Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Being Celtic

Not long ago, in fact during the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, a woman lingered a little past "closing" to talk with Greg and me about being "Celtic."

For the record, our basic view of "Celtic" includes what are traditionally called the "Seven Nations": Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall, Isle Of Man and Galicia and their languages, music, culture, etc.  We do also embrace things that have a Celtic influence, such as bluegrass music.  And though historians seem constantly to be revising the story of the people who once dominated Western Europe prior to the heyday of the Roman Empire -- aka The Celts -- we recognize a certain Celtic influence that reaches as far as Turkey (Galatia, which you may know from the New Testament), Ukraine (Halychyna), and Iran (Scythia), among others.

At one point during the conversation, the woman noticed the cross I was wearing and asked if Greg and I were Christian.  When I replied that we were, she nodded to our two hymn titles (Be Thou My Vision and A Mighty Fortress) and said, "I thought so," then "How do you justify that with being Celtic?"

It's not the first time I've been confronted with the notion that one cannot be both Celtic and Christian.  And though the short answer is that there is absolutely no conflict between the two, the question does deserve some sort of explanation.  I've never seen the question as a challenge, but rather I've seen the questioner as a seeker -- and yet I've never worked out an honest, concise, and accurate response.

I've been thinking about it, though.  I won't be disingenuous and pretend that I don't understand why someone would ask such a question.  I know that in the minds of many, Celtic = Pagan.  Yes, it's true that the ancient Celts were Pagan -- as was most of the rest of the world.  And it doesn't much matter what definition of "Pagan" you consider "correct" -- if you consider Pagan as a catch-all term for polytheistic religions, keep in mind that in the centuries and millenia before the Christian era, the only monotheistic religion was Judaism.  And if you consider Pagan as a catch-all term for non-Christian religions, keep in mind that the heyday of the Celts was in the pre-Christian era.

Though I claim a Celtic ancestry, I feel no more bound to their ancient religion than I am to any other aspect of their way of life -- like cooking over an open fire, walking or riding a horse as my primary mode of transportation ... or living without air conditioning!  In fact, when Christianity was introduced to the Celts, many of them quickly and enthusiastically embraced the new religion, in part because many of its tenets were similar to their own beliefs: the belief in an afterlife, for example.

I'm still working on a nice way to express my thoughts and beliefs without offending by appearing too glib or too self-righteous.  I would never want to turn someone away because they felt that I was putting their beliefs down.  If anyone has suggestions/insight/input, please share!