) or they may find their practice altered. Some of us have relocated, or avoided relocation, precisely so the spirits will be happy with us as Gaels. 47

Are the Fomoiri demonic forces or entities?

No. The Fomoiri are the chaotic and untamed aspects of nature; they are historically somewhat opposed to the Tuatha Dé Danann (whose nature is usually more civilised and ordered), but they are not rival enemies who share great enmity for each other, despite having engaged in battle with one another. Some books refer to the Fomoiri as demonic, sinister, evil, and malevolent but we believe they are no more evil than a tornado, earthquake, hurricane, or tsunami is evil. The Fomoiri can be wild, tempestuous, primal and feral—but not demonic. Like the physical world, the world of the spirits is not black and white—it is complex, multicoloured, shifting and changeable. The Tuatha Dé Danann intermarried with the Fomoiri and Lugh himself is half-Fomoiri. We do not believe the Tuatha Dé would have married demonic beings, and we would also point out that the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Fomoiri eventually made peace with each other; once the Tuatha Dé defeated the Fomoiri at the Battle of Mag Tured, the Fomoiri did not cause any more trouble in Ireland. 48 Gaelic Polytheists often make treaties of peace and non-interference with these types of spirits, acknowledging them and treating them with kindness so they do not interfere in our lives or ceremonies.

See also: Theological Questions: "Is Gaelic Polytheism dualistic?"

What is UPG? How much UPG is acceptable in Gaelic Polytheism?

Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG) is knowledge that someone believes has been received

47 For more on this, see KILLYOUANDEATYOU.

48 See Elizabeth Gray's translation of Cath Maige Tuired. After this battle, the Tuatha Dé live in peace until the Milesians arrive.

from the deities, ancestors, and/or spirits, via dreams, visions, or very strong intuition, but which is not explicitly contained within the known lore. UPG is acceptable within Gaol Naofa as long as it does not contradict the known lore, and as long as it is presented to the community as modern UPG, not objective fact or ancient belief. It is important to remember that while UPG is a necessary part of practice, it can be of limited value or relevance beyond one's own personal experience. Having a system of checks-and-balances is crucial in using UPG in one's practice as it helps keep one grounded and certain that one is actually receiving information from the spirits, and not our imaginations.

When it comes to the polytheistic aspects that need to be reconstructed in GP/GRP, how important is Proto-IE and IE mythology?

A familiarity with Proto-Indo-European (PIE) and Indo-European (IE) mythology can be helpful in comparative studies, but those mythologies do not dictate Gaelic beliefs. Simply because the Gaels are considered to be part of the larger grouping of Indo-Europeans does not make us the same culture. For example, in some IE cultures sovereignty comes from a sky father, and yet in Gaelic belief it comes from the local land goddess. There is evidence of major variations in belief among the various cultures considered to be Indo-European. Since there are definitely differences, one needs to be cautious and not fall into the trap of assuming, "well if it happened in other IE cultures, it must have happened in Gaelic culture."

Do I need to study Vedic mythology in order to practice Gaelic Polytheism?

No. In fact you don't need to study Vedic (Hindu) mythology to practice any branch of Celtic Reconstructionism. However, some newcomers (and even seasoned practitioners) get this impression due to some Celtic Reconstructionists who—possibly due to the influence of the Rees brothers with their book Celtic Heritage—appear to believe that Vedic mythology somehow fills in the blanks of Celtic mythology. This is simply not true.

Does Gaelic Polytheism borrow from other religions or cultures?

Absolutely not. While it may be possible that Gaelic Polytheism has some commonalities with other Indo-European religions and cultures, and some natural influences from invaders, we do not under any circumstances participate in cultural or religious appropriation.

See also: Ritual and Practice: "Do you allow room for syncretism?"

Do Gaelic Polytheists have any sacred symbols? What symbols do you reject?

There are a number of symbols that Gaelic Polytheists see as sacred, or at least culturally meaningful, and these can include triskeles, triskelions, triple spirals, knotwork, Pictish markings, ogham lettering, claddaghs, the cros bríde, Fionn's Window (féige find), any markings on megaliths like Newgrange, figures such as the statues on Boa Island, Sheela na Gigs, and other symbols found in ancient or even medieval Celtic art. Some of these symbols might not be specifically from the Celtic era, such as the megalithic symbols at Newgrange in Ireland (which, being from approximately 3200 BC, the Stone Age, are considered pre-Celtic), but nevertheless they can be said to form an important part of Ireland’s spiritual heritage and identity, and are known to have been important sites to the Iron Age Gaels as well. As such, symbols like this resonate with contemporary Gaelic Polytheists as well. Sometimes, however, symbols that might be seen as sacred or cultural to us have been co- opted by racist organisations, such as the use of the black clover (with or without the blue stripe) by the Aryan Brotherhood. We reject using symbols like this in order to avoid any intimation of kinship or approval with such organisations, whose views we find to be totally abhorrent. Other symbols that Gaelic Polytheists and Gaol Naofa reject are those that have no relevance to our religious beliefs or cultural focus. These include symbols like pentagrams, pentacles, elven or fairy stars, the three rays of Awen, the Horned God, Grecian labyrinths, and other non-Gaelic and non-Celtic symbols. While these may be common to Wiccan, Neo-druid or other Neopagan traditions, they do not express anything to do with Gaelic Polytheism.

Does Gaelic Polytheism have clergy?

Neither Gaelic Polytheism as a whole nor Gaol Naofa in particular have a professionally ordained clergy. Our ceremonial people are typically community Elders and/or heads of households. Most of our rites are fairly simple, observed within one's extended family and in- person community. Cultural observances may be led by anyone who is a respected community leader, but more mystical ceremonies are usually only led by those with extensive training, experience, and a proven talent for work with the spirits. As we don't have a large number of people who can be considered Elders in our communities, we often provide checks and balances by leading important rites as a team. Our community Elders preserve and pass on our traditions, and provide spiritual and secular guidance. While Gaol Naofa as a community and network has members and advisors who we look to for leadership and guidance in these matters, we also believe that we as individuals are capable of observing personal religious rites, communing directly with the divine, and taking responsibility for our own spiritual welfare. That said, this is a tradition based in community and extended family (whether of origin or choice). For those who do not have an in-person community and cannot travel to meet with us, we will do what we can to provide a network via our online and phone presence, and trust that in time even those who are geographically isolated will manage to develop or find their way to an in-person community.

See also: Ritual and Practice Questions: "Who are the Elders?"

So you guys don't refer to yourselves as Druids?

No. Not every Gaelic Polytheist has an interest in being a scholar, lore keeper, learning to lead ceremony, or serving as a "priest" or "priestess" for a community (and all the other things involved in being a traditional druid). Unlike some groups, our definition of a druid is fairly narrow in that we see a druid (draoí) as being someone who serves as a respected and valued leader in an in-person community, and who has trained for decades to be worthy of this role. Since we are a culturally-specific community, we believe this community should also be specific:

that is, a druid is one who is serving a Gaelic Polytheist community. To us, a "solitary druid" is an

oxymoron. As it is, very few people have the training, study or a sizable enough in-person community that they can serve in order to be recognized as a druid. Being recognised as a druid by others— specifically, an experienced community who know the standards that must be achieved to be worthy of the title—rather than simply calling oneself a druid, is an important distinction we would also make. We view placing the title onto oneself to be disrespectful to our ancestors and counterproductive to the type of quality we are trying to reestablish for our descendants; it is said that the draoí went through twenty years of study—learning from Elders in community and demonstrating their skill through daily practice—to even begin to be worthy of the title; as such it is not something to be thrown around lightly or taken up arbitrarily.

See also: Misconceptions: "Isn't Gaelic Polytheism just the same thing as Druidry? What about the Avalonian traditions?"

Ritual and Practice Questions

How does one become a Gaelic Polytheist? Where does one begin?

We believe that to begin a Gaelic Polytheistic practice one must simply have a sincere desire to adopt the Gaelic worldview and culture, and harbour a willingness to respect and embrace the traditions and principles of the Gaelic ancestors and the living community. There is no initiation, baptism, or special oath required. That being said, Gaelic Polytheism is a process— not an instantaneous change. It requires patience, as well as a strong desire to learn. Learning the basic lore, and how to make simple prayers and offerings to the Gaelic spirits, are usually the best way to start as they serve as a way to introduce yourself and your family to the Dé ocus An-Dé ("Gods and Un-Gods") and can be done without extensive prior study (save for referring to a list of traditionally suitable offerings).

See also: Ritual and Practice Questions: "What are considered acceptable offerings?"

How do Gaelic Polytheists worship?

Rather than worship in the bent-knee, grovelling sense the word might usually conjure up, Gaelic Polytheists might typically prefer the word "honour" to describe what we do. Aside from being a word that is far less loaded in its implications, "honour" is a word that we as Gaelic Polytheists see as a fundamental virtue, and so it is perhaps the more apt word to use. The Old Irish word for "morality," béstatu, has its root in the word bés, meaning "habit, usual procedure, practice, manner, or way," 49 and in this sense we might say that it is through observing the appropriate customs and traditions that we do honour to our gods, spirits and ancestors, as well as our community. This is why Gaelic Polytheism is what we would describe as

49 See eDIL.

a lifeway, 50 because we see our path as being rooted in the cultural and religious expressions of our beliefs. In other words, what we do, how we live and how we behave, are ultimately rooted in our relationship with the Dé ocus An-Dé. Living with honour, as well as doing honour, is therefore extremely important to us, not just to the gods, spirits and ancestors, in our religious rites, but in all the actions of our everyday lives as well. At the most basic level, our daily lives are punctuated by simple prayers and devotions, which form the underlying rhythm of our day. These daily practices are complimented by observances at festivals and other occasions, from major rites of passage to simply greeting the new moon or sun, making offerings to the spirits for the safety of our families in the face of a storm, accompanying our household tasks with traditional words of blessing, and so on. In addition to prayer, offerings form a major focus for how we honour and communicate with the Dé ocus An-Dé, and in order to provide a focus for these devotions a shrine or altar is often maintained in or outside the home (or both). These shrines can be used for all kinds of devotions, or else individual shrines to particular deities, spirits or ancestors can be maintained if it is felt to be more appropriate. Ultimately, however, we do not consider permanent, physical shrines as a necessary focus; they are simply something that we feel can enrich our practice. It is through these ritual observances, however elaborate or simple they may be, that we honour and are in communion with the Dé ocus An-Dé. Rituals, ceremonies and general rites of honour tend to be centred in the household, extended family and community, 51 and these may be observed in addition to our own personal, individual devotions. Group rituals are often performed outdoors or at the family shrine, and are facilitated by a community Elder or the head

50 And specifically, to members of Gaol Naofa, our Gaelic Polytheist Lifeway (Dòigh-Beatha Ioma-Dhiadhach Ghàidhealach / Dóigh Bheatha Ildiach is Gaelach).

51 We use the word "family" loosely, not necessarily constrained by blood-ties; family is what you make it. In practice some Gaelic Polytheists may temporarily find themselves without in-person community, and while Gaol Naofa strongly encourages practice within in-person groups, we also recognise the difficulties that some face in finding or forming one in their area. Because of this, Gaol Naofa offers a Gealach Úr (New Moon) ritual for all members of the organisation to participate in if they wish, as well as long-distance connections via the Internet and phone. We feel that being able to perform rituals as others do, at the same time, is one way to help new members begin to connect with our community, even if they have not yet managed to join with others in person. Though Gaol Naofa is still a small organisation, one of our priorities is helping people find or form solid connections with others, as extended family and community.

of the household. In our rites and rituals, we invite the Dé ocus An-Dé to attend and we give to

them our hospitality. Singing, dancing, the playing of music, the reciting and finding of poetry, listening to the spirits, storytelling, prayer, and sharing food with one another are often frequent components. While some specifics of our rituals may vary from one household or community to another, there are underlying common principles that inform what we do, which are rooted within the appropriate cultural context. Without these roots we believe that rituals and observances would be meaningless and empty, and hardly justifying the label of "Gaelic" Polytheism. It is through our rituals and acts of devotion, as well as correct social observances, that we maintain a balanced and proper relationship with the Dé ocus An-Dé.

sing, and know that the gods,

We live, we pray, we make our offerings and devotions spirits and ancestors are with us.

we

What are considered acceptable offerings?

