By Epona Perry
Why Wicca is Not Celtic Paganism
There are many out there who believe that Wicca and its related forms of NeoPagism are a type of Celtic Paganism (and vice versa), but this is simply not true. The following article is meant to be a comparison of Wicca and Celtic Paganism in order to demonstrate this, and to educate the public about Celtic Paganism. While Wicca certainly contains elements of Celtic mythology, folk magic and religious belief, its basic tenets and beliefs are radically different from those of Celtic Pagans. I intend only to show that these two religions are indeed different and distinct; this article is not meant as an attack against Wicca or those who are Wiccan. There is a list of the sources I used at the end of this article, and it is my hope that whether you agree or disagree with what I have to say, you will at least go check it out for yourself by reading some of the sources listed. I hope that this article will encourage the active pursuit of knowledge and spiritual development though knowledge.
There are many modern people who are finding fufillment in following modern versions of the ancient religion of the Celts. But what is Celtic religion? When we refer to the Celtic peoples and their religion we are talking about what existed in Gaelic, Gaulish, Brythonic and other Celtic religions during the golden age of the Celts. This would be from 400 BCE to roughly 1300 CE. While that date includes the beginnings of Celtic Christianity (which is almost a religion in and of itself), in this we will only be discussing Pagan Celtic theology. The pagan roots of Celtic spirituality has existed longer than Christianity. Unfortunately, much of what was known about classical Celtic pagan religion was either lost or combined in with Celtic Christianity, and so much of what we have to draw on is from Christian or other non-Celtic texts, and the wealth of knowledge contained in Celtic Mythology. These sources present their own problems when trying to accurately asses the cultural and spiritural practices of the ancient Celts, and those who follow the Celtic path must dedicate themselves to careful examination of what we do know and continual study.
Even with the problems facing modern Celtic scholars today, we still have much information to go on when practicing Modern Celtic Paganism. There really is little or no need to look outside the scope of the Celtic world when looking for guidance in how to shape our religious practices, due to the large amount of mytholoical material left behind by Celtic peoples, most of which come from the Gaelic Celts in Ireland and Scotland and the Brythionic Celts in Wales. There is also much to be learned fron the modern descendants of the Celts, i.e. those in the so-called "Six Celtic Nations". In the past an now, there is much diversity to be found within Celtic Paganism, and so it is sometimes difficult to say what is right and what is wrong. But by study and examination of the two paths, Celtic Paganism and Wicca, we can see that even this diversity still does not allow the two to be considered as one, for they are fundamentally different.
Was there more than one form of Celtic Paganism? Undoubtedly, based upon the extreme diversity between the tribal Celts themselves. The other reason for the marked differences in regional Celtic religion is, of course, the influence of outside peoples through trading and invasion. Of course many customs and religious practices of neighboring or conquering tribes were incorporated into the Celtic tribes of the area, and through time spread to other Celtic nations as well. There are some who even believe that Celtic culture and language spread even faster than the Celtic peoples, which may indicate that the Celtic Spirit went beyond genetic ties alone.
The Celts as a tribal society were very different from the way we live today. Their ways of expressing themselves (which we can see in their language, art and music) require a different way of looking at things in order to understand, other than the Christian/Greco-Roman viewpoint that most of us are used to.The way they approached their spirituality and religion was also unique, and cannot be easily categorized and understood within the contexts of most other forms of spirituality and religion. Why is this?Because Celtic religion was a unique approach from a unique people, just like many other World religions.
Despite this, there are many (especially in the NeoPagan community) who continue to fail to recognize Celtic Paganism as a distinct, valid form of NeoPaganism that is different from other NeoPagan reilgions. And as a result of the recent renewed popularity of things Celtic, it seems almost everyone and anyone is calling themselves Celtic these days, especially NeoPagans. The most common misconceptions are that Wicca is a form of Celtic Paganism and that Celtic Paganism is just another tradition within Wicca. This can easily be seen to be false when honestly examining the two religions.
