As a reconstructionist religion, Gaelic Polytheism looks to scholarly, historical, and archaeological sources to help inform its worldview, beliefs and religious expression, along with heavy reference of historical folklore and surviving folk practices and traditions.
As a living religion, Gaelic Polytheism looks at what was and reconciles it with what is and can be: That is, Gaelic Polytheists are part of a current, contemporary expression of an old religion, and recognize that some pre-Christian cultural and religious practices can’t be reconstructed or revived in the present day – say, human sacrifice or slavery. It’s not like we want to, either. Sometimes what is long gone should stay gone.
Times have changed, and so as a living religion we find a way to express ourselves in a context that’s still culturally appropriate to the gods we honor in the present day. Just as we don’t live in the past, neither do our gods. This means that we look to contemporary (or recent, historical) survivals in folk tradition, which have evolved in a fairly secular context, or with only a thin veneer of Christianity, to help inform our practices and establish a religious expression that is respectful and mindful of the cultural continuum our gods exist in.
As a lifeway, Gaelic Polytheism embraces a worldview and cosmology that permeates and informs everything we do: What we believe, what our values are, and – in turn – how we interact with the world around us, and how we might express ourselves.
As a polytheistic religion (the clue’s in the name), Gaelic Polytheism is a religion that honors many deities. Although the focus is on the gods of the Gaels – from what’s now known as Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man – this doesn’t mean that Gaelic Polytheists don’t believe in, or disregard, the gods and goddesses of other cultures. Most do, and we might sometimes respectfully participate in interfaith events and occasions where the deities (or deity), spirits, and ancestors of other cultures are reverenced.
There are lots of different types of polytheism, but in our case we might say we’re “hard polytheists.” This means that Gaelic Polytheists see deities as distinct and individual beings, with their own personalities and character. They are different from one another, and from the gods and goddesses of other cultures, even though we might find deities of similar names amongst our culturally Celtic cousins – Lugus in Gaul, Llew in Wales, and Lug (or Lugh) in Ireland, for example. Although there may be clear similarities between them, the different places, the different languages, and different cultures all affect the way in which the gods are perceived, experienced, and interacted with (as shown by the differences in religious practice and mythologies concerning them, for example).
As an animistic religion, Gaelic Polytheism takes the view that pretty much everything has some kind of spirit or spiritual essence, be it a place, an object, or a living being. Some of these spirits are more easily recognized and interacted with than others, having what we might think of as some kind of consciousness or awareness that we can understand and communicate with more readily. Not all of the spirits we might encounter will feel particularly friendly towards us or want anything to do with us, but whatever the case, Gaelic Polytheists aim to be respectful of the spirits we share our environment with, or might otherwise encounter.
As an ancestor-venerating religion, Gaelic Polytheism also focuses on honoring our ancestors. The ancestors, together with the gods and spirits, might collectively be referred to as Na Trí Naomh or An Trì Naomh (“The Sacred Three” in Irish and Gaelic, respectively). Or else we might call them the dé ocus andé, or “gods and ungods,” a phrase found in Old Irish, which seems to refer the the gods and… everything or everyone else who isn’t divine but is still worthy of addressing. Some Gaelic Polytheists interpret the andé to mean “spirits and ancestors,” but either way these collective terms can be useful because there are often very blurred boundaries between gods, spirits, and ancestors. According to some genealogies, some families may have a deity or two in their lineage, and so it would be appropriate for those descendants to honor them as both a deity and ancestor, for example.
We can also include heroes and other notable historical (or perhaps mythological) figures under the label of “ancestor” if we feel they are worthy of our respect and should be included in being honoured. Although they may not be literal ancestors, they might be thought of as ancestors of our “spiritual heritage” so to speak. We might also include people who’ve meant a great deal to us in life, but who’ve now passed on; for many of us, “family” is as much a matter of choice as it is a matter of genetics or blood – something that’s relevant to all of us, but perhaps especially to those of us who are adopted, or have found themselves disowned or disaffected from their own kin.
As an earth-honoring religion, Gaelic Polytheists view the land as sacred. This is partly because we see our gods as being a part of the landscape (although they are not just of the landscape) as much as we might encounter spirits of the land, and so we should do our part in co-existing in a way that’s sensitive and respectful to this face. But it’s also because the land around us has been shaped – for better or worse – by our ancestors, who are also important to us. The land around us has lessons for us to learn, and it is our responsibility to care for, and to respect our environment – our sacred landscape – because what we do to it will form a legacy for our descendants, too.
As a traditional religion, much of our ceremonial or ritual practice is underpinned by the making of offerings. Offerings, along with prayer, are the fundamental cornerstones of Gaelic Polytheist practice, as it is for most traditional religions. Along with prayer, offerings are a means of showing our respect, articulating our thanks, and opening the lines of communication with the gods, spirits and ancestors. They can also help protect us against unwanted or dangerous influences (spirits who might wish us harm, or at least cause us a bad headache), or invite blessings.
As a natural part of being a traditional religion, Gaelic Polytheism is also largely communal as well. This doesn’t mean that Gaelic Polytheism can’t be practised on an individual basis – plenty of Gaelic Polytheists do, either by necessity or preference. However, a community can be a great guide and support to individuals when a little help is needed. It can also help make sure that the vulnerable don’t get taken advantage of, but most of all a community can provide the checks and balances that are often needed to make sure that everyone stays grounded. Alone, it’s easy for the individual to fall into delusional thinking, whether it’s through inexperience or ignorance, ego, or being led astray by spirits who don’t have your best interests to heart.
As a respectful and hospitable religion, Gaelic Polytheists should give care and consideration to other religions and other people. All of this feeds into the fact that values (or virtues) such as honor and hospitality are important to Gaelic Polytheists. Our practices are often rooted in the concept of hospitality and reciprocity, whether it’s in centring our celebrations around feasting and providing generously for our guests, or in giving offerings of thanks to the gods, or to the spirits of a place.