Folklore, and the living traditions of the creideamh sí, note offerings of foods like milk, cheese, butter, caudle, porridge, beer, bannocks, oatcakes and other baked goods (e.g., bairín- breac), eggs, meat, salt, and food from a meal set aside on a special plate for the spirits or deities being honoured. Other traditional offerings include flowers and rushes, sheaves of corn (as in grain, not maize), metalwork and jewellery, wooden objects or structures, clooties, coins, pins, buttons, nails, art works or handicrafts, music, poetry and gestures of hospitality. Particular spirits and deities are known to have their preferences, which are in many cases recorded and in other cases known through our personal experiences making offerings over the years. 52 Our community celebrations also have particular festival foods that are traditional for seasonal feasts and ceremonies.

52 When we figure out things through experience, however, it's important to note if it's a modern tradition, such as offering coffee or chocolate to spirits who've shown interest in these things.

Does Gaelic Polytheism include ritual sacrifice?

It can, but we need to discuss what we mean by "sacrifice." "Sacrifice" can mean different things to different people, so in some ways the answer depends on how you define it. A broad definition of the word sees anything offered to the gods in an act of devotion or propitiation as a form of sacrifice, which would mean that Gaelic Polytheist practice involves a lot of ritual sacrifice. A much narrower definition of "sacrifice" would be the act of killing a living being during the act of offering; this would mean animal sacrifice or, to our very distant Celtic ancestors, human sacrifice. For our purposes, though, it may also include the destruction of inanimate objects as part of their being sacrificed—a practice that is frequently found in Celtic sacrifice, the Gaels included. 53 Most Gaelic Polytheists do not engage in ritual sacrifice of animals. In contrast to offerings, which are made regularly and frequently, the sacrifice of livestock is something that might only be done at especially important times when offering something beyond the ordinary is seen as necessary or desirable. It would be fair to say that the sacrifice of inanimate objects is the most common form of ritual sacrifice for Gaelic Polytheists, and these can include things like jewellery or other items of value (sentimental value included), and poetry, works of prose, or personally crafted items made specially for sacrifice. Most of our historical examples of animal sacrifice are from times and places where most people were farmers, or hunter-gatherers, and killing a chicken, deer, fish or cattle to feed the people was a regular part of life. The only difference from modern small-scale farming is that prayer and ceremony is involved in the process. Some rural, farming Gaelic Polytheists may choose to take part in animal sacrifice, but it is a personal choice and it is not—by any means—something that should be considered a requirement of Gaelic Polytheist practice. Gaol Naofa believes that the decision to perform animal sacrifice is not one that should be taken lightly, and is something that must be done humanely, with deep respect, and in a traditional manner. If you do decide to perform animal sacrifice as

53 Aldhouse-Green, Dying for the Gods: Human Sacrifice in Iron Age and Roman Europe, 2001, p22.

part of your practices, it is important that you know what you are doing, and that you consult the laws and ordinances of the country, state, or district you live in. It may not be legal to keep livestock where you live. There may also be laws that govern the humane killing of animals. Considering the practicalities of all this, it is fair to say that the small minority of Gaelic Polytheists who do perform animal sacrifice tend to live in rural areas, with working farms, and the sacrifice of livestock is part of their normal lifestyle of providing meat for their families and communities. Gaol Naofa would stress that under no circumstances should Gaelic Polytheists be forced, or feel pressured, to take part in animal sacrifice if they are uneasy with it. Only food animals who are regularly consumed and sold for consumption (i.e., no dogs, cats, etc.) and are within the laws (i.e., no protected species or any migratory birds) are to be sacrificed. We are sure this goes without saying but human sacrifice is not, we repeat not, a part of modern Gaelic Polytheism.

What festivals/holidays do Gaelic Polytheists celebrate?

All Gaelic Polytheists celebrate the four quarter days:

Samain (Sengoídelc); Oíche Shamhna or Samhain (Gaeilge); Samhainn (Gàidhlig); Sauin (Gaelg) — October 31/November 1; the end of summer, the beginning of winter; a time to honour ancestors and other dead; a primordial time when the Otherworld is most active.

Oimelc (Sengoídelc); Lá Fhéile Bríde or Imbolc (Gaeilge); Là Fhèill Brìghde (Gàidhlig); Laa'l Breeshey (Gaelg) — February 1; "the feast day of Bríde"; a celebration closely associated with the hearth, home and family; the stirrings of summer (or spring).

Cetsamain (Sengoídelc); Lá Bealtaine (Gaeilge); Bealltainn (Gàidhlig); Laa Boaldyn (Gaelg) — May 1; the end of winter, the start of summer; a time when the Otherworld is particularly active again; a time for purification.

Lugnasad (Sengoídelc); Lá Lúnasa (Gaeilge); Lùnastal (Gàidhlig); Laa Luanys (Gaelg) — August 1; a harvest festival instituted by Lugh in honour of his foster-mother Tailtiu who

died whilst clearing the land for cultivation; celebrating the first fruits.

These quarter days are occasions for family and community feasting and celebration, which are important for strengthening the secular and spiritual bonds that sustain cohesion and stability, and activities often include story-telling, the recitation of poetry, competitive sports, and seisiúns or céilidhs. 54 Some Gaelic Polytheists may also choose to celebrate the smaller local festivals such as Là na Cailliche (Scotland/March 25), Midsummer (Ireland and Isle of Man), Là Fhèill Mìcheil (Scotland/September 29), An Clabhsúr (Ireland), Yn Mheillea (Isle of Man), Midwinter or Yule, and Lá an Dreoilín (Ireland and Isle of Man/December 26). Halloween, Christmas, and New Year's Eve (Oíche Chinn Bhliana/Hogmanay/Oie Houney) can also be celebrated, as well as festivals that celebrate the Gaelic nations and Gaelic culture, like Lá Fhéile Padráig (St. Patrick's Day/March 17), Latha Naomh Anndra (St. Andrew's Day/November 30), Burns Night (January 25) and Laa Tinvaal (Tynwald Day/July 5). Basically, the festival calendar is, in the end, up to the practitioner and/or their family or community.

What about the solstices and equinoxes, do you celebrate those?

Some of the smaller local festivals coincide with, or happen close to, a solstice or equinox. The celebration of these local festivals is left entirely up to the individual, household or group, and so some Gaelic Polytheists may include festival observances on or around some or all of these dates. They are not celebrated because these lesser festival fall on, or near, a solstice or equinox, but because of their cultural and spiritual significance to the individuals or groups who choose to observe them.

See also: Ritual and Practice Questions: "What festivals/holidays do Gaelic Polytheists celebrate?"

54 A céilidh—or cèilidh in Gàidhlig (Scots Gaelic)—is a formal or informal meeting of family and friends where stories and tales are told, songs are sung, and dancing is had.

Do you celebrate secular cultural holidays as well as religious ones?

That is left up to the discretion of practitioner, but yes some do. Celebrating secular holidays like this can be seen as an opportunity to enrich our own traditions, or those of our household or family, and they also provide the opportunity to celebrate the Gaelic cultures and nations as well. A traditional dinner of haggis, neeps an' tatties followed by an evening of storytelling and poetry is a good way to celebrate Burns' Night, which is still widely observed in Scotland today, while the green beer and obnoxious pinching of those who don't wear green might be forsaken in favor of similar celebrations for Lá Fhéile Padráig (St. Patrick's Day), this time focusing on Irish culture. Since St. Patrick's Day is so popular in the diaspora—especially in the US—it can be a time for Gaelic Polytheists to honour and remember the suffering of our Irish ancestors (those of us who have them), who went through so much to find a life and a living away from their homelands. While these secular holidays are not a part of our religious calendar, some of them can have spiritual overtones, especially the winter festivals like Hogmanay (New Year's Eve in Scotland) and New Year's Day. They are not holidays of Gaelic origin, but nonetheless they have become entrenched in Scottish culture and are still widely observed today. For Gaelic Polytheists, the New Year can be a time to sain the house, leave out offerings and perform divinations to see what the coming year might bring.

See also: Ritual and Practice Questions: "What festivals/holidays do Gaelic Polytheists celebrate?"

Is Gaelic Polytheism something that can be practiced in urban and suburban areas?

Absolutely. You don't need to live in the country in order to practice Gaelic Polytheism. It's true that some Gaelic Polytheists reside in rural areas, and many of our beliefs are rooted in our experience of the land where we live, but the majority of modern people tend to be located in cities and suburbs. Each locale offers its own pros and cons (those in cities usually have more access to cultural events, for instance). However, spirits reside everywhere, even amongst the

concrete and steel. We encourage rural and urban members of our communities to practice hospitality and help one another with places to stay so the rural folks can have access to events in the city and the urban folks can get out under the stars.

How involved/immersed in Gaelic culture should one be?

As much as possible. In Gaol Naofa, to be culturally immersed means that one's whole being and concentration are focused on Gaelic culture. As most of us are in the diaspora we understand this is harder to accomplish, but it is not impossible. A good many of us are devoted to and involved in the living Gaelic cultures through the preservation of native languages, poetry, literature, traditional music, and sacred sites, as well as through the cooking of traditional foods, learning of householder customs, and attendance of Gaelic festivals and céilidhs. There is a huge middle ground between living in an extended, Gaelic-speaking family in the Gaeltachtaí 55 or Gàidhealtachdan 56 and being a Neopagan who only reads books. It's about doing one's best to understand and adopt the mindset—based on real exposure to, and participation in, the living cultures, rather than fantasies based solely on the oldest manuscripts, seen through Neopagan expectations.

See also: Theological Questions: "What is a worldview? Why do I need to adopt a Gaelic worldview in order to practice Gaelic Polytheism?"

How important is tradition to Gaelic Polytheists?

By observing tradition, we honour our ancestors and the spirits who guided them. We root ourselves in the land and in right relationship with the spirits, the deities, and one another. Within Gaol Naofa, tradition and ancient wisdom always take precedence, except in cases that would result in breaking the just laws of one's community. 57 Any modern adaptions, innovations,

55 Gaeilge speaking areas located in Ireland (parts of Donegal, Meath, Mayo, Galway, Kerry, Cork and Waterford), Northern Ireland (parts of Belfast and Derry) and Canada (Erinsville, Ontario).

56 Gàidhlig speaking areas located in Scotland (Highlands and Islands) and Canada (Cape Breton, Glengarry, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland).

57 See the bit about how taking the heads of one's worthy enemies in battle is right out.

re-interpretations, or reconstructions must be rooted in history and tradition, and anything that is not wholly traditional needs to be openly acknowledged as such. For instance, we may choose to "back-engineer" prayers, charms and poetry recorded in the Christian era to a polytheistic version: Carefully and with full consideration for the purpose of the piece, an understanding of the poetic structures, and the roles of the particular spirits, a healing charm to Saint Brigid may be easily adapted to petition the goddess Brigid. A prayer for protection, addressed to saint Michael, may be adapted into a piece for one of the warrior deities, again, with very little changed as some of the saints were direct adaptations of the deities who preceded them. While we cannot know for certain, in some cases it does seem that we are simply putting prayers back to what they may have been before Christianity was overlaid onto our Native traditions. When we do this we always footnote with the original version, so people can check our interpretation and be aware of any changes. We don't use the prayers that have obviously been written from a more recent, Christian perspective. Rather, we look to the pieces that seem to have been written from a more polytheistic, nature-revering perspective on the world, whether the original version was by someone who considered themselves a Gaelic Polytheist or a Gaelic Christian. 58 When at all possible, we don't back-engineer at all, and keep things in their original forms. Another example of modernisation would be choosing to use modern household materials to make certain items at the festivals as part of our celebrations—such as using the local variety of reeds or willow for the cros Bríde, or a household implement other than a butter churn for the brideóg. Similarly, while yellow turnips (rutabaga or swede depending on where you're from) are

the traditional vegetable of choice for making lanterns on Oíche Shamhna, there is nothing wrong with opting for white turnips or even potatoes to carve, since these are also attested to in tradition

Since pumpkins are an established part of diasporan tradition

(and slightly easier on the wrist

they are not necessarily considered inappropriate to use, but generally speaking Gaelic Polytheists will prefer to uphold the traditions as authentically as possible. Ultimately, modern

).

