A Witch on a Celtic Path

Jul 24th, 2014 | By | Category: Celtic Witchcraft, Work in Progress

Mabh Savage is writing a Pagan Portal book on Celtic Witchcraft. You will be able to read this as a work in progress, month by month, here on the blog! Without further ado… here’s the first chapter…


A Witch on a Celtic Path

Celtic Triad: Three things to be avoided by the Wise: expecting the impossible, grieving over the irretrievable, fearing the inevitable.

Witchcraft is often described as a new age religion, especially with the emergence of Wicca, the religious practice strongly associated with modern witchcraft, in the 20th Century. However, you only need to look as far as the nearest fairy tale anthology to realise the term witch has been with us for millennia, in many different forms. The Old English words wicce and Wicca were used for female and male magical practitioners as far back as 890 CE. This shows us that witchcraft is extremely ‘Old Age’ indeed! Throughout the generations the term witch has moved from meaning wise person (usually a woman) to feared crone or hilarious hermit. As with all things that are not understood by the majority, respect gives way to fear, and fear to anger and ridicule, and as we have seen through the centuries, hatred and murder.

Reassuringly, at least one ancient culture has inspired multiple stories of prophets, prophetesses, druids, poets, bards, satirists, shape-shifters, gods, goddesses and more who are not only respected but accepted as a part of day to day life. I’m speaking of the Celts, who adored and accepted what we now refer to as the supernatural. They accepted that gods and goddesses walked among us, and that animals held spirits and voices of their own. They knew of the power of trees, and the binding ways of words. They were held by geas, or taboo which could not be broken. They made heroes of warriors and the wise alike. They believed in sacred objects, and great quests to find such. They stood face to face and toe to toe with the Fae, those unearthly being from under the hills or beyond a spiritual veil.

It is no wonder then, that modern day Paganism retains so much of their influence. This includes, as you probably know, festival dates, deities and places of worship or respect. The biggest example is the wheel of the year, the seasonal structure for many Pagan paths. This is based on the festivals we believe the Celts celebrated, the four primary ones being Imbolc (or Imbolg), Beltane (or Beltain), Lughnasadh (not Lammas; Lammas is an Anglo Saxon celebration although probably has similar roots- who doesn’t want to celebrate at the height of summer!) and Samhain.

The Celts seem to have regarded Samhain as the boundary between the light and dark parts of the year; Summer’s death and Winter’s rebirth. It’s no surprise then, that many Pagans and witches see this as the start of the New Year. Robert Graves famously used the Holly King and the Oak King to represent Summer and Winter, locked in an eternal struggle for power (The White Goddess, 1978) which is an image that seems clearly inspired by the Celtic way of dividing light and dark, and of course, their reverence for trees. Many Wiccans or people on a similar path will find this metaphor familiar, as it is a core part of the Wheel of the Year now for some; a way to visualise the sun reaching its peak at midsummer, and the triumph of the dark in midwinter.

So why, when we can all see that most ‘Neopaganism’ has such Celtic roots anyway, am I a Celtic witch? What does that mean, and how is it different from any other type of witchcraft?

Well let’s look at the ‘Witch’ part first; when I say I am a witch, I’m saying I harness the energies around and within me to instigate change. Mahatma Ghandi said ‘be the change we wish to see in the world’ and much of witchcraft is this; using our inherent power as a sentient being to be a force for transformation. Anyone can do this with training, and the will and patience to gain a deeper understanding of the universe around them. You don’t need to be religious, although many witches do follow a religious path, such as Wicca or another polytheistic faith. For me, witchcraft is more about having faith in yourself and your own skill, although I also accept the existence of other-worldly beings and forces.

