The Four Gaels:
Re-Weaving The Diaspora with the Homeland
She seemed shocked that I’d suggest it.
It had actually seemed like a good idea.
“We have our own elders,” she said firmly. “We should be connecting youth with them instead of bring in people from the outside.”
It made sense.
I was in the car with a Frances MacEachern, a prominent Gaelic activist in
I’d suggested bring in Tom Cowan, author of Celtic Shamanism. I’d been to a workshop with him and found him to be a grounded, non-new agey elder of the Celtic tradition. The real deal if you will.
It has got me thinking though about the differences between the types of celts and gaels out there.
I’m seeing three main groups: the Community Gael (not Celt), the Individual Celt and the Clan Gael (plus, I suppose the Tourist Celt).
I’m seeing real differences between them. Differences that often go unexpressed, lead to the kind of misunderstandings and hidden assumptions that were exposed in my conversation with
I would have to classify myself mostly in the “individual celt” group.
Each group has its range of folks. The Individual Celt goes from the legit folks like
These are my thoughts on the groups:
The Community Gael
· Retains the culture and language and many aspects of their culture but struggles within the Suicide Economy
· Lives in a community that loses more gaelic speaking elders and tradition bearers every year.
· Is searching for a way forward (and young ones just want a way OUT)
· Is not sovereign in their use of the resources
· Is mandated to send their kids to English, state run education – forced to play into the system – but want to retain their culture
· Feels compelled to leave the old world behind to survive in the new one.
· Feels that they are the real Gaels as they still speak the language and live on ancestral land. They really see other 3 groups as outsiders.
· Still lives on ancestral lands
· Still speaks language
· Lives in a community where gaelic is still spoken
· Is more often musically talented than those outside the community
· Knows some Gaelic songs
· Is most likely Christian (catholic or Protestant) in their orientation
· Is very focused on their present circumstances
· Is very focused on the present and struggle with the relevance of their culture and history in today’s world. Many have decided it’s NOT relevant.
· Listens to oral folk stories
· has not questioned their own “colonization” to much of an extent.
· Increasingly feels that “that’s all in the past now” – that their history and cultural/spiritual wisdom isn’t of much use today. it seems irrelevant.
The Individual Celt:
· “celticism” is an abstract concept here, not rooted to any place
· Celticism something to study and practice vs. participate in.
· has a strong feeling of wanting to go back to the “celtic twilight”
· feels that they embody the “real” spirituality and traditional ways of the Celts.
· is largely – if not entirely - Ignorant to the economic realities & direct lineage of oppression & colonization the Community Gael dealt with
· doesn’t speak Gaelic
· doesn’t live in a community where gaelic is still spoken
· reads books on druidry, shamanism and wicca
· have likely gone to workshops on “celtic spirituality”
· are largely “pagan” or “animistic” in their beliefs
· are very into the PRE Christian era of celtic history and see Christianity as a form of oppression from the outside that destroyed – or sought to destroy - much of the culture
· have an assumption that all Gaels want to live in an indigenous, earth based, clan based community and would if they weren’t prevented by outside forces
· enjoys Celtic history as a “personal interest”
· Goes to highland games
· Reads the Outlander series
· Doesn’t speak Gaelic
· Wears tartan, kilts, clan badges etc.
· Very interested in family history in an abstract way – geneology.
· Doesn’t speak Gaelic – though they like the notion of being able to.
· Most often doesn’t live in a community where gaelic is still spoken
· Is very into the Lordship of the Isles era – they see those as the Glory days of the Gaels.
The Tourist Celt
· Self explanatory
Some Important Points:
1. There are strong divisions between these groups: What strikes me is how divorced these groups are from each other – despite the identical ancestry - and how little support the Individual Celts and Clan Gaels give to the living breathing communities of the Community Gaels. It is important to note how “Celtic History” has become an abstract, personal interest vs. a living political and economic reality.
- The difference between individuals and communities is critical: The same day of my conversation with
I was in a car on the winding roads of Frances with Rob, a Gaelic activist in Cape Breton . His eight year old son sat in the back. “The question is not “will the Gaelic die off” in his life time,” he said nodding towards his son. “I’m not worried about that. There will likely still be learners. The real question is “will there be any Gaelic speaking communities left?” Scotland
- Each group has an important role: I think that there are likely powerful roles for the Clan Gael and Individual Celts to play – not the least of which is as FUNDERS to the work of the Community Gael.
4. The Future of Gaelic Community is Outside “The System”: And it is also getting clearer to me that the future for the Community Gael will not be found in the suicide economy and in “joining the system” but rather in creating its OWN conscious, locally based economy. I think there is actually a profound opportunity for the Gaelic community to step to the forefront of the conscious economy movement.
- I think what can or could unite these three or four is, let's call it, "the search for ancient wisdom."
I see that core desire - perhaps worded differently or felt to varying degrees in all for groups - the "being pulled" to something more real. i'm reading this book of Gaelic proverbs and what keeps striking me is how wise and true so many of them are. i was going to say ALL of them are but i think this is the generational challenge to weed out what isn't affirming of life and foster the growth of what is.
As Tom Cowan put it “The search is both intellectual and personal, or can be. It's not unlike searching the Tao Te Ching for both Chinese wisdom and a way to live your life. Or Plato for that matter, or medieval Catholic mystics. Ancient wisdom transcends time and place and if taken seriously demands rigorous study, practice,commitment. It doesn't depend on what blood flows through your veins or what language you speak (although the language is a major help in understanding the ancient and wise mind and heart).”
- Individuals from each category meeting others from other categories is the main way that these divisions will be bridged.
There is an important challenge of understanding for us to bridge these gaps in Celtic experience. Probably only real people will do it.