🧐 ROTA #2: Celtic shamanism and faeries
Hey folks, I hope you’re well! This is the second issue of Rhythm of the Ancients — thank you so much for joining me. This week, we’ll finish setting the foundation for the newsletter by discussing Celtic shamanism, then we’ll look at some interesting news in the world of archaeology and anthropology. Let’s get right into it!
🧐 Feature Article
I was born in London to an Irishman and an English woman. So when I began researching shamanism and the spiritual practices of my ancestors, I soon found myself learning about Celtic shamanism — or what’s left of it. And I’m not exaggerating when I say that it shifted my entire worldview. It has become the primary lens through which I now interpret the ancient world. So let’s start with some background.
The Celts reached prominence in central Europe in the 4th century BCE. They were comprised of many distinct tribes, but all were connected by racial and cultural similarities. They were a very spiritual, animistic people whose beliefs have been compared to the First Nations people of the North America. They were eventually conquered and absorbed by the Romans, but their customs and practices managed to survive to a degree — particularly in areas where the Romans did not invade, like Ireland, the Highlands of Western Scotland, and some parts of Wales. These customs and practices, however, came under further attack by Christianity, largely during the inquisition and witch trials.
As a result, what remains of Celtic culture is scant. It exists in the minds of old farmers in the fields of Killarney. It exists in the epic tales of Cuchullain and Finn McCool. And it exists in the myths of the sidhe and the tuatha de danann.
From this folklore, we’ve learned that shamanism was a fundamental part of Celtic culture. We also know many of their beliefs and practices. And according to Tom Cowan, author of A Fire in the Head, we even know a word that may have once been used for Celtic shamans: A “gaelt”, which essentially means “madman”.
But for me, there’s one nugget of truth from the folklore that stands out above the rest.
Generally speaking, when shamans discuss their otherworldly experiences, they speak of spirits. For me, as well as other Westerners I’ve spoken with, this was a foreign concept — something for which I had little context. But Celtic culture provided that context for me, in the form of fairies.
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Thanks in large part to Disney, talk of fairies will often evoke images of little Tinkerbells fluttering from one flower petal to another. But the Celtic understanding of fairies goes far, far beyond what we’ve seen from the hands of 20th century illustrators.
From a Celtic perspective, fairies are powerful entities which can be communicated with in a state of trance. And it appears as though these “fairies” were to the Celts as “spirits” are to shamans today.
In his book, Supernatural, Graham Hancock compares prehistoric cave art of 40,000 years ago to to the experiences of current-day people on psychedelics, and argues that these ancient artists were actually shamans documenting their otherworldly journeys. He then goes on to explore the many, many similarities these accounts (both ancient and contemporary) have with fairy lore. We’ll explore this further in the future, but for now, here are a few examples: Fairies are seen in altered states of consciousness like spirits, they look like spirits are described, they act like spirits are said to act, and the rules that govern their reality are strikingly similar to those of the spirit world. Hancock’s conclusions are fascinating, and completely in line with what we know about ancient Celtic beliefs and practices.
When this link between the fairies of folklore and the spirits of shamanism clicked for me, a couple of things happened. Fairies became more consequential. And shamanism became more familiar — more accessible. It started to fit into my worldview, rather than being something that needed to be squeezed into it. Because I’ve heard the folklore. I’ve read centuries-old accounts of the Fair Folk. Heck, I know people who claim to have seen fairies. I understand it.
And the ancients understood it too.
Regardless of whether you believe in fairies, they did. And their dealings with them — be they hallucinations or communications — shaped our world. But more on that another time.
🗞 Ancient Beat (news)
Lost Photos Suggest Europeans Were Mummifying Their Dead Far Earlier Than We Thought — Notable because this is the oldest known instance of mummification in Europe (8,000 BP), and possibly the world. Burial practices speak volumes about cultures and cultural advancement.
Stonehenge was an ancient time-keeping system, archaeologist says — Notable because of a proposed connection to Ancient Egypt. I believe I know what the calendar was used for, but I’ll get into that another time.
Study Suggests Venus of Willendorf Originated in Italy — Notable because this famous figurine may have traveled over (or around) the Alps from the Lake Garda region of northern Italy to reach the place where it rested for 30,000 years.
Archaeologists Find Evidence for 40,000-year-old Modern Culture in China — Notable because these discoveries support the theory that these ancient manufacturers were homo sapiens.
Archaeologists Find 5,000-Year-Old Bones Dyed Red in Huge Burial Mounds — Notable because it sheds light on ancient burial practices, and because the remains were probably of people who were not from the area (judging by height and genetics).
❤️ Recommended Content
Here’s a really interesting video on the stone giants of Aldworth Church by Megalithomania — larger-than-life statues of people who were supposed to have been giants. The most interesting thing to me was a story of “John Ever Afraid” who had to be buried in the wall of the church in order to save his soul — the wall being a liminal space between two worlds, much like the spaces where people have been said to access “fairyland”.
This video from Ancient Architects describes the Green Pyramids of Babeldaob, Palau — pyramids that I had never even heard of before.
Last week I shared a news article on a newly discovered 9,000-year-old site in Jordan. This video (again from Ancient Architects) dives deeper in to the topic. I feel certain that there is shamanic significance to this site — the model “desert kite” was likely used for ceremonial offerings and possibly as a way to divine certain aspects of the hunt.
That’ll do it for this week. Please reply to this email (or comment if you’re on my Substack) with questions, suggestions, or just to say hello. This newsletter is very much a work-in-progress, so I’d appreciate your input!
Until next time, thanks for joining me!
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