A Quest for Celtic Identity

by Aloha Brown

Comedian Flip Wilson's character Geraldine would say amusingly: "The devil made me do it!"

Suppose instead, your ancestors, an action, an emotion, a thought, a talent made you "do it". Sherlock Holmes told Dr. Watson that he believed we are every ancestor we have had. That premise intrigued me for years. Finally, I decided to look for traces of me among my ancestors, the Celts. I think Joseph Campbell, mythologist, would have called my search a quest.

The Celts were Aryan or Indo-European people who went from the Middle East and southwestern Russia through central Europe, northern Italy, and Gaul, westward through Iberia (Spain) and Armorica (Brittany) to the British Isles. In modern times, we find their descendants in larger concentrations in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Brittany.

In 390 B. C., the Celts attacked Rome and ruled for five years. Also, they sacked the great temple at Delphi in Greece. However, they hated urban life and preferred relative seclusion. They developed a grain that was superior in quantity and quality for their times, and it was traded on the world market so they had contact with the outside world.

Although considered "different", the Celts were noted for their keen minds and acumen in many areas. In addition, they were loyal, fearless, and restless...with a wanderlust quality. My father loved us, but he couldn't stay in one place for long. My parents were divorced before I was three, and he left Ohio. By that time, he was an alcoholic, and I thought he left because he loved us and was protecting us from him. Years later, I discovered I was right.

Mother was a pragmatist, and daddy was a dreamer, qualities which exist side by side in Celtic myths. From mother I learned responsibility and efficiency. From daddy I inherited an attraction to adventure and an affinity for the intangible, unseen by my blue-green eyes but felt instead.

Celtic Bards, minstrel poets, were high in the Celtic social order. In my forties, I resumed teaching high school English and in my golden years, I am a writer, a playwright, and a poet.. One of my sons writes poetry.

The Celts had no religious dogma. There was a sacredness for all existence. Their "Other World" was not a remote and perfect Heaven, and they did not worship gods/goddesses or icons in human form as did the Greeks and Romans. Some analysts/historians think that the "Other World" was a higher level of consciousness. There was no sense of death ending life but simply life's changing or transforming itself to another form, a balance of creation and destruction which kept the universe stable. Christianity became the main religion in most Celtic strongholds eventually. I am a humanist because, for some reason, I was never comfortable with traditional theologies. This discomfort was not an environmental influence for I began to question religion as a child.

Family groupings were close in the Celtic tribes, and they settled their differences among themselves. This reminded me of my mother's huge family, similar to a clan. Honesty, loyalty, love, resourcefulness, and responsibility were qualities that a member was expected to practice. Mental agility to the best of one's ability was assumed. Always, in my family, as with the Celts, there was a sense of humor...and laughter. Each of my three children, who were raised in the Northeast, has a well developed sense of humor and a sharp wit.

Throughout Celtic history there existed such native qualities as: creativity, "gift of the blarney", importance of free will, fondness for alcohol—and with women, second sight. Grandma, the matriarch, was a creative story-teller, and Daddy, also of Celtic background, was the Prince of the Storytellers with the gift of the blarney. Although he never saw his grandfather, second son Sean is built like my father, looks like him, and eerily has a personality like his. Sean works in TV production. I was involved in theater in Manhattan for almost ten years. Older son Ted and daughter Gwyneth are creative as well.

Dorothy Burnham, author, wrote, "She's got that fey look as though' she's had breakfast with a leprechaun." That describes my great-grandmother, Ma who was the matriarch in her time. I began having psychic experiences or extra-sensory perception at age five. I can't explain it; it happens.

In Celtic myths, women were honored as much for their minds as for their bodies. They were equal to men, and in some cases they were superior. They could own property, give counsel, ride chariots, fight and lead battles, and dispose of lives. Women’s sexual needs were as legitimate as men's.

Queen Maeve, a favorite heroine, said, "I am never without one man being with me in the shadow of another." When my female cousins complained to Grandma that the double sex standard did not apply to me by the adults in our family, she smiled and replied, "She's different." I was a child feminist! For many years as much as I could have advocated and fought for equal rights for females, not a popular position in past days.

In the seventies, I participated in a research study by Downstate Medical Center on Celtic genetics. Of all the people who participated, I had the most Celtic traits according to their hypothesis. The doctor who headed the study which involved laboratory experiments also, gave me the results by telephone. Here is what I remember of the conversation:

1. One of my grandparents or great-grandparents should be a twin. (My maternal grandfather was a twin.) 2. I should be ambidextrous. (I am ambidextrous.) 3. Many redheads should he in the family. (Mother had four redheaded siblings, and Daddy had a redheaded mother and four redheaded siblings I have redheaded cousins by the dozens!) 4, There should be many left-handed relatives. (There are.) I cannot remember the other traits I had. He said my records for several generations did not include one trait which the research team was sure that I had an ancestor from the original tribes of Israel.

Popeye's philosophy was "I yam what I yam, and that's all I yam!" It's my philosophy too. I hope my present and future grandchildren still want to know who and what they yam.

Works Cited

Caldecott, Moyra. Women in Celtic Myth. Rochester, Vt: Destiny Books, 1992.

"Celts - The Naked Warriors of Europe". Arts and Entertainment Network. New York, N.Y., 1995.

Markale, Jean. Women of the Celts. Rochester, Vt: Inner Tradition, 1986.

State University of New York Health and Science Center (formerly Downstate Medical Center). Brooklyn, N. Y., 1970's.