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[Wiccan Web] The Celtic Fallacy


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By Bob Trubshaw, Alby Stone, and Nigel Pennick <p>How often have you read that in pre-Roman Europe near-enough everyone was Celtic. A whole industry of book publishing, visitors centres and nationalistic political activists has built up to promote this assertion. Near enough every person born in Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Brittany would regard themselves as . . . → Read More: The Celtic Fallacy

 

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Guest BunnyMazonas

I like the responses to the main article. They make good points about the difference between historical taxonomical classifications and modern political boundaries, and also about the need for roots and a historic identity.

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David Layton-Scott

Very interesting article, thanks for the link, going away to think about it, I must admit to feeling at tImes that there is a predisposition to thinking anything *Celtic" = good and some books I have read would lead you to believe that there was a Celtic Nirvana before the Romans came to these Isles with people living a close to nature existence that the modern world could only dream about.

 

I think there is a lot yet to learn about our Bronze to Iron age ancestors and we do a diservice to them to a degree by looking for the Celtic in everything.

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Ffred_Clegg

Every so often someone trots out the sad old John Collis argument, which as far as I can see is all about Johnny Foreigner encouraging the colonials to get uppity. Meanwhile the rest of us get on with recognising that the overwhelming evidence of archeology, philology, and literarature supports the existence and reality of a common culture over much of Iron Age Europe which you may or may not wish to call Celtic. David is quite right to stress that it's not the same as the Bronze Age cultures/ Look for the Celts where the Celts are/were but recognise that they weren't the only culture around

 

gwyn eich byd

 

Ffred

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Always best to read the book rather than depend on third party reports

 

I've not yet read Collis's

'Celts: Origins and Re-inventions: Origins, Myths and Inventions

but I have read

The Atlantic Celts: Ancient People or Modern Invention? by Simon James, which apparently comes to the same conclusions as Collis.

 

I am part way through

 

The Origins of the British by Stephen Oppenheimer. A genetic study and a very difficult read, but I'm liking it because it seems to support my own prejudice that the 'English' are the original post ice age inhabitants of Britain, and the 'Celts' are the invaders from the Iberian peninsula which we managed to hold at bay in the crinkly rocky western bits of the land. :coz_toothy2:

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The Origins of the British by Stephen Oppenheimer. A genetic study and a very difficult read, but I'm liking it because it seems to support my own prejudice that the 'English' are the original post ice age inhabitants of Britain, and the 'Celts' are the invaders from the Iberian peninsula which we managed to hold at bay in the crinkly rocky western bits of the land. :coz_toothy2:

 

Which is a very good book - and I thought well written though the stuff on genetics was tough ...

 

Marcus

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Guest Teyrnon

Anyone know this story?

 

Herakles was wandering through the land of the
Keltoi
with some stolen cattle and came to the house of Bretannos who had a daughter whose name was Keltinē who fell in love with Herakles so she hid the cattle until he would sleep with her. She had a son as a result who was called 'Keltos' and from him the Celts got their name so the people are called
keltoi
.

 

Kim McCone's paper 'On Celts Calling Themselves Celts' refers to this as told by the tutor of the Roman poet Virgil. He remarks that "the ancients had the mental agility to conceive that the celts had already been celts before they were first called celts"! Perhaps we might be allowed a similar mental agility?

Edited by Teyrnon
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I thought the Keltoi were a specific nation of people and that the name was used much later to denote all peoples of related cultures. The British nations wouldn't have considered themselves Keltoi. A bit like German being used to describe the shared culture of modern Europe by some future peoples.

 

Mike

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Moonhunter

Anyone know this story?

 

Herakles was wandering through the land of the
Keltoi
with some stolen cattle and came to the house of Bretannos who had a daughter whose name was Keltinē who fell in love with Herakles so she hid the cattle until he would sleep with her. She had a son as a result who was called 'Keltos' and from him the Celts got their name so the people are called
keltoi
.

 

Kim McCone's paper 'On Celts Calling Themselves Celts' refers to this as told by the tutor of the Roman poet Virgil. He remarks that "the ancients had the mental agility to conceive that the celts had already been celts before they were first called celts"! Perhaps we might be allowed a similar mental agility?

