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Celtic Words & Terms

Aberffraw: The ancient royal seat of Wales on the isle of Ynys Mon (Anglesey). Today, some Celtic witches like to ust the name as a synonym fot the Other-world.

Adbertos: Literally means "sacrifice" and was part of the Celtic religious and community world-view. Rather than the negative connotation given to its English counterpart, adbertos was a positive idea denoting the giving to others, to the clan, and to the larger community as well as the deities. The Celts saw the giving or receiving of sacrifice as being inherent in every living moment. This is a very old word which came to the British Isles and Brittany from Celtic Gual.

Aileach: A ruined fortress in Ulster which is said to have been built by the Tuatha De Danann.

Alba: A name for the land which is now known as Scotland.

Albion: An lold Greco-Celtic name for Britain, one which is still used poetically today. It is believed to be derived from the Latin word albus meaning "white" and reffering to the famous cliffs of Dover.

All-Power: A term which is used when reffering to the great power, or life source, of which the Goddess and God are both a part.

Anglesey: An Island off the north coast of Wales which was a major Druidic center at the peak of Celtic domination in Britain.

Annwn or Annwfn: Another name for the Celtic Otherworld, sometimes often called Avalon in England.

Ard-Ri: An Irish or Scottish High King. Also spelled Ard-Righ and Ard-Ridh.

Armor: The original Celtic name for Brittany which means "on the sea."

Armorica: The Latin name for Brittany.

Athame: The ritual knife often associated with the element of air and the direction of the east, though some traditions attribute it to fire and the south. The knife is known in circles as a dagger, dirk, or scian.

Balefire: The traditional communal bonfire of the Sabbats. The name comes from the Anglo Saxon word Boon meaning "gift" or something extra.

Bards or Bardoi: The Bards were a class of Druid who were the poets and singers that kept alive waluable oral traditions through song. These songs were called "cetel in Ireland and lay in Brittany. They could also be used as magickal spells to curse or bless those who they were directed at.

Bealtaine or Beltane: This Sabbat is celebrated on May 1st. It is rife with fertility rituals and symbolimsm, and is a celebration of the sacred marriage of the Goddess and God.

Bodhran: The traditional goat skin drum used in Celtic music and ritual.

Brehon: Called Breithamhain in Old Irish, these were the judges of the old Celtic world whose decisions were held in high regard. The Brehon Laws were the law codes which governed old ireland.

Breiz: The native name of the Bretons' Celtic language, also called Brezonek.

Bretagne: The French name for Brittany.

Breton: The name for a person from Brittany, that Celtic part of France where the population has always considered itself more Celtic than French.

Brezonek: The Celtic/Brythonic language of Brittany still spoken today as a first or second language of over a million Bretons.

Brythonic: One of the Celtic language groups; also a name used to refer to the Pagan tradtions of Wales, Cornwall, and England.

Burgh: The grassy hillocks of Ireland, Scotland, and Man under which the faeries live.

Burning Times: Refers to the times from the Spanish Inquisiton through the last outburst of persecution and witch killings in the mid nineteenth century. Although the murderous persecutions began as early as the twelfth century. The last known capital sentance for witchcraft in the West took place in Scotland in the early 1800s. Figures vary on how many were killed during this hysteria, estimates range anywhere from fifty thousand to as many as nine million.

Cailleach: In Scots and Irish Gaelic tis literally means Old Woman. At one time it was a term used reverently to refer to the Crone Goddess.

Cairn: The stone burial mounds used by the Celts. They were honored at Mabon. So sacred were these mounds that a breed of dog, the Cairn Terrier was developed to protect them.

Caledonia: The old Roman name for Scotland, still used poetically today.

Carmina Gadelica: A collection of Gaelic lyric poetry and lore with a Pagan emphasis, collected from oral sources in the late nineteenth century by musicologist and folklorist Alexander Carmichael. It is also a primary source for knowledge about Celtic folk magick. This work compares with the famous Carmina Burana in scope.

Cauldron: Linked to witchcraft in popular mind, this is a primal Goddess image used like a chalice or cup. In many of the mythological stories of Ireland and Britain the cauldron is symbolic of the womb of the Mother Goddess in which all life begins, ends, and regenerates. The Irish word is coire and Welsh is pair.

Ceilidh: A Scottish or Irish dance. The word literally means visit.

Celtic Lands: The areas of the world which are still populated by the decendants of the Celts are well known to most: England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Brittany. Before and during their scattered migration to these places the Celts had flourishing Kingdoms in numerous places in Europe and the Middle East. Gual, in western coastal Europe, is the best known of these. Other strongholds included Galatia in central Turkey, Galacia in northwestern Spain, Gallia Cisalpina nestled between the Alps and the Appennine mountains in central Europe, and numerous smaller settlements in what are now the countries of Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and southern France.