Let's start by comparing the basic moral/ethical code of each religion. Wiccans use the "Wiccan" or "Witches' Rede" as their foundation ethic. The whole morality of Wicca is based on the ideals of "harm none", "perfect love and perfect trust", and the "Threefold Law". While these are theoretical statements and made with good intent, they have little real-life practice in the context of Celtic Paganism, and ignore a fundamental part of Nature. This is because one (harm none) is a rule that must be broken just to survive (eat or be eaten). This leaves interpretation and application to each individual instead of being the unifying, ethical standard it was meant to be.And "perfect love and perfect trust" is a nice idea but unattainable in real life, and so it becomes an unmeaningful by-line instead of inspiring personal truth and responsibility. The "Threefold Law" is a Wiccan belief that presupposes a belief in some sort of Karma which is *not* a basic part of Celtic religion. Modern Celtic Pagans follow a moral/ethical code based on those of modern society and those found in the ancient law texts and other writings. These include:
· Respect for Nature and all its creatures
· Honour (as defined by the community)
· Service to the Community
· Loyalty to friends, family, and local community
Respect for other living things is a key element of Modern Celtic Paganism, and is self-explanitory. Honour means conducting yourself within and without your community in a way that garners other's respect for you. The other elements that follow help guide you, as well as the examples of the Gods and Heroes of the Celts as found in Celtic Mythology. Unlike the individualistic tendencies of Wicca, community was the probably the most important thing to the ancient Celts. Therefore, as modern Celtic Pagans, how you help your community and how the community views you are very important in your self-perception and should shape your self-conduct.
Besides these basic differences of morals and ethics in Wicca and Celtic Paganism, their basic cosmology, they way each system views the world/universe, is very different also. Wiccans use the Greco-Roman idea of the "Four Elements" (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) in their view of cosmology. Celtic Pagans see their cosmos as being comprised of the Three Realms: Land, Sky and Sea. There are also the three planes of existance: ThisWorld, the Otherworld, and the Underworld. There are other sub-systems (called the dhuile) in addition to this which are all interwoven and connected, much like a Celtic knot. As you can see by these examples alone, the way Celtic Pagans view their universe is much more complex than "Earth, Air, Fire and Water", and these "four elements" could never hope to encompass the Celtic viewpoint; therefore they are not considered by Celtic Pagans. In addition, unlike Wiccans, Celtic Pagans do not break their universe and its contents down into components like the Greco-Roman "elements", with correspondences and correlations, color-charts and rules as to what God should be prayed to if you want Love. Instead, all matter is seen as being interconnected in some fashion, so that the Divive can be said to be inherent in all things. So where the Greek elements are what *defines* the Wiccan cosmos, the Three Realms, "dhuile" and others are ways for a person to help understand aspects of the cosmos and their place in it.
Where the Wiccan ideal of the cosmos is based primarily on duality (twos: The God and Goddess, Male and Female, Light and Dark) and quadrality (fours: The Four Elements, The Four Seasons), the Celtic cosmos and most aspects of the religion are triune in nature ( based on threes) or rely on odd numbers as models of balance. Even the Celtic Pantheon is divided into three: the Gods of the Upper Realm (sky), the Gods of the Middle Realm (land) and the Gods of the Lower Realm or Underworld (related to the sea).
Another looming difference between Wiccans and Celtic Pagans is the way each views the Dieties and the Divine. Wiccans believe in archetypical God and Goddess, with all the God/esses in the World being but facets of these archetypes: "All Gods are One God and All Goddess are One Goddess". So a Wiccan makes no large distinction between say Osirus and Odin, except when they are "using" specific dieties for specific purposes, such as dedicating a ritual or a spell to Cernunnos as a God of Forest and Animals to try and effect a good deerhunting season. For Wiccans (and many other NeoPagans) all the Gods and Goddesses (just like their cosmos) are categorized by function, such as Brigit being "the Goddess of creativity", Venus "the Goddess of Love" and Isis "the Goddess of Death and Rebirth". Gods and Goddesses from many cultures and pantheons may be mixed together in Wiccan practices, something known as "eclecticism".
Celtic Pagans believe that each deity is different and individual, and should be respected as such. They are not associacted with specific functions like "love" and "healing" and "creativity" but some dieties will be better known for some aspects over others. Many Celtic dieties span many functions, making it difficult if not impossible to "classify" them as in the Wiccan system. Most Celtic Pagans honor three types of dieties in their practices: personal dieties (ones that provide special inspiration and guidance), tribal dieties (when working in a groups), and the dieties and spirits of the land they live on. Ancestors and land spirits are honored as separated entities and are an integral part of Celtic Paganism, whereas they may or many not be included in the beliefs and/or practices of a Wiccan.
Celtic Pagans and Wiccans also differ in their approach to ritual. Wiccans will "cast a circle" to "create" sacred space, using set fomulas of chants, props, symbols, and "magic". Wiccan rituals are based mainly off of the Western Ceremonial Magic tradition (some of which is drawn from Celtic lore), where formulas of ideas and objects combined in a specific way for a specific outcome are believe to achieve a material effect. This reflects their elemental view of the universe and so is in-keeping with their religion.