 

From this site:

In particular, aside from a 1st-century literary genealogy of Celtus the grandson of Bretannos by Heracles, there is no record of the term "Celt" being used in connection with the Insular Celts, the inhabitants of the British Isles during the Iron Age, prior to the 17th century. According to the 1st-century poet Parthenius of Nicaea, Celtus (Κελτός) was the son of Heracles and Keltine (Κελτίνη), the daughter of Bretannus (Βρεττανός); this literary genealogy exists nowhere else and was not connected with any known cult.[5] Celtus became the eponymous ancestor of Celts.[6]
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Guest Teyrnon

Anyone know this story?

 

Herakles was wandering through the land of the
Keltoi
with some stolen cattle and came to the house of Bretannos who had a daughter whose name was Keltinē who fell in love with Herakles so she hid the cattle until he would sleep with her. She had a son as a result who was called 'Keltos' and from him the Celts got their name so the people are called
keltoi
.

 

Kim McCone's paper 'On Celts Calling Themselves Celts' refers to this as told by the tutor of the Roman poet Virgil. He remarks that "the ancients had the mental agility to conceive that the celts had already been celts before they were first called celts"! Perhaps we might be allowed a similar mental agility?

 

From this site:

In particular, aside from a 1st-century literary genealogy of Celtus the grandson of Bretannos by Heracles, there is no record of the term "Celt" being used in connection with the Insular Celts, the inhabitants of the British Isles during the Iron Age, prior to the 17th century. According to the 1st-century poet Parthenius of Nicaea, Celtus (Κελτός) was the son of Heracles and Keltine (Κελτίνη), the daughter of Bretannus (Βρεττανός); this literary genealogy exists nowhere else and was not connected with any known cult.[5] Celtus became the eponymous ancestor of Celts.[6]

 

 

Nevertheless a story which tells of someone coming to the land of the Celts (so named before he got there) and that, by his coming, they became 'Celts', has an imaginative integrity to it that rather diffuses mundane questions of temporal linearity, don't you think?

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Moonhunter

Nevertheless a story which tells of someone coming to the land of the Celts (so named before he got there) and that, by his coming, they became 'Celts', has an imaginative integrity to it that rather diffuses mundane questions of temporal linearity, don't you think?

 

OK, I admit you've lost me entirely. The storyis a normal "originin of name" story. Yes, to be logical in our terms, the storyteller should say it's a land with no name, but if he does that, the listeners won't know which land it is. So, in the time the story is being told, it's known as the land of the keltoi, and the story is about how it got that name.

 

Am I missing something? :o_headscratch:

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Guest Teyrnon

Nevertheless a story which tells of someone coming to the land of the Celts (so named before he got there) and that, by his coming, they became 'Celts', has an imaginative integrity to it that rather diffuses mundane questions of temporal linearity, don't you think?

 

OK, I admit you've lost me entirely. The storyis a normal "originin of name" story. Yes, to be logical in our terms, the storyteller should say it's a land with no name, but if he does that, the listeners won't know which land it is. So, in the time the story is being told, it's known as the land of the keltoi, and the story is about how it got that name.

 

Am I missing something? :o_headscratch:

 

Only that, the comment of McCone in my first post that the ancients had no trouble thinking of them as being 'Celts' before they were called 'Celts', suggests that we shouldn't be troubled by it either.

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Guest Seaxneat

Celtic is an umbrella term which is used generally to describe the Welsh, Irish and Scottish people because nobody can be bothered to read about the real political, cultural and racial differences between the various tribes which all existed. I tend to believe that both the Germanic folk and the 'Celtic' folk were largely the same, or had simply migrated up from warmer areas slightly after - there certainly is cultural simularities between Celt and Germanic before Roman occupation, and the tone you get from radical Welsh and Scots who use their 'Celtic' ancestry to support anti-English hatred is completely ridiculous as trade and free borders had always existed between Scandinavia and the British Isles. In fact, the Scots and the Northern Irish are likely less 'Celtic' than the English seeing as entire tribes were wiped out by the Danes.

 

I do however roll my eyes whenever I see these fluffy books on Celtic lore and paganism because it is viewed through so much rose coloured glass as to make these books pathetically uninformed. Life for the Celts (and indeed most of Northern Europe) was awful before the Roman Empire. Half the amount of available vegetables, half the available livestock, inferior production methods. Of course the view paddled by history books that everyone turned into a savage once the Roman Empire fell is also complete BS.