58 Some of the early, Celtic Christian perspectives were almost indistinguishable from the polytheism that preceded them.

materials are an acceptable adaptation to the traditions mentioned here because they are in keeping with how the traditions have evolved within the Gaelic cultures themselves. Where we are forced to adapt to modern circumstances (not many of us have a churn dash

we first look to how the traditions might have

evolved within the culture. Where we don't have any modern points of references, looking to other cultures and appropriating bits and pieces from here or there to "fill in the gaps" is not acceptable practice; taking a ritual from another culture and simply adapting it to our own circumstances is not only cultural appropriation, 59 it is totally disregarding our own cultural history and heritage. Instead, what we must do is look at the sources and put what survives into practice in our lives. Over time, with deepening experience and fluency, we may be inspired to carefully build upon these things in the spirit of the surviving cultural ceremonies, prayers, songs

handy these days, to make our brideóg with

)

and charms. This work can be time-consuming and slow, and patience and deep commitment are required. But that is what we are dedicated to. Making up entirely new traditions or rituals, without any regard for the cultural roots of our practice is not Gaelic or reconstructionist. Necessity may be the mother of invention, but invention for invention's sake or because it's easier, without regard for tradition, history, and precedence, is not in keeping with Gaelic Polytheist principles.

Who are the Elders?

Elders in a traditional, Gaelic society can be said to represent the pinnacle of their particular niche—as community historians, storytellers, poets or musicians—and can be seen as the culmination of many years of learning and experience. They hold a vast body of knowledge in their minds, which they are capable of commanding at will, and are viewed with great respect within their communities. 60 In traditional terms we might see them as forming a parallel with the roles of druids, sages, and the fili of pre-Christian times, since the Sengoídelc word for elder,

59 See Ritual and Practice Questions: "What is cultural appropriation? How can I avoid it?"

60 Glassie, Passing the Time Ballymenone: Culture and History of an Ulster Community, 1982, p127; p143.

sruith, also carries with it connotations of "revered; venerable," as well as "sage," 61 and so underscores the sacred role and duties of the role, as well as the vast amounts of knowledge and experience required in order to fulfill it. Elders also served similar roles to that of the druids, sages, and fili; through tales and song, Elders impart wisdom and moral guidance to those who have gathered to listen, and they might sometimes be seen taking a leading role in the seasonal, public festivities that the whole community engaged in, 62 as well as more private ceremonial occasions (such as those associated with birth, death and marriage). 63 For Gaol Naofa, an Elder is someone who—through age, experience and example—is honoured and esteemed by the community, and is capable of offering advice, knowledge and guidance when necessary. Taking our cues from traditional Gaelic society, we see Elders as being dedicated to collecting, preserving and imparting cultural wisdom in order to help make sure that everyone in the community remains rooted in that worldview that we as Gaelic Polytheists are dedicated to, 64 and as such not everyone is ever going to be eligible to claim the status of an Elder (and, perhaps not everyone would necessarily want to take on such a role). It is not a status that is automatically conferred on someone because of their age, or because they have achieved a certain amount of study or practical experience. Instead, it is a role that is conferred on an individual by their community, in recognition of having already acted in, and fulfilled, such a role successfully, by virtue of their knowledge, expertise, and capability. As a reconstructionist community, Gaol Naofa's situation in terms of Elders is more

61 See eDIL.

62 Examples include the offerings to Shony on the Isle of Lewis, Scotland, where "the oldest man of the sea" was tasked with wading out into the waves in order to making an offering to Shony on behalf of everyone assembled for the rite; at Bealtaine fires in Ireland where the oldest woman present would go around the bonfire sunwise, three times, in order "to ensure a year without sickness" for the whole community. See Black, The Gaelic Otherworld, 2005, p590-591, and Evans, Irish Folk Ways, 1957, p274-275.

63 Examples here include the making of a special punch for weddings in Scotland, the making (and recipe) of which was given to the elders of the village. When the punch had been declared good amongst the elders, it was then used to drink to the health and blessings of the newlyweds. In Ireland, spéicéirí (professional matchmakers) were often elderly gentlemen (though sometimes women) with a reputation for good judgement, diplomacy, and the ability to strike a good bargain, who acted on behalf of a hopeful bride or bridegroom to secure a fitting and worthy spouse. See Gregor, Notes on the Folk-Lore of the North-East of Scotland, 1881, p94-95; Ó Súilleabháin, Irish Folk Custom and Belief, 1967, p46; Danaher, In Ireland Long Ago, 1962, p157-158.

64 Glassie, Passing the Time Ballymenone: Culture and History of an Ulster Community, 1982, p63.

complex—and at times, difficult—when compared with cultures who have never had their pre- Christian spiritual traditions so damaged. In this modern era, what we generally seem to have are three things that can make up an elder or Elder, and sometimes we can only fill a position that needs an Elder by having a few people who fit each of these categories collaborate to bring a fuller picture to the community:

The most obvious Elders are our elderly people (Grandparents and Great-Grandparents) who grew up with some degree of tradition. Ideally, they speak a Gaelic language and know a significant number of songs and tales. More often, the elderly members of our extended families only remember a few customs, songs and tales, and only a few words and phrases in the language. They may have been raised with some "fairy faith"/creideamh sí customs, but probably not as complete polytheists. Many of our elderly relatives were raised Christian or without any formal religion at all. An elderly relative with only a small degree of inherited cultural traditions is a type of elder, and deserving of our respect and attention, even if they don't have the full, cultural and ceremonial Elder status of the former.

We have our friends, members and allies who are cultural workers, who may or may not be elderly, but who are fluent in the languages and have vast knowledge of the songs and traditions, though they may not be practicing polytheists. These are our "culture-bearers" and deserve our highest respect, no matter their age.

We have our members who are middle-aged and retirement-aged who have inherited spiritual gifts and been immersed in spiritual work and community since they were very young. Having not been born into a thoroughly polytheistic lifeway, these members of our community have spent decades studying, learning through experience, fulfilling leadership roles in community, and working to restore the foundations of Gaelic Polytheism for the generations to come.

We also have the checks-and-balances of extended family, and a circle and network of

friends and relatives who make up the community we are accountable to. We know that without consensus, teamwork, the checks-and-balances provided by true peers, and the feedback only found by living in community, even Elders can make mistakes. No one stands outside the circle; all are accountable. Most modern GP groups are lucky if they get one person from each of these categories who, by working together as a team, can make a go of it. Gaol Naofa has been lucky in this area, and we deeply value our members and network of advisers who fulfil the role of Elders in our community.

See also: Misconceptions: "I was in a Wiccan coven for three years and took my third degree so I am an Elder now." and Misconceptions: "I'm fifty now. I'm an Elder."

How important is family and community within Gaelic Polytheism?

Family—in all its diverse and extended forms—is the most important and fundamental unit of Gaelic Polytheism and of society in general, and our extended families (of birth or choice) deserve loyalty, duty, honour, and concern. As honour and mutual respect are core values for our communities, families and communities must also hold their members accountable for their actions. Loyalty to our kin and allies, and protection of our communities, demands that we do not accept unethical or abusive behaviour, even (and especially) from our own. Community ensures the preservation and continuation of our cultural, historic, and spiritual heritage, and it is the medium through which such things are expressed. A Gaelic community is rooted firmly within the cultural institutions, traditions, religion, values, and conceptions of the Gaelic people. Culture is honoured as that which provides not only cohesion but collective strength and cooperation, and it is that which bestows our identity and that which defines us. Community ensures the preservation and continuation of our cultural, historic, and spiritual heritage, and it is the medium through which such things are expressed. While we believe that good community can be found through online correspondence, we do think in-person communities are crucial for those who want or plan to lead ceremony. There are some things about working with spirits and spiritual energies that are very hard to learn on

one's own, and sometimes not safe to work with on one's own. Thus, in-person community is safer and better.

How are these family groups organized?

Gaelic Polytheists who worship as a family (or as a group of families, or an extended family of close friends) may decide to form their own fellowships called kindreds, households, hearths, or their bilingual equivalents. A common name for such family-based groups is the líon-tí or fine. These groups are autonomous and tend to be more private in their affairs; one is usually invited to join rather than petitioning for membership. While these groups may be private, members may be very active in the public sphere or greater community. These finte will often have their own traditions, rites, and approaches that they share as an extended family. A house- head, usually the man or woman of the household or perhaps an elder, leads or facilitates the family's religious activities such as the household's daily or weekly devotions and the observance of the seasonal celebrations.

So you don't allow room for solitaries?

Yes we do. While Gaol Naofa is very much focused on community and extended family, and we encourage people to prioritise these things in their lives, we recognise that there are also members who are forced into solitary practice due to geographical isolation, or because their family and friends do not share their beliefs or ideals. Sometimes an individual may prefer to express their spirituality in an individual manner and that is acceptable, though we do encourage them to connect with the broader GP community for mental health reasons. As discussed above, there are some activities that are not appropriate to do in isolation. Right now there are very few Gaelic Polytheist groups bigger than a family. While we have the living cultures and some of us have folkloric survivals in our families of origin, as a spiritual lifeway, contemporary GP is still becoming established.

How can I include my child/children in my practice?

As the foundations of our Gaelic Polytheist Lifeway (Ar Dòigh-Beatha Ioma-Dhiadhach Ghàidhealach / Ár nDóigh Bheatha Ildiach is Gaelach) are built on extended, multi-generational family and community, we encourage you to include your children in our spiritual and cultural traditions. As a cultural tradition, Gaelic Polytheism is very child-friendly. Some of our traditions even survive most strongly in children's culture—being remembered as games and superstitions even when they had fallen into disuse among most adults. While younger children are not usually interested in the more solemn aspects of religious practice that demand a great deal of concentration (silent vigils, long prayers or extended meditations) they can easily be included in cultural traditions like children's divination games and rhymes, the making of simple offerings to the kinder spirits who are fond of children, as well as storytelling, singing, and learning traditional music and dance. Encouraging your children to learn a Gaelic language is an excellent thing you can do for cultural preservation. Children pick up language easier than do adults, and multilingual children are not only a gift to our community and our community's future, but language acquisition will help them have strong, flexible minds that will serve them well in all aspects of their lives. There are quite a few festival traditions which traditionally include children, often in prominent roles: the girls' procession and decorating the brideóg at Imbolc, the biddy boys, mumming, buachaillí tuí ("straw-boys"), choosing the May Queen, etc. Rites of passage were important to our ancestors, and can be revived now with coming of age ceremonies such as the presenting of first arms, and reaching the age where a youth can tend the all-night bonfires and bring in the May with the other young adults. Younger children often enjoy helping out with crafting and can be included in making festive decorations, the cros Bríde at Imbolc and the carving of turnips at Samhain, for example. Cooking and baking is also something that many children enjoy helping out with, so they can be involved in the festive preparations as well. These preparations can include churning your own

butter together and encouraging your children to call for the lumps to come, 65 making cheese (such as crowdie), and all kinds of traditional baked goods that are popular festive treats. As story-telling and song is a large part of festivals and Gaelic tradition, telling your children stories and teaching them simple songs can also serve as an excellent way to include them, as can making offerings together. We believe children learn by example, in community, and should be included in all activities that are appropriate for their level of ability and understanding. Like adults, some kids are more sensitive to the spirits and more interested in ceremony than others. We are a community that values the sight, 66 and those who have inherited it. We know that life in mainstream, materialistic culture can be very difficult for the spiritually gifted. Therefore we must take responsibility for noticing which children carry these gifts, who have an aptitude for ceremonial work, and make sure they receive the support and guidance they need.