Celtic Pagans recognise that sacred places are found, and not created. Therefore most Celtic Pagans will conduct their rituals in a natural setting, or will conduct no such casting of a "circle" in order to pray, meditate, or conduct other religious practices. Because Divinity runs throughout all things, there really is no need to find a "sacred" place to hold a ritual in, although most prefer a setting that will be appropiate for a spiritual activity. Celtic Pagans also know and respect that some places that are sacred are not meant as places to hold rituals, large or small. Places for ritual are found and selected beforehand, and honor is given to whatever spirits inhabit the place. For Many Celtic Pagan groups finding and selecting the appropriate ritual grounds is the first task they undertake as a group. Celtic Pagan ritual will incorparate many of the same elements found in the Wiccan ritual, such as meditation, visulization, group singing and dancing to attune to one another, and special time to honor the dieties of the group. The focus of the ritual is not a specific material outcome, but is more directed at re-focusing ourselves and our community with our gods and Nature in order to better understand and work as a part of our universe.
Most Wiccan rituals involve the working of magic and spellcasting. The idea of Magic as a force that can be directed with one's own will and the practice of spell-casting are integral parts of Wiccan belief, but they are not a part of Celtic Paganism other than as an additive. There are Celtic Pagans who hold this belief and add spell-casting to their religious practices, but that is a matter of choice. The belief in "magic" and the practice of spellcraft are not a part Celtic Paganism in its basic form. Most Celtic Pagans do not cast spells, and it is not a prerequisite of being a Celtic Pagan.
Wicca is a highly individualistic religion that is just as easily practiced on a solitary basis than as a large group. Most rituals are based around the welfare of the individual or the coven rather than the whole community. The Celts did indeed place a high value on individualism, but tied very closely to that was their duty to their families and tribe. Their individualism was allowed to flourish *because* of the safety and comfort their close-knit communities, thus the importance of the survival of the "all" was greater than the importance of the self. This is difficult for most of us to understand today, as most of us grow up in small families in separate home with little connection to the rest of the family or community.
The very foundation of Celtic culture was the home. The hearth was the cornerstone of the spirituality of the people. In Celtic religions great emphasis is placed on the sanctity of the home, and strength of the family. Families, to Celtic Reconstructionalist folk, include people who have adopted each other in the context of that culture. The individuals are encouraged to walk in strength and to fulfill their responsibilities to their "families". These components are only found in Wicca in the loose sense of the "coven" or "circle".It could therefore be argued that the foundation of Wiccan culture is the individual.
Wicca is an initiatory mystery religion.You have to fufill certain requirements before you are allowed access to the complete scope of their religion.In Celtic religion the only requirement you need is to have a connection with the Celtic culture through family or study, and to be dedicated to the betterment of your "tribe", with very few other initiatory elements. Within Wicca (and many forms of modern Druidism) there are the various degrees and levels, each having its own mystery, each mystery being revealed by someone in authority.We cannot be certain how the ancient Celtic clergy funtioned, but we do know that *any* person could approach so seek to communicate with the Gods.You did not need a "cord" or the title of "priest" to have access to the greater mysteries of life.The mysteries of the universe are found in the lessons of the Gods, the order of Nature, and within ourselves.We learn about ourselves and our place in the universe through our study of these things.And this includes understanding our place in and how we affect our global community.
In Celtic religion life lessons are taught through mythological stories which are a central feature of the oral tradition of the culture.In Wicca, little emphasis is placed on this. Myths and story-cycles form the core of Celtic magical practice, through teaching and through what ritual exists. In Wicca there is no clear teaching of what is required to break past the cycles of rebirth. Yet in Celtic religion, the requirement can be clearly and concisely stated, that being to fulfill one's duty, to always be honorable and to stand for the truth come what may, and while understanding *why* what is honorable is considered so.
Wicca and is a relatively recent addition to the religious paths of humanity. There is a lot of mis-information regarding it. It is sad that a great many of its followers have to do the religion such a disservice by claiming an ancient unbroken line of tradition that doesn't exist.There are many well-known Wiccan writers and teachers that continue to claim a great antiquity for Wicca, or the origins of Wicca. Yet mythological Druids (who are a product of the British Revival effort of the 18th century and contain as much if not more mis-information regarding their Celtic roots than Wicca) have nothing to do with modern Wicca. The Wicce of Saxon origin have even less to do with the historical Draoi.Perhaps these are the only myths that Wiccans can agree upon.Loretta Orion (herself an initiated Gardenarian witch) in her book "Never Again the Burning times" states clearly that there is little solid proof of modern Wicca's ancient origins, and that Wicca is a modern creation.