 

There ought to be a peer reviewed re-write of history as most of the stuff you learn at school is largely politically stanced crap.

Edited by Seaxneat
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Moonhunter

Nevertheless a story which tells of someone coming to the land of the Celts (so named before he got there) and that, by his coming, they became 'Celts', has an imaginative integrity to it that rather diffuses mundane questions of temporal linearity, don't you think?

 

OK, I admit you've lost me entirely. The storyis a normal "originin of name" story. Yes, to be logical in our terms, the storyteller should say it's a land with no name, but if he does that, the listeners won't know which land it is. So, in the time the story is being told, it's known as the land of the keltoi, and the story is about how it got that name.

 

Am I missing something? :o_headscratch:

 

Only that, the comment of McCone in my first post that the ancients had no trouble thinking of them as being 'Celts' before they were called 'Celts', suggests that we shouldn't be troubled by it either.

 

but they didn't think like that. I thought I'd explained that? :huh: or do you disagree with my explanation?

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That's my point too Moonhunter. The Romans didn't think of them as some homogenous group, but were very aware of the many cultural difference between them and were adept at exploiting them. The quote about the Keltoi is referring to a particular group of that name not the whole mass of people north of the alps. A bit like insisting that all eskimos be called Inuit when really the Inuit are just one group of people we used to call Eskimos.

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Ffred_Clegg

I do however roll my eyes whenever I see these fluffy books on Celtic lore and paganism because it is viewed through so much rose coloured glass as

 

Life for the Celts (and indeed most of Northern Europe) was awful before the Roman Empire. Half the amount of available vegetables,

 

I know, the constipation was terrible...

 

gwyn eich byd

 

Ffred

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Guest Teyrnon

That's my point too Moonhunter. The Romans didn't think of them as some homogenous group, but were very aware of the many cultural difference between them and were adept at exploiting them. The quote about the Keltoi is referring to a particular group of that name not the whole mass of people north of the alps. A bit like insisting that all eskimos be called Inuit when really the Inuit are just one group of people we used to call Eskimos.

 

It was actually the Greeks who coined the term 'Keltoi' as a generic name for the tribes of the North. It no more applied to a particular group than 'Europeans' does today. We can retrospectively make sense of it as a linguistic continuity of two different strands of Celtic languages which may, or may mot, have interacted, or been identifiable to each other, in the ancient world.

Edited by Teyrnon
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Guest Teyrnon

Celtic is an umbrella term which is used generally to describe the Welsh, Irish and Scottish people because nobody can be bothered to read about the real political, cultural and racial differences between the various tribes which all existed. I tend to believe that both the Germanic folk and the 'Celtic' folk were largely the same, or had simply migrated up from warmer areas slightly after - there certainly is cultural simularities between Celt and Germanic before Roman occupation, and the tone you get from radical Welsh and Scots who use their 'Celtic' ancestry to support anti-English hatred is completely ridiculous as trade and free borders had always existed between Scandinavia and the British Isles. In fact, the Scots and the Northern Irish are likely less 'Celtic' than the English seeing as entire tribes were wiped out by the Danes.

 

I do however roll my eyes whenever I see these fluffy books on Celtic lore and paganism because it is viewed through so much rose coloured glass as to make these books pathetically uninformed. Life for the Celts (and indeed most of Northern Europe) was awful before the Roman Empire. Half the amount of available vegetables, half the available livestock, inferior production methods. Of course the view paddled by history books that everyone turned into a savage once the Roman Empire fell is also complete BS.

 

There ought to be a peer reviewed re-write of history as most of the stuff you learn at school is largely politically stanced crap.

 

There is certainly little point in mixing up the question of the identity of ancient Celts with modern politics and you shouldn't do it either.

 

While it is clear that there were considerable interactions between Germanic and Celtic speaking peoples from the late Iron Age right through to the early medieval period, a process complicated by the occupation of Britain by the Romans, Celtic and Germanic languages are recognisably distinct and so are the gods of these peoples. I think it is undeniable that racially the two groups integrated with each other over large areas and at different times, but culturally they remained distinct.

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Guest Teyrnon

 

 

but they didn't think like that. I thought I'd explained that? :huh: or do you disagree with my explanation?