Do I have to have children to be a Gaelic Polytheist?

Of course not. While we value our extended families and the next generations, there is no requirement to give birth to or adopt anyone to be a member of our community. Some of us in the Gaol Naofa community have young children, others have grown children and grandchildren, and some of us serve the younger generations and the cultural continuum through teaching, mentoring, and being aunties and uncles to the children in our extended families. Our ancestors' communities included people who were sworn to religious duties that took precedence over giving birth and raising babies, as well as people who fostered in the children of relatives and community members to teach them a trade or skill. While those who have never raised children of their own are usually in the minority compared to householders, they also hold a valued and sacred place in the extended family and community.

65 The Carmina Gadelica includes some butter churning rhymes, and you can find Irish examples in Kevin Danaher's The Year in Ireland. There are also websites where you can listen to them being sung, such as here.

66 An dà shealladh (Gàidhlig): "the two sights"; often referred to as "second sight." Tradition dictates this is a gift people are born with, not something they learn.

Are there any different paths within Gaelic Polytheism?

Absolutely. Gaelic Polytheistic practice presents itself in various forms, and these can often overlap one another since the practice of one path might include the study or inclusion of another. Gaelic Polytheists are not expected to choose a particular path, but might find that their practices naturally fall under one or more of the following sub-headings, which can form useful terminology in describing your own focus and interests when talking to others:

Hearthkeeper: Focuses on the house, the family, the hearth, and all the householding and/or homesteading activities that lie within. Can include learning prayers and songs that accompany daily tasks, and leading household rituals for extended family.

Healer: Includes the practice of traditional folk magic and folk healing to aid family and community; can also include midwifery and professionals who serve the community with advanced medical skills.

Artisan: Includes things like metalsmithing and jewellery, weaving and dyeing, knitting, or woodworking, as well as music—whether playing and/or singing.

Mystic: Includes paths and gifts like filidecht (Gaeilge, "poetry; divination"), filidheachd (Gàidhlig, "poetry"), an dà shealladh (Gàidhlig, "the two sights" 67 ), fáidheadóireacht (Gaeilge, "prophecy; divination"); fàisneachd (Gàidhlig, "foretelling"); bean feasa (Gaeilge, "wise woman"), fer-obbee/ben-obbee (Gaelg, "wise-man/woman"), etcetera.

Warrior: Focuses on things like traditional Gaelic martial arts and self-defence, self- discipline, and being ready and willing to lay one's life on the line to defend the community. Like the Fianna this path might include things like poetry as well. Public service—whether in the actual military or through occupations like law enforcement, firefighters, EMAs, search and rescue, etcetera—would fall under this focus as well.

Ritual/Ceremonial Specialist: Studying to specialise in ceremonial work is a sort of path, but not completely, as often it's more traditional for ceremonies to be led by the head of the

67 Note: tradition dictates this is a gift people are born with, not something they learn.

household, and for community celebrations to be led by a team of officiants, preferably Elders. However, focusing one's study, practice and apprenticeship on ritual forms, and dedicating one's life to ceremonial work, is certainly a calling. Like the work of the mystic, it calls for certain inborn gifts, of both spiritual and psychic nature as well as good social skills for working with groups. We would stress, however, all the things we have said about the checks-and-balances in community, and leading a well-rounded life. Ceremonial specialists also need a grounding in a profession, to be respected by their communities, and if they do eventually lead ceremonies they must be chosen for the role, and subject to all of the checks-and-balances we have emphasised in this FAQ. Different ceremonial roles have different names in the Gaelic languages, and are variable for the type of ceremonies the person carries.

Draoí: More a hard-earned title to aspire to than one particular path. Though some modern commentators only refer to the draoíthe as ceremonial leaders, in reality they were the educated, professional class, and included scholars, medical professionals, and others who were the ancient equivalents of those who hold advanced doctorate degrees in the relevant fields. Indeed, some of the old poetic grades and titles for draoíthe are still used for university professors in present-day Ireland. Working towards becoming a draoí includes a great deal of study, and a lifetime commitment to acquiring, maintaining, and teaching the lore. It does not necessarily demand the inborn gifts of the mystic and ceremonial leader, but people often expect these things from those who are working to earn the title. At the present time we do not believe anyone qualifies for the full tile of draoí or druid (according to how we define the word), though we do not discount the possibility of individuals being able to have such a title conferred on them at some point in the future. Unlike the other paths listed here, one can endeavour to achieve such a status as draoí, but it is not a title that is claimed; rather it is conferred on the individual by the Elders and other long- term, experienced members of the living community.

Sruith (Sengoídelc, "elder; sage"): Like draoí, this is not a path that can be chosen, but rather a title that can be earned over decades of contributing positively to the community,

serving as a positive role model, and demonstrating that one possesses wisdom and knowledge of language, custom, song and tales, and the trusted position of a ceremonial leader and/or advisor in the community.

Ceremonial Tea Maker: aka Priest/ess of the Coffee, Purveyor of the Scones. Oh, OK, we made this bit up. But seriously, not everyone involved in our Gaol Naofa community is dedicated to serious religious practice. Most of us have some members of our extended families and circles of friends who share an interest in Gaelic culture, and who attend cultural events with us, but don't necessarily want to pray or do religious ceremonies. We also have members and allies who, while happy to participate in religious observances, are more comfortable in a support role. Whether these members of our community serve mostly through hearthkeeper and hospitality tasks, keeping us all fed and warm, or performing backup in other ways, we honour and value their participation, companionship and input. Without them, we couldn't do what we do.

See also: Ritual and Practice Questions: "Who are the Elders?", Theological Questions: "So you guys don't refer to yourselves as Druids?" and General Questions: "Is learning any of the Gaelic languages a requirement for Gaelic Polytheism?"

Is magic an acceptable practice in Gaelic Polytheism?

Traditional Gaelic folk-magic is most certainly welcomed; however, New Age, eclectic Neopagan, and other non-Gaelic concepts and practices like Ceremonial Magic, Occultism, Witchcraft, Wicca—and its numerous sub-traditions—are most certainly not a part of Gaelic Polytheism nor Gaol Naofa.

See also: Misconceptions: "Isn't Witchcraft the same thing as folk-magic? Doesn't that mean you call yourself Witches?"

Do I need to practice folk magic or divination in order to be a Gaelic Polytheist?

No, many Gaelic Polytheists live their lives just fine without delving into the mystical side of our traditions, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Folk-magic and divination are not for everyone, and if you choose not to engage in these practices that does not make your value

in the community any less than those who do.

What is flametending? Does Gaol Naofa have a flametending order?

In medieval Kildare, Ireland, nineteen nuns dedicated their lives to tending a sacred,

cloistered flame in honour of St. Brigid. Each nun took a turn to tend the flame for the duration of

a day, and on the twentieth day the flame was left for Brigid herself to tend it. After that day, the cycle would repeat itself with each nun taking a turn to tend the flame, and so on. At no point was

a man allowed to enter this cloister where the sacred flame was kept and tended to by the nuns; to

do so might put that man's very life in danger. 68 Many polytheists believe this practice to be a remnant of a pre-Christian practice, much like the Vestal Virgins of ancient Rome who tended a sacred, cloistered flame in honour of Vesta, and which also had the same stipulations on men. The sacred flame of Brigid was rekindled on Imbolc 1993 in Kildare by Mary Teresa Cullen of the Brigidine Sisters and has been tended ever since at Solas Bhride. Women have travelled to Ireland to light candles from this flame, and over the years it has been quietly passed from woman to woman, primarily among women sworn to Brigid. In 2006, a perpetual flame was also lit in the town square in Kildare. Many polytheists view tending a flame as a means to honour Brigid, and numerous 'orders' have popped up over the years. In Gaol Naofa we honour multiple manifestations of the Flame of Brigid. Many of us see it as threefold—the cloistered flame, the hearth flame, and the festival flame: The cloistered flame is for women only (and preferably, women who are considered "virgin" by ancient Irish standards). The hearth flame is usually tended by women, but is not off-limits to men if that man prepares food for his household and attends to other hearth-related activities; unlike the cloistered flame, there are no known dangers to men who take on this householder, hearthkeeper role. The third is the festival flame, which is lit by whichever individual or group is appropriate for that particular ceremony or gathering. We view the flame that now burns in the town square of Kildare to be a

68 Giraldus Cambrensis' Topographia Hibernie (trans. Philip Freeman), in Koch and Carey's The Celtic Heroic Age, 1995, p267- 268. See also p54 of this pdf.

type of festival flame, as it has been lit in a public situation that is not limited to women. 69 While some of the women in Gaol Naofa are sworn flametenders, we are not currently sponsoring an official flametending order. While you may find your way to an order through your friendships in Gaol Naofa, our discussion of these matters with people we do not know in person will be very limited. Beyond the very basic principles, discussions about flametending happen only among the women who carry this commitment in our communities.

Do I have to tend a flame in order to honour Brigid?

No. A lot of people seem to think that flametending is the "only true way" to honour or connect with Brigid, but this is simply untrue. If you limit your exposure to her based solely on the fact that you think you need to tend a flame, you are missing out on just how multifaceted and vast Brigid is.

Where does Gaol Naofa stand on male flametending?

Gaol Naofa believes that female and male are both equal in that they are both able to create, define, and prove their worth, status, and value amongst their peers, and by the fact that there exists in nature nothing which would support the notion that one gender is superior or inferior to the other. While we oppose any oppression based on gender or sexual identity, and do not subscribe to rigid gender roles (especially in cases where it is clear such things were based only on sexism), 70 we also honour our ancestors' wisdom. With such wisdom in mind, as well as what we have confirmed through our own experiences, Gaol Naofa acknowledges that there can be spiritual differences between women and men, as well as spiritual differences between people at different stages in life, or of different vocations. In ceremony, there are many basic practices that are open to people of any gender and any age. However, there are also some ceremonial roles that

69 For more on this, see "Breath of Life: The Triple Flame of Brigid" by Kathryn Price NicDhàna and Treasa Ní Chonchobhair.

70 Which is not the case with flametending.

should only be filled by particular types of people for a ceremony to work properly. Gender, age, and fertility (or lack thereof) are just some of the factors that can determine who is or is not appropriate to fulfill such roles. Gaol Naofa recognises, respects, and is dedicated to preserving these sacred ceremonial roles and spaces, and that includes the sacred role of flametending. We are therefore committed to maintaining this tradition of flamekeeping as a women's rite, as both the historical and living traditions show it to be. We believe that while men can worship Brigid and honour her in many different ways, tending the cloistered flame as part of an order is a spiritual vocation that is traditionally forbidden for men to join, and it is with respect for such tradition that we have based our views on this matter—just like any other matter that informs our practice. To enter the enclosure where the perpetual flame is kept is potentially dangerous for men. 71 While the nuns of Kildare have now also lit a public flame in the town square, 72 the nuns themselves are still an all-women order. It is in this spirit, in respecting the living and ancient tradition of priestesses, as well as the safety of our members, that we keep this inner circle for women only. In some cases men have provided a supporting role for women flametenders, but that does not mean that they have entered the enclosure or tended the flame themselves.

Isn't opposing male flametenders a subjugation and hatred of men, or members of the LGBT community?

