When people first discover, (or rediscover), Irish spiritual and animist tradition I notice that, for non-Irish seekers, at least, there is an overwhelming tendency to look to the past for the 'path'. In particular, the Iron Age. For many, this is because they have come across "Celtic" gods and goddesses in popular culture and this then sets the tone for their practice. They see Ireland through the lens of old myths (written by Christian monks) which in turn informs dress-code, rituals, and an imagined way of being and interacting with the land itself.
The Druidic revival of the 19th century added another theatrical and not very accurate layer of colonialist interpretation which we are still trying to shake off today. For those of us who live here, and for myself, definitely, this is often very frustrating. For the record, I have no affiliation to any tradition or 'ruled' way of thinking. I am animist in my views with the caveat that 'animism' is only a recent term and way of describing a way of seeing life/ consciousness in many forms, both abstract and relatable, in all living things. In fact, some animists, like myself, will extend the definition of 'living' to everything, as the building blocks, the microscopic particles, of which the entire universe is comprised of, are also understood as being alive.
So, it can be a deep-dive into both your own presumptions and held views when you try to differentiate needs, wants, function and questions of conscious impulse: what even is your own consciousness if you are unconsciously led by biological imperatives that have their own routines and goals you are not aware of?
The systems of spiritual worship and practice which we associate with ancient Ireland are often of a bracketed nature simply because the people who lived here for 33'000 years left nothing provable regarding their ideas of religion, spirituality and traditions for us to examine until around 3'500 BCE. In fact, the truth of the matter is that we don't even know what *those* various peoples believed regarding these subjects.
We can speculate about some possibilities, though. For example, many of our megalithic structures from this period align to the sun, moon and stars. Is this ritual, though, or merely stone calendars for farming and seasonal timing? The fact that some structures contain interred remains would suggest that there is indeed a ritual element behind many of these monuments.
Although an island, Ireland was by no means isolated from various groups and peoples who travelled here from Eastern Europe and Anatolia, which we can prove through DNA evidence. The longevity of Anatolian animism and ritual knowledge is testified to by what is considered the worlds oldest temple site, Gobekli Tepe, dating to at least 9'500 BCE. These people no doubt brought their beliefs and spiritual traditions to Ireland, as well as those of the people of the Steppe region, and the many migrants of continental Europe.
So, despite the various environmental events and catastrophes which geological evidence has shown us to have occurred during these periods there were, no doubt, many systems of spiritual belief mixing and evolving in Ireland's ancient past. As time progressed, and some groups found a landscape and environment which was very different to the one that they had left behind, it is likely that representations of deity and belief probably changed too.
When we look at animism throughout the world we can notice many archetypal similarities at its core even if the outer cultural and local masks and traditions differ on the surface. This is not just a matter of different people and their interactions with flora and fauna, though. There is also the factor of growth and change to consider. Different times call for different approaches and actions in terms of both living within an environment, as well as actively trying to cooperate with it.
Right now in Ireland the process of cooperation is not working and the influx of those wanting to be part of Irish paganism is often absent from the ongoing battle to ensure that something remains for generations going forward. I mean that literally. Pagan pilgrims come from outside Ireland and visit ancient sites and then go on to become Irish paganism and Irish witchcraft experts in their own lands, far away from Ireland.
These are well-intentioned voices, it must be said, but they often remain deliberately and blissfully aware of who and what Ireland actually is *today*, and how any kind of living and animistic relationship they foster is inevitably defined by their own outdated views of this land and its changing needs.
At this point I could mention our homelessness and housing crisis, the mother and baby homes revelations, the ongoing destruction of ancient habitat and ancient sites, and so on, but as this blog is concerned with animism, non-human consciousness forms, and magic, lets go there, too.
What kind of archetypes do these pilgrim visitors think and believe Ireland needs today? Iron-Age, robe wearing, spear-holding tribal deities?
Well, in the long history of our world the one factor we can rely on is that representations of deity and supernatural guiding-beings take on the forms needed by their people. The masks and attributes of higher animistic consciousness require the capacity to help, to heal, and to bring a people and land forward into the challenges it faces, as well as transformation for the times ahead.
Like all native and indigenous traditions, those connected to Ireland's land *know* it is a living practice, not something stagnant, and definitely not something that is trying to drag us back to a past thousands of years behind us.
The forms of gods and goddesses were equipped to elevate the dreams of our ancient ancestors to new realities which gave them and their people a better chance of survival, new wisdom, and effective medicine suited to living upon and within the landscape as it existed at the time.
Ireland's landscape today is quickly being carved away into compartmentalised, chemically sprayed square field upon square field. There will soon be no hiding place for the profound and sacred. Our trees today are mostly grown for profit, with regulated and lifeless spruce tracts replacing ancient forests. As usual, money, corporate greed and capitalism, like some insane Gnostic Demiurge, scrapes the authentic and real away, replacing the organic with the artificial. What say our pagan pilgrims who pull up in a bus outside Newgrange, take a quick selfie of themselves with a 'shamanic' drum connecting to the ancestors, before driving away to the next 'sacred' site?
The Irish writer, Ian McDonald, in his work of Irish mytho-consciousness, King of Morning, Queen of Day, sums up the danger of trying to close our eyes to the new incarnations of our indigenous animism and, perhaps, deities. He writes, "I have this dread which afflicts me in the dead of night: it is that somehow, we have lost the power to generate new mythologies for a technological age. We are withdrawing into another age's mythotypes, an age when the issues were so much simpler, clearly defined, and could be solved with one stroke of a sword called something like Durththane."
"Where is the mythic archetype who will save us from ecological catastrophe, or credit card debt? Where are the Sagas and Eddas of the Great Cities?"
Where are the translators who can shape our dreams and dreads, our hopes and fears, into the heroes and villians of the Oil Age?"
By ignoring or deliberately refusing to engage with Ireland's contemporary environmental struggles, our political divisions, our Christian-colonialist infection, and the still-to-be shaped future path, how can anyone truly claim to be engaged with Irish paganism? It is leaving us with wooden swords to fight armored cars. (C.) David Halpin. Image by Comfreak