Onto the Celtic part: I am deeply influenced by my Celtic ancestry, and walk a path side by side with the Tuatha Dé Danann; the great folk who were one of the many races that invaded Ireland. Lebor Gabála Érenn, the Book of the Taking of Ireland, is an 11th Century text describing eight periods throughout Ireland’s ‘history’ (the book’s contents are of more mythological interest rather than indisputable fact) including the rise and fall of the Tuatha Dé Danann. The text tells us that they came to Ireland on dark clouds, and that they viewed their men of arts as gods, and knew the incantations of Druids. It is sung in the text that they are ‘without a covenant of religion’; indeed it seems that while they accept the reality of larger than life heroes and magical transformation, they revere none as being above or beyond them. Everything is worldly and everything is within reach. This is why I feel my craft belongs to a Celtic source more than any other. I am stubborn to the point of foot stamping and petulance, yet patient enough to wait longer than most would in a tense situation. I will fight when necessary and be quiet when not. I know when presentation is important, and when subtlety is key. I accept that part of me is divine, and acknowledge that divinity within others, but I am not cowed by it. I know when to use my craft, and when elbow grease and hard work will give me a better result.

The Celts took pride in taking a skill and honing it to perfection, but also mastering a number of other skills along the way. They revered wisdom as much as physical strength which is something that I often find lacking in our modern world. The Irish Celts in particular had strict social customs and manners, and because barely anything was written down, words had a unique power which is difficult to recreate in an age where there is a record of everything.

Of course the Celts were not solely Irish, in fact it is now thought by modern historians that the Celts were various tribes who moved across Europe during the Iron Age, perhaps even from the far east, travelling through the Mediterranean, the Germanic and Baltic countries, and possibly as far north as Scandinavia. Because of the aforementioned lack of Celtic literature, their tales and myths come to us via word of mouth and the work of Christian scholars such as Áed Ua Crimthainn, compiler of the Book of Leinster. In the British Isles the stories that cling closest to our hearts tend to be the Welsh and the Irish, particularly the Mabinogion and the Ulster Cycle. My heart lies with my Irish ancestry, mainly because I have been moved and inspired all my life by the tales of the Ulster Cycle, and because bizarre twists and turns along my path have brought me into contact with other fascinated with our Celtic heritage. So while I speak of the Tuatha Dé Danann and their influence on my life, you may find a stronger connection with Gaulish deities, or perhaps the Welsh. Use my experience to create a bond that is unique to you.

But I don’t have any Celtic ancestors you may say. Well, I believe you absolutely can follow a Celtic path without any known Celtic ancestry. Our entire world would be a different place today if the Celts had not existed, so all of us can say our existence has been in some way influenced by the Celts. Celtic names, tales and art pop up throughout modern popular culture, from films to video games. The famous Halo gaming franchise has a screeching vehicle called a banshee, based on the mythical creature who wailed to foretell death. The word comes from the Gaelic bean sí meaning ‘woman from the fairy mounds’ or ‘woman of the barrows’. Charlaine Harris’ famous vampire books are filled with names from Celtic mythology and even refer to the fae themselves. Imagine the books at a tattoo artist’s without Celtic knots present, or a silversmith lacking the same. I had a good natured argument with someone once who disputed the authenticity of anyone calling themselves ‘Celtic’. I understood his point; we are not Celtic because the Celts are no more, if we take the word ‘Celtic’ to mean a part of a tribe of Celts. However when I use the term ‘Celtic’ to describe a person or way of working, I take it as read that we understand already that the Celts are no more, and I am using this term to describe someone or something influenced in some way by some part of Celtic life.

As I write these chapters, I want to introduce you to a way of connecting with the world, even the universe, which harks back to the Iron Age and beyond; after all, our Celtic ancestors were themselves influenced by those who had come before. It’s important to remember that the magic we perform today will never be the same as that of our ancestors; we are influenced by our ancestors, but we are not them. We live in a very different world, and we cannot pretend otherwise, but we can reach into the threads of time to try and understand the way magic affected those who came before, and we can search for those feelings and reactions in ourselves. To think that I may be feeling something as profound as one of my ancestors from over 2000 years ago is heady indeed. We will look at simple steps towards being a Celtic Witch from my own path, from very ethereal, meditative experience, to ‘hands-on’ work building small tools to aid spell-craft. We will discuss the Celtic reverence for the bard and satirist, and how you can learn to wield words as wisely, and how to cultivate silence as a weapon. We’ll remember tales of magical transformation and wonder how we can transform ourselves. Do we want to change? Have we the will? And what is the consequence?