No. We do not hate men or anyone in the LGBT community, nor do we seek to oppress either. This question is especially silly and surreal as there are members of diverse sexual orientations and gender expressions on our Council, and participating in writing this FAQ. Disagreeing with another's take on tradition does not equal hate or oppression. When women gather with other women to carry on a tradition of women-only ceremonies—especially when it's a group of women that includes lesbian and bisexual women—we hardly see that as being

72 We see this flame in the public square as an example of the festival or community flame. It is blessed by the cloistered flame, and connected to it, yet different. We feel maintaining the boundaries and sanctity of the cloistered flame is part of what gives the community and hearth flames their powers.

oppressive to the LGBT community. We are not infringing on anyone's freedom to hold their own opinions or beliefs, neither are we enforcing our way on anyone. We do not go around threatening or badgering mixed- gender groups. 73 We do not wish ill on those who believe men can tend the cloistered flame, or those who are male and tend some kind of fire. We've stated our position, and have no desire to waste our energy on "flamewars" and drama on the subject. It is our calm but firm decision to uphold the surviving Gaelic tradition of women-only flametending. In this Gaol Naofa is staunchly traditional, and as such, our only flamtenders are women, and only our women members are involved in developing material for flametenders. 74 That being said, while we support men's right to worship Brigid in culturally appropriate ways, and to work together and/or with women who want to collaborate with them on other traditional celebrations, we will not accept members who advocate for "male flametenders," nor will we tolerate our flametenders being bullied by men or those who think men should be allowed in women's sanctuaries against the will of the women. Perhaps instead of attempting to model a group for men on a women's order, the men need to look to what the orders of monks at Cill Dara and other monasteries did while the nuns tended the flame. One of the things that has happened as some men have demanded to violate tradition and insert themselves into women's traditions, is the actual traditions of men's worship of Brigid have been neglected. We would like to see men researching and restoring men's traditions, such as the particular ceremonies where men built the need-fire for certain festivals. A modern approach that has also been taken is for men to discuss how they can support and defend women's space, how they can patrol the boundaries (both physically and metaphysically) so women can focus on this work, or how they can take over household duties for women who need to focus on a flametending commitment. 75

73 The world has not exploded because those groups exist, but we do not view these groups as reconstructionist or traditional. We also do not acknowledge them as orders or flametenders.

74 And with the express understanding that the material is to be used by women only.

75 See "Breath of Life: The Triple Flame of Brigid" by Kathryn Price NicDhàna and Treasa Ní Chonchobhair.

What

are

Gaol

Naofa's

feelings

flametending rituals?

about

the

participation

of

transwomen

in

We don't have a known, historical, Gaelic precedent for this when it comes to flametending. In fact, whether there were ever people who were what we might see as transgender or transsexual today—who expressed their gender as other than that of the sex they were assigned at birth, and who were accepted by the community as such—is not something we really know. Any historical arguments that might be made on the matter would therefore be pure speculation, or based on the ways of non-Gaelic cultures. 76 Our feelings, as a welcoming community that takes a firm stance against bigotry, intolerance and discrimination, are that any LGBTQ people who are in accordance with our principles and values are of course welcome as full members of Gaol Naofa. We are firmly against the oppression of LGBTQ people, and dedicated to providing safe, sacred space for all the members of our community. The Gaol Naofa Council, and Gaol Naofa as a whole, contains people of a variety of orientations and gender expressions, and we understand and appreciate that issues of orientation and identification can be complex. Ultimately, it is not for us to speculate on (or judge) another person's orientation or gender identity, and as such we do not feel it is the role of the Gaol Naofa council to decide who is and isn't a woman. Gaol Naofa does not officially sponsor any flametending organisation. We see flametending orders as sovereign and independent, and any issues of membership in a small, intimate group like a flametending cill are determined by the women who run and participate in that cill.

What about the Biddy Boys? Do festivals that include cross-dressing provide a basis for male flametenders?

Occasionally cross-dressing for a party or festival is not the same as being raised as, and

76 The living cultures with which we are familiar see transgender people as having sacred, ceremonial roles that are highly respected, but different from those of women or men. While these cross-cultural comparisons are interesting, and could serve as food for thought for modern inventions, we can't assume our ancestors practiced the same way.

living one's life as, that gender. These male cross-dressing performances were (and are) grotesque caricatures of women, done for "comedic" purposes, and not a sincere or respectful attempt to live one's life as a female. Cross-dressing appears to be a part of Lá Fhéile Bríde celebrations in parts of the south and west of Ireland in the form of Biddy Boys (raucous young males in parodies of women's garb, confronting people in the streets). 77 A few Neopagans have tried to justify the inclusion of men in flametending orders based on this, but here we must strongly disagree. This sort of aggressive parody has nothing to do with spiritual, cloistered flametending among women. It simply confirms that men are indeed included in some of the community celebrations and activities associated with Lá Fhéile Bríde. In the Christian era, many gender-variant men have become priests and monks. We don't know as much about what preceded these Christian orders, but it would make sense that gentle men who wanted to pursue spiritual life together would have found one another prior to the Christian era. This is also very different from aggressive males in the streets parodying women.

What is cultural appropriation? How can I avoid it?

We run across cultural appropriation a good bit in today's Western society. Westerners who lack being brought up in a culture—save that of modernism—often search for one to adopt and this is not always handled well. More often than not, it means that indigenous cultures are pillaged and raped for what they can offer non-cultural Westerners. Cultural appropriation is the deliberate—though sometimes unintentional—act of cultural acquisition without actually being a member of that culture. It is taking cultural and spiritual property without the permission of the culture's Elders, without participation in the checks and balances that govern healthy spiritual community and without even understanding the deeper meanings and uses of this cultural property. It is a crime of ignorance, hubris, privilege, and disrespect. A few examples are non- Native Neopagans who hold sweat lodges by and for non-Natives, or smudge with sage or

77 Danaher, The Year in Ireland, 1972, p27.

sweetgrass, or who mimick other Native ceremonies such as pipe ceremony. Gaol Naofa views cultural appropriation as cultural theft and a variety of racism. Gaol Naofa's relationship with the living Gaelic cultures differs greatly from that of cultural theft. We do not remove pieces from those cultures and use them out of context or in a foreign way. In a world full of people cashing in on presenting non-Celtic ways as Celtic, 78 Gaol Naofa works diligently on preserving the traditions and ways of the Gaels. We don't slap a shamrock, knotwork, an Aran sweater, or tartan on something foreign and call it Gaelic, 79 we get involved in and give back to the living Gaelic communities in various ways, and we firmly believe in cultural sovereignty and cultural integrity. Cultural appropriation can be avoided by being aware of what one is doing. Never take something on face value, always do your own research and find out where ideas and practices originated. For more on issues of cultural appropriation and racism, and how these things affect our communities, please see the CAORANN website.

I live in America (or Canada); is it okay to approach local spirits in the ways of Native peoples?

That depends. Are you a solid member of a traditional community of Indigenous people (i.e., a member of the family) and able to learn from the Elders of that Nation? Are you aware of, living with, and respecting, all the checks and balances expected of people participating in the spiritual life of that community? If so, you know who you are supposed to ask about this, and we strongly suggest you respect what they have to say about it. If you are not living as a contributing, trusted member of an in-person, land-based, Indigenous community, if your idea of how Native people of your area honour the spirits is based on things you've read in books or on the Internet, then we strongly urge you to tread with caution. Listen to the spirits, yes, but respect what the living humans who have maintained these

78 Just read anything ever published by Llewellyn on so-called "Celtic" subjects something better.

79 Nor do we attempt to misrepresent tradition by bastardising it. See also: Ritual and Practice Questions: "Where does Gaol Naofa stand on male flametending?"

or better yet, don't. Spend your money on

ways, and who have lived their whole lives with these particular spirits, have to say about it. If you were not raised traditionally in a Native community, you do not have the cultural context to understand what the spirits of that culture are saying to you, if they are speaking to you at all; nor do you know enough about those spirits to know if they have your best interests at heart. If you form real, mutual friendships with traditional people and get to know members of their Indigenous community over a period of years, maybe some of them will eventually give you feedback on what you are experiencing. But it's also possible they will not, and if "no" is the answer, you need to respect that or the rest of us will lose respect for you. Some members of the Gaol Naofa council have Native American relatives, and the CAORANN council and network of advisors includes Native American and First Nations friends and colleagues who are enrolled members of traditional communities. 80 So we are pretty concerned that this be handled respectfully. In general, what we have learned is it is always best to follow the ways of one's own ancestors, with the only exception being that it's not a good idea to do things for the spirits that are offensive to the local land spirits. While anyone can pray and make offerings based on what we have outlined in this FAQ and on the GN website, we believe most things about ceremony need to be learned in community. If you are a trusted member of the Gaol Naofa community, you will have the opportunity to get some feedback on these matters. See "KILLYOUANDEATYOU! Or, A Well-Intentioned Celt's Guide to Non-Celtic Bioregions" by Raven nic Rhóisín and Kathryn Price NicDhàna, which also gives some pointers on how to communicate with your local land spirits and not die. 81

Do you allow room for syncretism?

Since prehistoric times the Gaels have come into contact with many different cultures through trade links, travel or colonialism and conquest—either directly (through Roman traders and Christian missionaries, for example) or indirectly (from the goods that traders or missionaries from distant lands may have brought with them), but over the centuries and millennia only a few

of these cultures have had any lasting effect on the worldview, ceremonies and lifeways of the Gaels.

We respect our distant ancestors who, through intermarriage with other peoples, saw adaptations to their traditional lifeways take place gradually, over many generations. While we seek to keep our practices as traditional as possible, if there is a centuries-old, established ceremony our Scottish ancestors did for what may have originally been a Norse spirit, for example, 82 we do not feel a need to root those things out and discard them. 83 However, maintaining traditional ways that we have inherited from our ancestors is completely different from the modern eclecticism of the New Age or the ahistorical syncretisms of many Neopagan "traditions." Modern, eclectic groups (even some who profess Celtic interests) usually consist of people who have little to no cultural connection to any of the cultures concerned, or who simply don't care about preserving the traditions intact. Thus they attempt to mix ceremonies and spirits from a variety of unrelated cultures. This is "salad bar spirituality," the opposite of Gaol Noafa's focus and guiding principles. The matter is sometimes further confused when some people mistakenly call their eclectic combinations syncretism. Modern, non-historical syncretisms where assimilation is rationally planned and forced are not considered acceptable or welcome within Gaol Naofa. Therefore, while established Norse, and some Brythonic and even Roman historical syncretisms might be acceptable to maintain, 84 others such as "Kemetic-Gaelic Polytheism" are not. When we say "non-historical" we are referring to those who get hyphen happy and come up with oxymorons like Hindu-CR, Celtic-Buddhism, Shinto-CR, Vedic-Celts, Kemetic-Gaelic, Greco-Gaelic, or "CR Wiccan" to describe their path. While the mainstream of the Neopagan community may be quite welcoming of these things, it is inappropriate for those in

82 For example, Yule traditions in Scotland are Norse in origins, with a Gaelic belief mixed in. See: F. Marian McNeill's The Silver Bough Volume III, 1961.

83 Though, of course, not everyone will choose to practice those particular ceremonies, either. For instance, they may live nowhere near an ocean and never make offerings to ocean spirits, so it's not really relevant.

84 Although generally speaking Roman and Brythonic syncretisms would be more appropriate in a Scottish Gaelic rather than Irish context, if they even have relevance to the Gaelic ways at this point in time.

reconstructionist communities like Gaol Naofa. We would also include those who attempt to participate deeply in more than one lifeway in this. The Gaels did not set aside their beliefs on one day of the week in order to practice another set of beliefs; instead, from the evidence we have we see that where another culture began to overlap with the Gaelic, beliefs or practices from the outside culture were either rejected or adopted into a Gaelic worldview (e.g., some Norse practices and spirits as they are found in Scottish Gaelic culture). From a reconstructionist or traditional point of view, then, keeping two (or more) different religious practices separate from each other in order to practice a "dual-path" is not taking into consideration historical practices or attitudes. As long as we are not asked to do something that violates our principles and vows, we can be polite guests at the ceremonies of friends and relatives, but to try to hold differing approaches in one's head at once can make people crazy, prevent any depth in either practice, and often lead to violating cultural geasa. 85 Since Gaol Naofa views Gaelic Polytheism as a lifeway, we do not believe that we can simply set aside our worldview while we practice ceremonies from another culture, which may have a completely different mindset, worldview and ceremonial protocols, since we would be effectively setting aside a very part of our own being.