 

Explained? I'm not sure what needed explaining. Certainly the tale is onomastic in form. But the point of McCone referring to Virgil's tutor telling it is a sort of joke that people don't become different by simply being assigned a name. If they were Celts after being given the name they were Celts before too.

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Guest Seaxneat

Celtic is an umbrella term which is used generally to describe the Welsh, Irish and Scottish people because nobody can be bothered to read about the real political, cultural and racial differences between the various tribes which all existed. I tend to believe that both the Germanic folk and the 'Celtic' folk were largely the same, or had simply migrated up from warmer areas slightly after - there certainly is cultural simularities between Celt and Germanic before Roman occupation, and the tone you get from radical Welsh and Scots who use their 'Celtic' ancestry to support anti-English hatred is completely ridiculous as trade and free borders had always existed between Scandinavia and the British Isles. In fact, the Scots and the Northern Irish are likely less 'Celtic' than the English seeing as entire tribes were wiped out by the Danes.

 

I do however roll my eyes whenever I see these fluffy books on Celtic lore and paganism because it is viewed through so much rose coloured glass as to make these books pathetically uninformed. Life for the Celts (and indeed most of Northern Europe) was awful before the Roman Empire. Half the amount of available vegetables, half the available livestock, inferior production methods. Of course the view paddled by history books that everyone turned into a savage once the Roman Empire fell is also complete BS.

 

There ought to be a peer reviewed re-write of history as most of the stuff you learn at school is largely politically stanced crap.

 

There is certainly little point in mixing up the question of the identity of ancient Celts with modern politics and you shouldn't do it either.

 

While it is clear that there were considerable interactions between Germanic and Celtic speaking peoples from the late Iron Age right through to the early medieval period, a process complicated by the occupation of Britain by the Romans, Celtic and Germanic languages are recognisably distinct and so are the gods of these peoples. I think it is undeniable that racially the two groups integrated with each other over large areas and at different times, but culturally they remained distinct.

 

Culture changed from tribe to tribe, given the complete lack of literature from the time periods save from what the Romans and later on what the Christian clergy would have written into accounts, we are largely in the dark about actual practices. Im pretty sure that neither the Romans or the Christian scholars wanted to paint a pretty picture about Northern European religious and cultural practices, and it is ironic that the only real accounts that have been passed down to us have been from movements designed to usurp and destroy the original ethnic cultures.

 

I could be completely wrong, but when I read accounts of the Vanir in Norse mythology it just shouts 'Celtic Lore' at me. And then when you look at artifacts from Neolithic up until Middle-ages, art work, weaponry and general building abilities/farming styles seem largely identical. Again, Im probably completely wrong, this is just my uninformed belief.

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Guest Teyrnon

Seaxneat, It's true that we don't know much for certain. As far as the earlier period you refer to (Neolithic to Bronze Age) we know almost nothing. But what we do know is beginning to grow a little. Identification of further languages in the 'Celtic' group during the twentieth century, first Gaulish and more recently Celto-Iberian suggest that, in this earlier period, the Celts were primarily concentrated along the western Atlantic seaboard. Archaeologists such as Cunlifffe also suggest this from independent evidence. Clearly there was movement during the Iron Age both eastwards and westwards with the Celtic and Germanic speaking peoples each moving into each others' territories. The Greeks giving the name Keltoi to the tribes they identified may have given them a name which was subsequently applied to them, whether speaking what we would now classify as a Celtic language or not.

 

Genetics is beginning to suggest that people we would now identify as racially Germanic were settled in Eastern England before the Romans came, but culturally and linguistically they would have been Celtic. Geneticists are now beginning to look at ancient DNA as well as doing research on living populations so this will clarify the situation when there is enough of this to compare the past with the present, though I would suggest that the cultural and linguistic profile, along with the gods they followed, is a better way to define these people. While it's always possible to draw parallels between gods of different pantheons, it has always seemed to me that Odinn, Loki, Thor, Frey Freyja and the other Norse gods have their own distinct identities , as does the mythological ethos of these gods, which is very different from that of Maponos, Rigantona, Nodens and other Brythonic deities and their parallel, but subtly different ,Goidelic counterparts.

 

Britons today may relate to one or another of these ancestor gods , or have a complex affinity for a mix of them, compounded with the complex history of our ancestry, but it seems to me that the strands still run clear, though any of us as individuals may perceive twists of different threads together in the weave, as you obviously do.

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