“In another region the spirit animates the members; death, if your lore be true, is but the passage to enduring life."
October marks the Celtic New Year and the time to honor those who passed into the otherworld to become our ancestors. As Keltrians, this is the month to celebrate the Feast of Death. Personally, I feel this aspect of our religion is not explored in enough detail. Celtic mythology is full of information on how the Celts not only view the soul and the passing into death, but how contact is established with ancestors. Those who lived before us left scattered repositories of the knowledge and wisdom of our tradition. Who were those that came before us? Who are the ancestors that left us this legacy of wisdom and knowledge? Exactly how the ancient Celts connected with their ancestors may be lost; however, we can still perform connect with the ancestors based upon our understanding of the ancient Celts coupled with our own modern needs.
The art of working with the ancestors is called necromancy, which is an age old practice. Necromancy is defined as “ A form of magic in which the practitioner seeks to summon “operative spirits” or "spirits of divination." The reasons range from spiritual protection to wisdom and regaining lost knowledge. The word necromancy derives from the Greek νεκρ?ς (nekrós), "dead," and μαντε?α (manteía), "prophecy" (wikipedia)”
In daily Celtic life, it was common to have interactions with the ancestors. In Celtic society the distance between the realms of the living and the dead were blurred. We know from lore of the past that when the deceased appeared they looked like a living and breathing person. In the story of St. Patrick when he summoned the spirit of Cúchulainn it was described like this; “His hair was thick and black ... in his head his eye gleamed swift and grey.... Blacker than the side of a cooking spit each of his two brows, redder than ruby his lips.” It was natural for the dead to appear to the living and they could especially be called at auspicious times of the year.
This is the driving force in most necromancy practices of the Celts. For example, the Chief poet of Ireland instructed his poets to collect the fragments of the Tain. Although parts of the story are missing, it’s apparent it was a great challenge to collect what they did. To attain the perfect version of the story, the spirit of Fergus Mac Roich, who held a part in the Cattle Raid of Cooley, was raised to piece together the whole story over the course of a few days.
Another common method of speaking with the dead was using an Oracular Head. The human head in Celtic lore was the storehouse of the soul and wisdom. It was common to take the head of an enemy and use their wisdom for the benefit of the tribe. The tradition of consulting an oracular head is the remains of an older divination tradition used by shamans to maintain the physical connection with the ancestors. Sadly, there is not enough explanation providing all of the information on how the Celts handled the physical remains of the deceased.
The Celts had a rich culture in which the ancestors played a very large role not only in providing lost knowledge but giving insight into possible futures for the person willing to ask. As Keltrians, it is our obligation to carry on this tradition and keep the connection to our ancestors. It may fall to the scholars of the future to knit the bones of our history into a recognizable form. In our observances of the Feast of Death, we can and should weave what we do know into a meaningful observance of this important Feast. As described above, we have some tantalizing tidbits to enhance our celebrations.
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