There is also the entymologistical evidence of the discrepancies surrounding the word "Wicca".Some claim it stems from a Saxon word, others a Welsh word, and yet others a Gaelic term.None of these agree with each other about the root or the meaning of the word.And as for claiming it as a Gaelic term (Witta), the letter "W" was never a part of the Gaelic language except for in borrow-words, so neither Wicca nor Witta as a derivation could be Gaelic.As a student of Irish Gaelic, I have found that the sound [w] does exist in Irish and Scootish Gaelic as a "mh" or "bh", like the [w] in the current pronunciation of Samhain [SOW-ihn]. But the "w" rarely occurs at the beginning of a Gaelic word, and even more rarely in front of the slender 'i' sound. So there is next to no linguistic evidence that the word "wicca" or "witta" could be a Gaelic word.
Anyone can call themselves a Druid (or a witch, or a Native American Shaman, etc.), there are no requirements to earn these labels. Many are hungry to find a teacher to show them the "mysteries" that they long to understand, and get too caught up in the romantic imagery inspired by these labels to really check out the teacher or the material they are being taught. This is something that each one of us needs be responsible about. Any good teacher will encourage the student to so some studying on their own, or will at least bring in outside sources to corroborate what they are saying. Beware of studying under anyone who relies primarily on their own writings and sayings as sources of wisdom. Unfortunately, thanks to some publishers (we won't mention any names), there are plenty of unscholarly books out there that unethical teachers can use nowadays to make them *seem* more reputable and knowledgeable than they really are. These situation can readily be uncovered if the student asks enough questions and reads the source material on their own to judge its veracity. Remember, just because you are a learning from someone doesn't mean you have to give up your own powers of reasoning.
Most Pagans nowadays will agree that Wicca is a modern reconstruction, even if they dispute the veracity of Garner's work. Some refer to modern Wiccans as Neo-Wiccans, for the purpose of showing that there is little to no connection between Gardner's creation and the Wicce of the middle ages, and no connection to the Celts; except for what modern Wiccans have borrowed and incorporated. I must point out here that there are in fact many Wiccans out there who speak openly and outright about the young state of Wicca, and also about the confusion and mis-information surrounding its inception. Many of these people are also dedicated to re-educating people about Wicca and its origins and purposes. Sláinte (cheers) to them! As a Celt would say, it is the honorable thing to do *grin*.
I will close this article by saying that Wicca (and other groups in the occult community that take from Celtic culture) and Celtic Paganism can both co-exist happily, as long as the histories and philosophies of each group are both treated with respect, presented truthfully, and given credit where credit is due.I have to say that it was very hard for me to analyze my Wiccan beginnings with an "open mind" even after I felt the Celtic call and understood that Wicca was not the right path for me, but I am glad I did so.I hope that others will take up the call for truth concerning this matter and help to spread the word by referring them to this article or other helpful sources.
Part of what drew me to Wicca and Paganism in general was that it seemed to be a religion and philosophy that encouraged study and the evolution of the spirit through knowledge of the world around us, and I hope further that through this article and my website. Some will notice that I still have many of my old references to seemingly contradictory Wiccan sources on my website and think me a hypocrite — but the purpose of this site is not just to serve Celtic Reconstructionalist Pagans, but *ALL* Celtic Pagans, including Celtic Wiccans, Druids, and the like.My own original content is of course Celtic-Reconstructionalist-Pagan oriented, but I still offer forums and links to other forms of Celtic Paganism as well, in the hopes that we can still exist as an occult *community* and continue to share the knowledge and spirituality that has helped so many.
Cead Mile Beannachtai!
1. The World of the Druids, Miranda Green
2. The Druids, Peter Berresford Ellis
3. The Druids, Stuart Piggot
4. The Pickengill Papers-The Origin of the Gardnerian Craft, W.E. Liddell
5. Pagan Celtic Britain, Anne Ross
6. Dictionary of Word Origins, John Ayto
8. Never Again the Burning Times, Loretta Orion
9. Drawing Down The Moon, Margot Adler
10. The Celtic Tradition, Caitlin Matthews
12. The Celtic World, Miranda Green
13. Druid : Priest of Nature, Jean Markale
And of course I must thank and heavily credit Iain MacAnTsaoir for his original essay, Why Wicca Is Not Celtic as inspiration for (and for providing the bulk of the arguments of) my article.Follow the link to read the new version of that article.