I opened this chapter with a triad that describes three things the wise should not do, but perhaps it is more positive to transform this (see, we are working magic already!) into three things a wise person should do: achieve the achievable, let things go which are harmful to us and be courageous. Many scholars have mulled over the meanings of Irish and Celtic triads. This particular one is Irish, to fit in with the flavour of my witchcraft style, and I find it easier to understand if you think of it in terms of what you can do rather than what you shouldn’t.

Everything is achievable if you employ common sense and ambition. The first step to completing a task is believing you can do it. That’s not enough of course; you must work hard, plan where necessary and garner help when one person is not enough. But if you believe something is impossible, then it will become so. It is very easy to talk yourself out of something because it has become difficult. It is also easy to allow others to talk you out of something because in their perception, you are attempting the impossible. Trust your instincts. Go with your gut. Above all, have faith that you would not feel your task was achievable without good reason.  Belief in oneself is not airy-fairy or new age; it is confidence and it is necessary for all witchcraft. If you dither, you will not achieve your desired outcome. If you are foot-sure you will surely succeed.

I wouldn’t agree that grieving over the irretrievable is pointless; grief is natural and part of the process of moving on. But we should not cling to that which is no longer with us. And we definitely shouldn’t try to hold onto things which are bad for us. It’s easy to think of this part of the triad in terms of death and loss. Try and take it to a smaller level. A task you failed to achieve; do you berate yourself constantly for it? Are you endlessly mad at yourself, going over and over what you could have done differently? It will be a different life before you can see that particular task again, if ever. You have two options; try again a different day, having learned from your errors. Or leave it and move on. Endlessly fretting will harm you, taking up valuable psychic and physical energy which could be spent doing other, more productive things. Every witch must learn at some point that you can’t concentrate on something good when there is rubbish floating around the back of your head. Think of it as wiping the kitchen table before you prepare to cook. Your mind, your brain is the source of your intent. Just like the food in the dirty kitchen, how can your intent be pure when you have filled your mind with despair and worry? Let it go.

The triad finally tells us not to fear the inevitable. Again, we are moved to consider death, and indeed most of those I know on a Celtic path consider death simply another step along a journey. A movement through the veil that separates the world we see on a day to day basis from the world of the fae. This may be a passing visit beyond the veil only to return in another incarnation. Or it may be a permanent move, depending on how much you have learned on this side of the veil. But death is not the only inevitability in this life. Indeed, there are so many things we can never be sure of or control; the weather, the actions of others and the behaviour of our chosen gods or spirits, just to name a few. So be confident in what you can change, let go of what you can’t and do not be afraid to do nothing. Truly, if you rail against the inevitable or that which is outside of your control, you are wasting energy that could be better used for tasks that are achievable. Witchcraft is a collection of skills and the manipulation of magic, but it cannot achieve everything, nor should you expect it to. Be at peace with that which you cannot change, but be secure in the knowledge that you will damn well fight for what you need when the opportunity arises! The Celtic witch is a warrior and a sage, and as I continue this work I will try and show you how you can be both, and more, in the context of our modern world.


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6 Comments to “A Witch on a Celtic Path”

  1. Manon says:

    Great read. Looking forward to more.

  2. Candace Haydon says:

    I just “stumbled” across this and I absolutely LOVE it! I AM a Celtic Witch and have been for 50 years or so. I come from a Celtic ancestry, so it was what I was taught and what I had great interest in. Your words are wonderful and this book is going to be a delightful teaching tool for new Witches just starting out. I’m heading to Amazon to see if the book is available there because it’s 2018 now, four years after your post. II shall be following you with great interest and opportunity to learn more. You never stop learning. Bravo and many blessings. Candy

  3. Kate Killian says:

    This spoke to my soul💚💚

  4. old guy says:

    Loved the read and have another ebook for your consideration ” The Celtic Wisdom of Ogmois “. This short read show the Beauty of the Celtic Mind.

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