Do you allow room for eclecticism?

No. As we consider ourselves to fall under the Celtic Reconstructionist umbrella, which itself began as a reaction against the rampant eclecticism that is prevalent in certain parts of the Neopagan community, 86 we do not allow for eclecticism within Gaol Naofa. While longstanding, historical syncretisms that have come down to us over the generations can be rooted within the principles of Gaelic Polytheism, the same cannot be said for eclecticism (or modern syncretisms). 87 In our experience, eclectic practitioners are far less

85 To reiterate: We are talking about dedicating oneself to a dual-path here, or non-historical syncretisms in general; not informal participation in another religion's rituals, such as joining in because we have been invited to in order to support friends, partake of a host's hospitality, or learn about different beliefs for educational or outreach purposes, or the like.

87 Such as the "hyphen-happy" salad bar list in Ritual and Practice Questions: "Do you allow room for syncretism?"

concerned with the original historical or cultural context of the elements they adopt and adapt into a modern eclectic practice, and they are often unaware of the potential problems of that approach. Combining bits of ceremonies outside of their cultural contexts is not something that is compatible with a culturally-rooted tradition like Gaelic Polytheism. One of the fundamental aims of Gaol Naofa is to revive and preserve a spiritual lifeway that is rooted within the surviving Gaelic cultural continuum and spiritually invigorated by the polytheistic beliefs of the Gaels. Incorporating elements that are devoid of these Gaelic roots—and in some cases totally antithetical to our own beliefs and practices—would result in something chaotic and confused that would no longer be rooted within Gaelic tradition. We view eclectic approaches falsely labelled as Gaelic or Celtic to be a threat to Gaelic cultural survival. In addition to these considerations, we would also add that an eclectic approach carries with it a much greater risk of cultural appropriation (whether inadvertent or not), and this is certainly something that we aim to avoid completely. It is hard enough to master the ways of one culture's ceremonies. The ceremonial Elders of living cultures don't claim to have mastered every single ceremony of their own communities, therefore we see it as hubristic to think that a modern person could suddenly acquire and master the ways of multiple cultures, and somehow combine them, despite all the theological conflicts and warnings of Elders that that is not a sound thing to attempt. Gaelic Polytheism is not a "mix and match, if it feels good, do it" spirituality, and Gaol Naofa certainly does not advocate such an approach. We feel we have a duty to honour and respect our gods and the culture they come from, and so for us, eclecticism is not compatible with those aims.

See also: Theological Questions: "Does Gaelic Polytheism borrow from other religions or cultures?"

What about Interfaith work?

Members of Gaol Naofa have been honoured to represent Gaelic Polytheism, and Gaol Naofa, at interfaith events, offering prayers in the Gaelic languages, and sharing common cause with others who follow the traditional lifeways of their respective cultures. In these settings of mutual respect we can share prayer and good wishes with those of other faiths.

We believe that for respectful interfaith work to be successful, each representative needs to be thoroughly rooted in their own culture, and properly authorized to represent that culture. This is particularly important for any Indigenous representation: any teaching, prayer or ceremony from an Indigenous Traditional culture must only be led by an Indigenous Traditional representative, and one who is a member in good standing of the community they represent. There are many frauds out there, and any representatives must be appointed by the community they serve, not self-appointed or chosen by outsiders to that Indigenous culture. Ironically, we have also come across some eclectic dabblers on the Internet who misrepresent themselves as "interfaith ministers"; as these individuals are not rooted in any cultural tradition, clearly they are misusing "interfaith" to mean "eclectic." In Gaol Naofa, we only use "interfaith" to describe gatherings of mutual respect where all representatives are well-versed in, and qualified to represent, their own cultural traditions. Some of our strongest alliances have been formed through interfaith dialogue and working as allies with spiritual people who are also committed to preserving the traditions of their ancestors, and their successes and struggles continue to serve as an inspiration to us.

Misconceptions

There are people besides Gaol Naofa who call themselves "Gaelic Polytheists". Does everyone who calls themselves GP or GRP have the same beliefs and practices as Gaol Naofa?

In this FAQ we are only speaking for Gaol Naofa and our Gaelic Polytheist Lifeway ( Ar Dòigh-Beatha Ioma-Dhiadhach Ghàidhealach / Ár nDóigh Bheatha Ildiach is Gaelach). As is probably obvious from reading this, and our other materials, we have our beliefs about what it means to be a modern Gaelic Polytheist, and these beliefs are not necessarily shared by everyone who calls themselves a Gaelic Polytheist. We understand that—from the outside—it can all be very confusing, but we can only speak for our own community and organisation, and define ourselves. What we have written here in this FAQ is not necessarily applicable to other groups, especially considering the fact that some Gaelic Polytheist groups, families and individuals differ greatly in their approach when compared to our own beliefs and practices.

Isn't

Gaelic

Polytheism

just

the

Avalonian traditions?

same

thing

as

Druidism?

What

about

the

No. Modern druidry or druidism is expressed in many different ways today, but none of these contemporary approaches have much to do with Gaol Naofa's Gaelic Polytheist worldview or practice. As we believe in carrying on the language, beliefs and customs of our ancestors, we follow the definition of "druid" as used by our ancestors—someone who, through decades of study and service to an in-person community, is one of the most knowledgeable and skilled community leaders (such as college professors, medical doctors, and our ceremonial Elders). Most

of the Neo-druid 88 groups you find today have radically redefined the word "druidism" to mean any sort of Celtic-inspired tradition that may have little to do with any actual Celtic beliefs or traditions, and they usually redefine the word "druid" to mean anyone with an interest in things Celtic (or Indo-European). While some of these modern Neo-druidic orders may have a study program of sorts, most require very little in comparison to the traditional way of earning this title. Most contemporary Neo-druid orders either have their roots in the druidic Revival of the eighteenth century, such as The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) founded in England, or else they are direct reactions against these revivalist forms, such as Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF) and The Henge of Keltria (an offshoot of ADF), both founded in America. 89 While some Neo- druid groups emphasise a more historically accurate approach than others (for example, eschewing the forgeries of Iolo Morgannwg, whose works have been highly inspirational and influential in some revivalist groups), most of these Neo-druid orders are firmly situated in mainstream Neopagan and New Age approaches to ceremony—circle casting or a close equivalent, elemental invocations, and/or the attitude that it is appropriate to try to command deities by invoking, dismissing, and demanding things of them. None of this is compatible with a Gaelic Polytheist approach. Furthermore, some Neo-druid groups are not necessarily even Celtic in focus, let alone Gaelic. The Avalonian groups started by Jhenah Telyndru (Sisterhood of Avalon), Mara Freeman (Avalon Mystery School) and Kathy Jones are based on the Welsh Arthurian Legends, Marion Zimmer Bradley's fictional novel The Mists of Avalon, and some Brythonic elements. They are firmly rooted in a Neopagan approach with New Age Goddess-worship influences, and so as with other Neo-druid groups their approach is at odds with our own. Not being Gaelic in focus, neither do they have any cultural relevance to our own practices (and vice versa, we would assume). Considering all this, we do not consider ourselves as having anything to do with modern Neo-druid orders or practices.

88 We use this term as a shorthand to distinguish between modern and historical forms of druidism. See Neo-druidism.

89 Bonewits, 'The Druid Revival in Modern America,' in The Rebirth of Druidry, 1996, p80-83.

See also: Theological Questions: "So you guys don't refer to yourselves as Druids?"

Are you all "Celtic Shamans"?

No. None of us consider ourselves to be "Celtic Shamans," and we see the term as thoroughly offensive. Gaol Naofa views "shaman" and "shamanism" as referring to the specific cultural property of the Siberian Tungus people, and therefore these are not appropriate descriptions for anything in Gaelic culture. Many anthropologists and academics have used (and in some cases still use) the word "shaman" as a broad generalisation to describe anyone, from any culture, who performs what they think is a similar function as the shaman of the Siberian Tungus people. This type of over-generalisation can only happen when the majority of the diverse cultures being lumped together are only "understood" in the most superficial or blatantly inaccurate sense. The term "shamanism" has become so over-used, in both academia and the New Age milieu, that it has become practically meaningless, being misapplied to the diverse spiritual ways of many different cultures without any regard for the significance and meaning of such practices on their own terms.

Our problem with such labels does not stop there, however. In many Neopagan and New Age communities the idea of the "shaman" has been popularised through the influential but deeply offensive work of Michael Harner and his "Core Shamanism," in which Harner posits that there is a world-wide, universal approach to working with spirits, that can be used to run ceremonies of any culture, no matter how completely different those cultures may be, and no matter how much Harner's approach may conflict with the actual beliefs and practices of that culture. This is how inappropriate labels like "Celtic Shamanism" have come about. Harner has misrepresented and misappropriated a variety of practices from different Indigenous cultures (relying heavily on gross misrepresentation of Plains Indians' traditions), with the claim that anyone who talks to spirits is therefore a "shaman," regardless of what the actual practices are in those cultures, what they are called in that culture's own language, and what the role of the ceremonial person is in that unique culture. This, to us, is appropriative, an act of cultural

colonisation, and therefore racist, and we do not wish to be associated with such behaviour. We believe that sort of offensive lumping together can lead to cultural genocide, as the actual traditions of a community fall into disuse, and are forgotten, only to be replaced with something totally foreign. While there are certainly mystical aspects to Gaelic tradition which might be considered (by the anthropologists or cultural outsiders who use that over-generalisation) to be "shamanic" in nature, this does not make it in any way the same thing as Siberian shamanism, nor does it provide evidence that the draoí, fianna, fili, etc. practiced "shamanism." We view the act of deeming anyone who talks to the spirits as a "shaman" to be grossly disrespectful to our traditions, to the traditions of the Tungus people, and to the ceremonial people of the diverse cultures that are misrepresented and mimicked by those who claim such titles without any consideration to cultural sovereignty, basic respect and human decency, or the harm that cultural appropriation does to traditional spiritual lifeways. 90 "Celtic Shamanism" has absolutely no place in Gaol Naofa.

See also: Ritual and Practice: "What is cultural appropriation? How can I avoid it?" and "I live in America (or Canada); is it okay to approach local spirits in the ways of Native peoples?"

Isn't Witchcraft the same thing as folk-magic? Doesn't that mean you call yourself Witches?

