Tuatha De Danann - Carn T, Cairn Loch Craobh, Sliabh na Cailli, Loch Craobh, An Mhi, Cúige Laighean, Eire
Tuatha Dé Danann – Carn T, Cairn Loch Craobh, Sliabh na Caillí, Loch Craobh, An Mhí, Cúige Laighean, Éire (Íomhá: Séamas Ó Sionnaigh 2009)

Militant atheist and secularist though I am I still respect religious beliefs as a vital component to the cultural heritage and identity of countless peoples and nations around the globe. Far too often non-believers find it necessary to denigrate the practices of faith adhered to by believers. This is simply a form philistine atheism. There is a beauty and an integrity to religious traditions that one should cherish. They form part of the greater whole of Human civilization which belongs to and enriches the lives and intellects of us all.

In an Irish context, despite my antipathy to the Christian faiths, I still enjoy the architectural beauty of many church buildings or admire the devotion of those who make the long walk up Sliabh Mis or suffer the purgatory travails of Loch Dearg. Why on earth would one belittle such customs or such experiences? Are they any less valid than the desire of those who follow their own traditions by pilgrimaging to some far away destination, be it an Ibiza club or a New York department store? We each of us seek our own form of solace, be it spiritual, social or retail.

Such is the human condition.

Therefore I embrace the traditions of my pre-Christian Celtic ancestors as much as I can – or as much as one can given the limitations of the sources of information available. When asked my religion I have always replied none. When pressed by those who insist that something must have come before nothing I reply that my faith is that of the Fiannaíocht. I could, I suppose, just as easily have stated that my faith is the Creidheamh Sí, a more recent label for a many-faceted thing. In any case tradition, more than belief, is what I respect. Unfortunately in this shallow and venal dystopian republic of ours believing in anything Irish, anything of Ireland, is frowned upon. Or ridiculed. Unless it comes from the mouth and pen of a poet. And even he or she must, perforce, toe the official line: such things are of our past, not of our present or future. Some argue that the great concrete furrow that scars the many-hedged fields and woods around Teamhair na Rí, spouting modernity and fumes, was a test for we contemporary Gaels. If so it was a test we failed.

In any case, via Kathryn Nic Dhàna, the folklorist and ethnologist Dr. Jenny Butler discusses the living tradition of the Creideamh Sí below.

7 comments on “An Creideamh Sí

  1. “…despite my antipathy to the Christian faiths…” Not sure what you find to be hostile to Christianity. What is in Christianity or the Christian faith that you find to be antipathetic to? Could it be that what you find wrong in that faith is not really Christianity at all? Christianity as defined by Christ is two things: Love God completely and love your neighbour as your self. The fact that people do not live up to these principles is hardly a reason to dismiss them. Or is it?

    • My antipathy (though that is probably too strong a word) stems from the belief that Ireland could possibly have fared better without the importation of the Christian religion. That is not to dismiss the great historical contributions that Christianity made to the enrichment of Irish culture. The world would be a poorer place without the likes of the Book of Kells or Great Crosses. But that came with much harm to our indigenous culture and traditions. Given the choice I would swap the Tuatha Dé for the Íosa Críost. One speaks to me, the other does not. Then again I am an atheist so my approach is mostly cultural rather than spiritual (though stand on the Sliabh na Caillí and one is imbued with spirituality, albeit little to do with any of the “Desert Religions”).

      Of course if we never experienced the establishment of the Christian monastic centres of learning would any of the older Celtic religious beliefs survived at all, however carefully reworked and censored?

      I certainly don’t dismiss Christianity, I hope I made that clear. Or any other faith. On the contrary. It is not for me but it is for many others and its roots are now sunk deep into the cultural soil of this island-nation. Even if somewhat withered of late.

      The sentiment “love your neighbour as yourself” is a very fine one and applies to people of faith and no faith alike.

      Of course the post was a personal one and more about following the old traditions of our people, where admittedly the entanglement between Christian and Celtic is an almost symbiotic one. Few believe in that any more. We live in an age of cultural death. Or in the hands of the modern Irish, self-death.

      Perhaps with the fall of the Church (with a capital “C”) people might find other avenues of spirituality? New and old.

      • As an atheist that’s fair enough, as you deny the existence of God. For me that would be an incredible hopeless and purposeless situation. I do not understand how there can be a spirituality of any kind without a spirit of some sort. That Spirit is I guess the activity of what I call God! But as you say to each his own!

        • Well in some places one can have a sort of “genius loci”, a feeling of spirituality created by the specific environment, history or culture of a place. Teamhair na Rí is an intensely spiritual place for me because of all three of those reasons. Kilmainham Gaol has a similar effect though that stems largely from one’s knowledge of its history. I went to Teach an Phiarsaigh in Ros Muc on a balmy, misty-blue summer’s afternoon such as only Conamara can provide when I and my then partner were the only visitors and both of us, because of our beliefs, its associations and history, and its beautiful location, were profoundly moved. When my ex-girlfriend (another atheist) crawled into the great burial mound at Sliabh na Caillí she burst into tears. Tell me that is not spiritual 😉

          One does not need to be a Roman Catholic to mourn the passing of the tradition of the Crois Bríde or the wish to see it brought back to prominence once again in our schools and broader culture 🙂

  2. Sharon Douglas

    Brilliant, absolutely brilliant! I am not certain I have agreed with a blog post more, ever. I often struggle to explain my belief system to others. I cannot thank you enough, Séamas!

    • GRMA, a Sharon. It was one of my more personal postings since it represents a lot of what I believe in or hold to be important. The idea that one cannot be a spiritual person while being a non-believer stems from a too narrow definition of spiritual. Last weekend I was out for a walk (hike!) in a local forest with my mother and her cross-breed Westie and we came across a magnificent, sky-scraping tree, one I didn’t recognise. Certainly not a native broadleaf. It radiated life and vitality and had probably stood there for a century or more. There is something intensely spiritual in such situations and there is no need to reference some other divine force. Mother nature herself is enough 😉

      • I believe that spirituality is of its nature infinite (without limit) thus the term “limited spirituality” is to my mind “Contradictio in terminis” or an oxymoron. (I believe it is infinite because in my belief terms it is, albeit human, a participation in the life of God, whom we cannot comprehend but can know!) Good grief I’m getting deep now! 😉

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