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Calling things Celtic doesn’t make them more Pagan. Please stop!

Someone just shared the meme on the left on social media. I am blatantly ignoring possible copyright infringement by adding it to this post. (For educational purposes, of course.)
Click to enlarge
 Now, as iffy memes about Celtic things go, I’ve seen a lot worse. They’ve managed to spell the Irish words correctly, even if they don’t quite understand the meanings, and there’s a nod to Welsh language which also isn’t terrible, but again, a bit off. People are often wrong on the internet, but this post isn’t really about that. 

​My question is why people are so desperate to talk about Celtic things that they don’t actually get? Or to talk about everyday things like holidays, but to dress them up in faux Celtic ideas? If something is a modern Pagan idea or new tradition, why not just say so? 

The Oak and Holly Kings are lovely symbols of summer and winter. The fact that they aren’t old, or Celtic, doesn’t make them less so. Midwinter is a beautiful English-language word, evocative for me of snow and candlelight. If you’re an Irish speaker, perhaps Meán Geimhridh does it for you. If you’re not an Irish speaker – is writing it just so much posturing? You decide.

To be honest, I’m not an Irish speaker, and not sure whether that’s a common idiom for Midwinter in Irish, so I wouldn’t use it. I checked several dictionaries (just for you) and meán does mean mid, and geimhridh (geimhreadh) does mean winter, but none of the dictionaries listed that construction for “midwinter” – it might be right, but do people actually say it? Using it would feel pretentious to me because I’ve no claim to Irishness, and I don’t speak Irish.

I do get that if you’re learning a language, or you have some reason to align yourself with a particular culture, that it’s fun to use some words. That’s fine. My beef is more with people who just want to pepper their meme or ritual or whatever with a few words in a Celtic language because they think it will be more authentic or more spiritual, or perhaps it will make them look smarter than the people who don’t know these words. I do speak some Gaelic (the Scottish one) and have learned a tiny bit of Welsh, and to be honest, the first thing I think when I see non-native-speakers throwing words in a Celtic language around on the internet is “I bet they can’t pronounce that”.

But moving from language to ideas, what does this meme achieve? The first paragraph takes a universal concept shared by pretty much all cultures and ascribes it to “Celtic countries”. Why? The second paragraph talks about the “Celtic Midwinter”. What does that even mean? If I call my dog a “madra” or a “cù” does that make him a Celtic dog?

​As you can see, I have made a new version of the meme. It makes less claims of specialness for the ability to use a few poorly understood words. Of course I didn’t have space to get into the nuts and bolts of everything. The whole questions of “alban” in Welsh is a little wobbly, as far as I know. It only seems to appear in the 18th century, and is used for both solstices and equinoxes, but it doesn’t seem to be used in common speech. More of a fancy word in books, perhaps. And I’m pretty sure it doesn’t really mean light – that idea comes from neoDruidy, as far as I know. It means a quarter of the year, or the quarter points of the year.

PictureIs this Alban Arthan?

​As for “arthan” – well, that means a young bear. Of course, the name Arthur derives from bear, but I’m pretty sure the association of bears and winter isn’t directly to do with King Arthur. That said, I have definitely read neoDruid teaching that claims “Alban Arthan means the light of Arthur” – so I guess it means that to them. Whatever. I think we’re going in circles.

On to the final paragraph! There is some interesting folklore about robins and wrens all over Europe. Is it Celtic? I’m not sure, and I’m not sure how well it really matches up to the Oak and Holly Kings, either. Perhaps I should consult my Robert Graves, but I’m not going to bother, because he got an awful lot of things about Celtic culture wrong.

You don’t have to tell me that my “corrected” meme isn’t as sexy. I’ve taken out all the woo-woo wannabe Celtic, “aren’t the natives spiritual” stuff, and left you with the boring old truth.

Have a very happy solstice!


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