No. Within Gaelic tradition, "witchcraft" refers specifically to malevolent and malicious magic that is performed with the intent of harming or stealing from others. This might be through the deliberate cursing of others to cause illness, bad luck, miscarriage or loss; the raising of storms to destroy crops, harm travellers or throw ships off course; or even the use of magic to kill the innocent, and so on. 91 What most people mean when they refer to folk magic is the traditional preserve of what we would call charmers or charm setters, skillies, wise women or wise men, and

90 The CAORANN website has plenty of resources that are well worth reading.

91 de Blécourt, 'The Witch, Her Victim, The Unwitcher and the Researcher: The Continued Evidence of Traditional Witchcraft,' in de Blécourt, Hutton and la Fontaine, The Atholone History of Witchcraft and Magic Volume 6: The Twentieth Century, 1999, p151-152; Kieckhefer, Magic in the Middle Ages, 1989, p10/p194; Black, The Gaelic Otherworld, 2005, p174; MacKenzie, Gaelic Incantations, Charms, and Blessings of the Hebrides, 1895, p5.

the like (commonly referred to as cunning folk in academia). 92 These are the people who make charms to heal, protect, procure good weather, find love, and even to counter-act witchcraft. It might be argued that these are simply two sides of the same coin—black and white witchcraft—but this is not a concept that is found in Gaelic tradition, and therefore it is not something that applies to us. 93 As such, we do not see "witchcraft" as an appropriate term to use for the kind of folk magic that is most commonly practiced in a Gaelic Polytheist context. The belief in witchcraft—in its traditional meaning—is still alive today in many parts of Scotland, Ireland, Man and pockets of the diaspora, and therefore it cannot be seen to be a complimentary or desirable label to use. 94 Bearing all this in mind, we believe that to insist on using the terms "witchcraft" and/or "witch" to refer to the practice and practitioners of folk-magic—which really falls under the work of the charmer or charm-setter, skilly, wise woman or wise man—disregards the beliefs and traditions of our ancestors, and risks causing offence to the living cultures today. It could also be seen as a slur on the reputations of those of us who practice such folk magic as Gaelic Polytheists, as well as those who have gone before us (and from whose practices we are able learn from today). There are obviously some grey areas when it comes to magic and what constitutes harm, but in general, if your magic is not for the good of the community, and is only motivated by selfish, dishonourable desires, then we cannot consider such practices to be anything other than witchcraft, and this is not something that we consider to be a desirable or compatible practice amongst our members.

92 See: Davies, 'A Comparative Perspective on Scottish Cunning-Folk and Charmers,' in Goodare (Ed.), The Scottish Witch- hunt in Context, 2002, p188; Davies, Witchcraft and Culture 1736-1951, 1999, p215. The term "cunning folk" is not generally found in Gaelic-speaking areas, but it is a term that applies to the same practices as those of the skilly, wise man, or wise woman, etc.

93 To be more specific: "'White witch' was a term little used in popular discourse, although it was commonly employed by folklorists and other middle-class commentators." Davies, Witchcraft and Culture 1736-1951, 1999, p215. See also:

MacInnes, 'Traditional Belief in Gaelic Society,' in Lizanne Henderson (Ed.), Fantastical Imaginations: The Supernatural in Scottish History and Culture, 2009, p190.

94 MacInnes, 'Traditional Belief in Gaelic Society,' in Lizanne Henderson (Ed.), Fantastical Imaginations: The Supernatural in Scottish History and Culture, 2009, p188; Bennett, 'Stories of the Supernatural: From Local Memorate to Scottish Legend,' in Lizanne Henderson (Ed.), Fantastical Imaginations: The Supernatural in Scottish History and Culture, 2009, p79; Ross, Folklore of the Scottish Highlands, 2000, p65.

Of course, we realise we have no control over what people call themselves or their practice, and respect everyone's right to self-definition. However, if—as Gaelic Polytheists—you insist on using the labels of "witch" and "witchcraft" outside of their traditional context, or insist on practicing witchcraft in its proper context, then we are sorry but Gaol Naofa is not the place for you. 95

But hasn't the meaning of Witchcraft changed?

In some cultural contexts, yes. In mainstream popular culture, and in most Neopagan and New Age circles, a "witch" is simply someone who practices folk-magic or has some degree of psychic skills. In some feminist circles, it may be someone who just identifies with the women who were murdered in the witch persecutions. However, this is where the importance of having a Gaelic worldview comes into play. Gaol Naofa chooses to uphold tradition over Neopagan or pop culture ideology, or the convenience of using labels that might make our conversations a little easier in Neopagan contexts. More often our interfaith conversations are not with Neopagans, but with those from traditional cultures who have never adopted the Neopagan redefinition of "witch." For instance, our Native American, First Nations and polytheist African colleagues use the word the same way it is used in traditional Gaelic cultures—to indicate an unbalanced person obsessed with harming others with magic. Many Heathens use their own culturally appropriate labels to describe their magical practices, and it is in the same spirit that we also choose to define ourselves in terms that are both appropriate and sensitive to our own cultural focus. As we see it, to do otherwise would water down tradition and disrespect it, and that's an offence against our ancestors that we in Gaol Naofa would rather not commit. 96

95 For a thorough examination of this subject, see "Rowan and Red Thread: Magic and Witchcraft in Gaelic Cultures" by Annie Loughlin, Treasa Ní Chonchobhair and Kathryn Price NicDhàna.

96 Ibid.

Do Gaelic Polytheists keep a "Book of Shadows"?

No. While some families and individuals keep a compendium of traditional liturgy, others work primarily via oral tradition, memory and inspiration. Keeping a written collection of lore, or a personal journal with notes on ceremony, personal reflections and such, 97 can also be useful and personally meaningful, but that is not the same thing as a Wiccan "Book of Shadows" ("BoS"). Although the meaning and intent of the "BoS" has changed over the years as it has been adopted into some Neopagan traditions that are inspired by Wicca, the name and concept originated with Gerald Gardner, around the time of his first publishing about Wicca in the 1940s. The Gardnerian "BoS" was originally intended to be a secret tome in which a coven recorded their rituals and which was "then copied and recopied as it passed, over the years, from coven leader to coven leader." 98 There is no evidence that this term pre-dates Gardner. As a Wiccan term and concept, it has nothing to do with Gaelic Polytheism.

Is there a list of correspondences somewhere to aid me in ritual?

No. We don't really see that as an appropriate way to conceptualise and teach about tradition. While those sorts of simplistic charts of correspondences are common in books about "plug and play," mainstream approaches to Neopagan or New Age ritual, 99 Gaelic Polytheist ceremonies and traditions are based in a different mindset. Learning which objects are involved in ceremonies is secondary to understanding the traditions themselves. While there are certainly flora, fauna, offerings and actions which are appropriate or inappropriate in specific ceremonies, 100 there is no universal script that these

97 OK, maybe more than just a book or binder for some of us

98 Buckland, The Complete Book of Witchcraft, 1998, p7.

99 Charts with specific colours, scents, cardinal directions, god-goddess pairs that correspond with each festival, or that might be deemed to be advantageous for certain "magickal workings," and so on are very common in public Neo-Wiccan and other Neopagan traditions, but not in Gaelic Polytheism.

100For instance, specific types of herbs and flowers that are considered to be appropriate to use for decorations (or to go looking for) at certain festivals—decorating the house with yellow flowers at Bealtaine, or collecting blueberries at Lúnasa; burning 'lucky' woods and avoiding 'unlucky' woods in bonfires, or bringing unlucky woods into the house (or

We might consider blackberries or rushes to be appropriate

offerings to Manannán, porridge for the Dagda, and lots of buttery goods for Brigid, but these associations are rooted in

damaging them at all - hawthorn in particular), and so on

elements are to be plugged into, and in general things can't be divided up into neat boxes like that. The system is more complex. The ceremonies themselves vary, and a full understanding of how and why they are done is a foundation that needs to be acquired, rather than mixing and matching elements and cobbling together novel approaches.

Do Gaelic Polytheists cast circles, or invoke elements and quarters during rituals?

No. Those things are part of Wicca, Ceremonial Magic (CM) and their derivative groups, not Gaelic Polytheism. Some of those actions, and the assumptions about the spirit world they are based upon, are actually offensive to our gods and ancestors. "Circle casting" and "invoking" came into Wicca via Ceremonial Magic, and are actually based on the idea that spirits need to be walled out, away from the magician, and "invoked" or commanded into a "triangle of manifestation" outside of the protective circle. This has no place in Gaelic practice, and is foreign to our worldview (more on this below). Similarly, "invoking the elements and quarters" has no place in Gaelic Polytheism because the Gaelic worldview does not conceptualise or divide the world in that way. Those actions are reflective of an entirely different view of the spirit world than that held by our Gaelic ancestors and our contemporary Gaelic Polytheist community. 101 To us, ritual can take the form of simple prayers and offerings, or else it can be more formalised ceremony, but our rituals are informed by the surviving practices and the evidence we can discern from traditional, historical and archaeological sources. As such, we sain ourselves, our loved ones, and the places where we live and work; 102 we connect with the spirits of the land, our ancestors, and the deities; we honour and offer gratitude to the powers that created and sustain our lands and our lives. We use traditional prayers, songs and poetry to connect with and acknowledge the three realms in our blessings, but we do not see them as things we control or

Gaelic lore and tradition.

101 Neither do we adapt the non-Gaelic idea of circle-casting into a "Gaelicised" concept—for instance, a Wiccan approach that just swaps in the three realms instead of the four quarters, and so on, since these would be equally lacking in any traditional roots, and would actually be offensive to the spirits as we understand them.

102 Saining: Scots for "warding, blessing, consecrating." Derived from the Gàidhlig and Gaeilge seun or sian and the Sengoídelc sén. See Black, The Gaelic Otherworld, 2005, p136-7; Carmichael, Carmina Gadelica Volume II, 1900, p26-37; Macbain, Etymological Dictionary of Scottish-Gaelic, 1998, p309.

order around. Rather than invoke or attempt to command the gods, we extend to them the hospitality of our homes and community through offerings of food and drink, and appropriate ritual actions. We do not see the need to create a sacred space, but rather we seek out the sacred in the world around us, and honour this sacredness.

Do you guys wear pentagrams or pentacles?

No.

The

Polytheism.

pentagram

or

pentacle

is

a

symbol

in

Wicca

and

Witchcraft,

not

Gaelic

See also: Theological Questions: "Do Gaelic Polytheists have any sacred symbols? What symbols do you reject?"

I was in a Wiccan coven for three years and took my third degree so I am an Elder now.

That's nice. You do know that has nothing to do with us, though, right? As adherents of a traditional, multi-generational lifeway, with members of our community in their eighties and allies who are Elders in indigenous communities, we of course reject the Gardnerian invention that someone with only three years of training could be considered an "elder" of anything. Gaining a minimum level of experience and learning does not make one an Elder, or even a senior or "advanced" member, in our community. Becoming an Elder takes decades (or even a lifetime) of training, practical experience, and the earned respect of the community. As the Neopagan community ages, more of those groups are also realising it's silly to consider someone in their twenties or thirties an "elder."

See also: Ritual and Practice: "Who are the Elders?"

I'm fifty now. I'm an Elder.

Uh, OK. Fifty isn't all that old. Surviving a certain number of years may give one valuable life experience, but it doesn't automatically confer ceremonial wisdom. Some people mature into respected Elders. Others just get old.

See also: Ritual and Practice: "Who are the Elders?"

Do you celebrate the festivals in the same way as other Neopagans?

No. Wicca and Neo-druidism may share the names of the festivals—and even perhaps a few customs—with the Gaels but that's where any similarities end.

Do Gaelic Polytheists follow the "Celtic Tree Calendar"?

No. The idea of a "tree calendar" is a modern invention from Robert Graves' book The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth (1948). The book has long been an inspiration for many Neopagans, and the "Celtic Tree Calendar" is just one of the things that Graves' work introduced into some modern Pagan traditions. However, while the book may indeed be "inspirational," that doesn't change the fact that most of it is thoroughly inaccurate in historical and academic terms. Graves himself later apologised for the misinformation he had propagated by publishing his theories. As influential as the book has been, Gaelic Polytheists are mindful of the fact that the book is full of fallacies, inaccuracies and misty-eyed romanticism about the Celts. While there is indeed such a thing as crann ogham ("tree ogham"), 103 and some of the sacred trees and plants are associated with some of the seasonal festivals, Graves' tree calendar is a wholly modern and forced arrangement, and not an actual part of Gaelic tradition. As such, it has no relevance to us as Gaelic Polytheists.

You worship a Sun God and Moon Goddess right? Maiden, Mother, Crone? Where's that Horned God fella?

