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The Sacred Isle: Belief and Religion in Pre-Christian Ireland by Dáthí Ó hÓgáin,
The Sacred Isle: Pre-Christian Religions in Ireland by Dáthí Ó hÓgáin, noted scholar and authority on Celtic and Irish folklore, is a work that successfully attempts to reconstruct the beliefs and practices of the pre-Christian people of Ireland. It was developed out of the materials originally used in a series of lectures that professor Ó hÓgáin taught at University College Dublin on the ways that folklore and folk tradition can provide insights and understanding to the field of archaeology.The usual sources for investigating the pre-Christian Irish and Celtic past are found in:
To these two sources, Ó hÓgáin adds a needed third leg of evidence - Folklore. Folklore is a resource that allows one to understand the psyche of a people according to Ó hÓgáin. The author further maintains that a necessary study of it to a level of expertise is necessary to allow one the ability to see the world through the eyes of other people:
“Once this level of understanding is achieved, in other words when the mechanics of tradition can be grasped and the resultant insights applied, folkloristics can be of great assistance in determining how the human person experiences the surrounding world.”
It is his belief (and I think the spirit of the Filidh support him in this) that such a study and understanding of the very human ways that folklore mirrors the beliefs and practices of cultures will allow a scholar and student of the archaeological and literary records to fill in the gaps that exist in knowledge of the past. He also maintains that such a study and analysis will allow one to remove the bias and obscuration that was introduced into written sources by the Christian scribes who preserved it. In this work, he has given us both the means and the way to preserve the Coimgne (the body of knowledge that was preserved in the oral histories of the Irish Druids) and to synchronize the ancient histories. In writing this book, professor Ó hÓgáin has fulfilled one of the requirements of the Filidh by providing a preserving shrine for the Irish traditions. Anyone seeking to practice these traditions should study this book as a gateway to attaining a better understanding of the other sources about it that survive to us.
Ó hÓgáin shows how many pre-Christian and Druidic practices survived in a supposedly Christianized Ireland, such as the “dructa déa” (‘the dew of a goddess’), “féth fiadha” (the art of magical concealment), the designation of sacred spaces associated with tumuli and stone structures, practices of right-handedness (“deasal”) vs. left-handedness (“sidhaighi”), turning of stones, worshipping at wells, venerating trees and ancestors, evil eyes, facing certain directions during ritual (with associated attributes). The four major fire festivals of Imbolc, Beltaine, Lughnasadh and Samhain, are identified as clear evidence of the continuity in practice of pre-Christian celebrations up until present times. He clearly indicates that Christianity may have triumphed as the state religion but that folk belief and practice continues to embrace the ancient traditions of Ireland both Druidic and pre-Celtic at once. In the heart of wisdom that is Ireland’s own, I think one can still find Druids and Druid ways. How could it be otherwise in Creation or the Otherworld?
Reading this book has been an excellent introduction and guide to the beginnings of the Druid way for me. If a person has an open mind, a questing spirit and truth in their very being, they cannot be far from the Druid way in their beginnings, in their journeys, in their discoveries and in their rebirths among the lives of Druids. I highly recommend this book to anyone seeking a better understanding of Druids and Celtic religions. I particularly recommend this work to people who are seeking their Irish roots within such traditions and who hope to foster anew the spiritual joys and adventures of their ancestors.
The Sacred Isle: Pre-Christian Religions in Ireland
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