Nope nope nope. Absolutely not. Those things are not Gaelic. The belief in a duotheistic Sun God and Moon Goddess (who is usually reinterpreted in the modern, non-Gaelic structure of "Maiden, Mother, Crone") is primarily a Wiccan concept, although similar beliefs can be found in other eclectic Neopagan and New Age groups such as many women's spirituality circles and a number of the Neo-druid groups. This is a common misconception, however, as even some

103 Found in 'Auraicept na n-Éces' in The Book of Ballymote.

academics still insist on viewing Gaelic cultures through a foreign lens that results in them seeing "sun gods" here, there and everywhere. 104 Many Gaelic Polytheists within Gaol Naofa do not believe that any of the Gaelic gods could be said to be solar deities, per se. It doesn't really work that way for the majority of us. While many deities are described as being "shining" or "bright," or even "sun-faced," this does not mean they actually are the Sun. These are poetic descriptions and at other times the same deity may be spoken of in metaphors that mention the moon, or storms, or gentle rain, or other forces of nature. 105 Likewise, "The Horned God," as some sort of all-encompassing male half of a gendered, duotheistic dyad, is a Neopagan concept. 106 While there are some references to horned figures in Gaelic lore, 107 there are no gods that can be said to be a "Horned God." As such, that concept has no relevance to Gaelic Polytheism. The Wiccan "Holly King" and "Oak King" as deities who govern the halves of the Wiccan Wheel of the Year are also not part of our culture. Put simply, we base our beliefs and practices in Gaelic tradition, and as none of these things mentioned above can be found in Gaelic tradition, they have no bearing on what we believe or do as Gaelic Polytheists. As a result you will not find any Gaelic Polytheists worshipping "The Lord and Lady," or "The Goddess in her Maiden, Mother or Crone aspect." 108

But wait … doesn't Gaelic mythology mention triple goddesses?

Yes it does. However, these triple goddesses are not the same as the Wiccan concept of

104 And yes, we're looking at you, Miranda Green

105 The closest we come to having any kind of "sun deity" is that the Goddess Áine and her sister, Grian (whose name means "sun") are symbolised by the "two suns" of the year, and Áine is associated with a celebration held on the summer solstice. But these are associations, we don't think either of these goddesses are the sun. See also: Theological Questions: "Is Gaelic Polytheism dualistic?" for more on these two goddesses.

106 Though there may be other cultures who have a deity they'd describe as a horned god, it's not a Gaelic thing.

107 It's worth noting here that there's an important cosmological/symbolic difference in horned and antlered. While the Gaels do have antlered figures (e.g., Conall Cernach, Feradach Find Fechtnach, and Furbaide Ferbend in Ireland, and Oisín and beannach nimhe in Scotland) and figures closely associated with deer but not necessarily antlered (e.g., Cailleach, Flidais, and Sadb), they did not have horned deities (e.g., goat horns as seen with the Greek Pan and his satyrs, the Christian devil, or the Satanic Baphomet). The Irish tale, 'The Horned Women' appears to be about the Cailleachan, and may be a more recent tale that does not have a clear, Irish language precedent.

108 While there have often been claims that these things are Celtic or Gaelic, these claims are not borne out by the evidence and have—for the most part—been thoroughly debunked already.

Maiden, Mother, Crone. Both Brigid and An Morrígan are triple goddesses, for instance, but it is in terms of function—not simply appearance or age—that they are tripartite. It might be worth mentioning that there are also a number of triple gods, such as the trí dé dáno (the "three gods of skill"), Brian, Iuchair and Iucharba. 109 Another skilled triplicity are Goibniu the blacksmith, Luchta the wright, and Crédne the silversmith, who are named together in The Second Battle of Mag Tuired, and again, it's notable that they are grouped together by their function, not by age or appearance. 110 In order to avoid confusion with the Maiden-Mother-Crone triple goddess, we might refer to them as triplicities or tripartite deities.

Do you use the gods for spells and such?

A loud and emphatic no. While someone viewing us through a Neopagan lens may confuse our use of traditional charms, incantations, runes, prayers, and songs with modern Witchcraft or "magick," our entire context, values and approach are very different from the attitudes among most modern people who do "spellwork." Traditional Gaelic incantations and charms are acts of spiritual devotion and petition, not "spells." There is power and tradition behind the words we speak, and the traditional acts that accompany them, but it has nothing to do with the assumptions or goals involved in Witchcraft or "magick," and we definitely do not attempt to use the gods, for anything. They are not magical pets or servants to be cajoled or commanded. Rather than use the gods, Gaelic Polytheists seek to know them and build meaningful relationships of respect, cooperation and devotion. We do not take them for granted nor do we disrespect or grovel before them.

109 Carey, 'The Name 'Tuatha Dé Danann,' in Éigse, 1981, p291.

110 Grey, Cath Maige Tuired, line 340; see also Koch, Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia, 2006, p1693-1694.

Appendix: Gluais (Glossary)

Aes síde (Sengoídelc) or Aos sí (Gaeilge): the "people of the mounds" Allies: people and organisations who work together to promote shared goals; those who share our goals of cultural and spiritual integrity. Being an ally goes both ways; we support each other. So Gaol Naofa also supports our allies in protecting their cultural and spiritual sovereignty An dà shealladh (Gàidhlig): "the two sights"; often referred to as "second sight" An Saol Eile (Gaeilge): the Otherworld, the realm of the spirits An Tri Numh (Gàidhlig), Na Trí Naomh (Gaeilge), or Yn Tree Noo (Gaelg): "The Sacred Three" - the gods, spirits and ancestors Ar Dòigh-Beatha Ioma-Dhiadhach Ghàidhealach (Gàidhlig): Our Gaelic Polytheist Lifeway (GPL). See Ár nDóigh Bheatha Ildiach is Gaelach Ár nDóigh Bheatha Ildiach is Gaelach (Gaeilge): Our Gaelic Polytheist Lifeway (GPL). Gaol Naofa has coined this term to better describe our specific tradition and beliefs, as practiced by the members of Gaol Naofa. This is partly in order to distinguish ourselves from other Gaelic Polytheist groups, but also to emphasise our commitment to our spirituality as a way of life. Although admittedly a bit of a mouthful, we feel the phrase speaks to the heart of Gaol Naofa's philosophy and community Ard Rí (Sengoídelc): High King Báirín breac (Gaeilge): "barm brack"; a yeast bread with sultanas and raisins made on Samhain in Ireland

Bean feasa (Gaeilge): "wise woman" Beannach nimhe (Gàidhlig): a horned monster Béstatu (Sengoídelc): "morality"; has its root in the word bés, meaning "habit, usual procedure, practice, manner, or way" Brideóg (Gaeilge): "Little Bríd" - a doll fashioned at Lá Fhéile Bríde (Imbolc; February 1st) to represent the goddess herself Brythonic: a Celtic language spoken in parts of Britain (up to the Firth of Forth in central Scotland). Cornish, Welsh, Breton, Cumbric and (possibly) Pictish all derive from the Brythonic language Buachaillí tuí (Gaeilge): "straw-boys" - young men disguised in elaborate straw masks who traditionally provide entertainment at Irish weddings Céilidh (Gaeilge) or cèilidh (Gàidhlig): a formal or informal meeting of family and friends where stories and tales are told, songs are sung, and dancing is had Cill (Gaeilge): a small group dedicated to a specific religious purpose Crann ogham (Gaeilge): "tree ogham" Creideamh sí (Gaeilge): the "Fairy Faith"; a term describing the modern and still evolving folk beliefs in Ireland, which encompass some of the pre-Christian survivals Cros Bríde (Gaeilge): Bríd's Cross Daoine sídhe (Gaeilge) or daoine sìth (Gàidhlig): "people of peace, people of the mounds"; while interpretations vary, usually refers to the Gaelic nature spirits, though sometimes also to certain ancestors and/or deities (Sengoídelc), Déithe (Gaeilge), Diathan (Gàidhlig) or Jeeghyn (Gaelg): "deities; gods" Dé ocus An-Dé (Sengoídelc) or Déithe agus An-Déithe (Gaeilge): "Gods and Non-Gods" or "Gods and Un-Gods"; a phrase commonly used in Gaelic Polytheism to refer to the gods, spirits and ancestors Deiseil (Gàidhlig) or deiseal (Gaeilge): "sunwise, clockwise, right-hand-wise"

Diaspora: the dispersion or spreading of something that was originally localised (as a people, language or culture) Dindshenchas (Middle Irish): "lore of high places"; place-name lore of Ireland Draoí (Gaeilge; plural draoíthe): druid Fáidheadóireacht (Gaeilge): prophecy; divination Fàisneachd (Gàidhlig): "foretelling" Fianna (Gaeilge): a roving warrior band who lived outside the bounds of normal society Fili (Gaeilge): "poet" Filidecht (Gaeilge): "poetry; divination" Filidheachd (Gàidhlig): "poetry" Fine (Sengoídelc; plural, finte): close family, immediate kin Gealach Úr (Gaeilge), Gealach Ùr (Gàidhlig), Eayst Noa (Gaelg): "New Moon"; the first sliver of the new moon that appears in the sky Gaeilge: the modern Irish Gaelic language; usually referred to in Ireland as simply "Irish" Gaelg: the Manx Gaelic language, from the Isle of Man Gaeltachtaí (Gaeilge): native Irish-speaking areas located in Ireland (parts of Donegal, Meath, Mayo, Galway, Kerry, Cork and Waterford), Northern Ireland (parts of Belfast and Derry), and Canada (Erinsville, Ontario) Gaelic Polytheism: polytheism where the practitioners honour the Gaelic deities Gàidhlig: the Scots Gaelic language; usually referred to in Scotland and Ireland as simply "Gaelic" Gàidhealtachdan (Gàidhlig): native Scots Gaelic-speaking areas located in Scotland (Highlands and Islands), and Canada (Cape Breton, Glengarry, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland) Gaol Naofa: Irish phrase that roughly translates to "sacred kinship/affinity" Geamh (Gaeilge): the dark half of the Gaelic year

Geas (Gaeilge/Gàidhlig) or geis (Sengoídelc): a sacred prohibition or "taboo" Goidelic: any of the related languages descending from Gaelic in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man Lebor Gabála Érenn (Middle Irish): "The Book of Invasions"; an early Irish tale that tells how Ireland was settled by six different waves of peoples Lifeway: a cultural and spiritual way of life that fully embodies, and thoroughly puts into practice, a traditional worldview Líon-tí (Sengoídelc): a group of people, not necessarily related by blood or marriage, who share a household Na Daoine Maith (Gaeilge): "The Good People"; an epithet for the aes síde Piseogaí (Gaeilge): "charm-setter; superstitious person"; a kind of cunning-person (Sengoídelc): king Sain (Scots; from the Gàidhlig and Gaeilge "seun" or "sian" and the Sengoídelc "sén"): a protective charm or ritual, commonly performed at the festivals to ward away evil or malevolent influences, and to encourage prosperity, health and happiness Samh (Gaeilge): the light half of the Gaelic year Seisiún (Gaeilge): "session"; a traditional Irish musical session, often held in pubs Sinnsear (Gàidhlig; plural sinnsearan), sinsear (Gaeilge; plural, sinsear), sinser (Sengoídelc; plural, sinsir), or shennayr (Gaelg; plural, shennayraghyn): "ancestor" Sengoídelc: the Old Irish language Sruith (Sengoídelc, plural Sruithe): "Elder"; people who take the part of the wisdom bearers, advisors and ceremonial leaders in our community Tech Duinn (Sengoídelc): the "House of Donn"; an assembly place for the dead Tír na nÓg (Gaeilge): land where there is eternal youth and feasting among the deities and heroic ancestors Trí dé dáno (Sengoídelc): the "three gods of skill"; Brian, Iuchair and Iucharba

Túath (Sengoídelc, plural, túatha), tuath (Gaeilge; plural, tuatha): group of people the size of a nation Túathal (Sengoídelc), tuathal (Gaeilge), or tuathail (Gàidhlig): "against the sun; left-hand- wise"; the act of turning left, or keeping the sun to your left; withershins; viewed as bringing bad luck; the opposite of deiseil