Ceol: Irish and Scottish Gaelic word for music.

Chalice: The chalice or cup is a ritual tool representing water and the west, and it is also representative of the femanine principle of creation.

Chaplet: A crown worn on the head and usually made of flowers and worn at Beltane. Chaplets can also be made of vines and other natural material.

Circles of Being: In Druidic philosophy both the macrocosm and microcosm are devided into three circles of being. The inner circle is Abred, the middle is Gweynfyd, and the outer most is Ceugant. The inner most circle is often represented by the magick circle wherein all magick and ritual is performed.

Clan: The extended family system of the Celts. Originally clans were united by being decended from a single female ancestor, but by the third century C.E. that had been largely supplanted by a male ancestor. The clan raised children, built cities, provided education, had an internal justice system connected to the larger political region in which they lived, and formed armies for mutual protection.

Clas Myrddin: The ancient name for Britain. It literally means "Merlins Enclosure."

Coibche: An Irish word for dowry, or marriage portion.

Coming of Age Ritual: At age thirteen for boys, and at the time of a girls first menstral cycle, Pagan children are considered to be spiritual adults. They join with other Pagans to celebrate their new maturity with rituals and parties and are permitted full membership in covens. This is also the time when ritual tools are given to them as gifts, or else the are allowed to choose their own.

Cromach: A Scottish walking stick with a crooked handle similar to an Irish shillelagh.

Crone: The aspect of the Goddess that is represented by the old woman. She is symbolized by the waning moon, the carrion crow, the cauldron, and the color black. Her Sabbats are Mabon and Samhain.

Cross Quarter Days: A name given to the Sabbats when they do not fall on the solstices of equinoxes.

Cruachan, Cave of: The Irish name of the entrance to the Otherworld. In the Christian mythology of the islands this became disparagingly known as the "Gateway to Hell."

Cumdach: A lavishly ornamented shrine, usually used as a resting place for sacred of illuminated books.

Curragh: The animal skin covered skiffs mentioned in myths and which are still used today in rural Ireland and Scotland.

Cyfarwydd: The Welsh word for "storyteller." The traveling cyfarwydd was an integral part of the social structure of the Celtic world, and was largely responsible for the survival of the oral traditions. Also see Seanachai.

Cymraeg: The name of the Welsh language. It comes from the word Cymru which means Wales.

Cywydd: A form of native Welsh poetry which came into fashion around the fifth century and dominated Welch writing until the eighteenth century.

Deosil: The act of moving in a clock wise motion. This is the traditional direction one works in for creative magick. Also called Sunwise.

Dolmen: The standing stones of the Celtic countries which are shaped like altars with one large capstone being upheld by two endstones. It is also called a Cromlech.

Elements: The four elements once thought to make up the entire universe. These are Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and the fifth element of pure spirit in, of and outside them all. Each Pagan tradition has their own tools, directions, and correspondences.

Ellan Vannin: The Manx name for the Isle of Man.

Eric: The quest of honor similar to the honor vow known as the geise.

Esbat: The monthly Pagan holy time which coincides with the full moon. The word is from the French esbattre meaning to frolic.

Feis: Once meaning a gathering for Brehon judgemnet, but today means a dance contest of a Celtic games competition. A feis was often a reason for holding a fair.

Fili: The Old Irish word means "poet" or "bard", and is often erroneously used in place of the word "Druid." However, the word means a specific division of specification of Druidic practice.

Fir Fer: The rules which governed Celtic battle. The Gaelic words mean "fair play."

Fleadh Aise: Literally the "Feast of Age", an annual celebration feast of the Tuatha De Danann sometimes commemorated by Irish Pagans at Lughnasadh.

Four Cities of the Tuatha: In Irish mythology these were the four cities of the Tuatha De Danann: Gorius, Falius, Findias, and Murias. While these have mystic significance, they have been the subject of many irresponsible and uninformed interpretations over the centuries by systems not related to any native Celtic magickal tradition.

Gaeltacht: A modern term denoting an area of the Celtic world where the language and customs of the Celtic people is preserved and used on a regular basis.

Geimhreadh: This means "winter" in Irish which is one of the two reccognized Celtic seasons. It begins at Samhain.

Golden Statute, The: The first known law declaring universal freedom of religion, enacted in Ireland in late Celtic times.

Great Rite, The: Also known as "Sacred Marriage." The symbolic sexual union of the Goddess and the God which is enacted at Bealtaine in most traditions, and at other Sabbats in many others. It symbolizes the primal act of creation from which all life comes. The sexual union is symbolized by ritually placing the athame, inside the chalice of cauldron, a womb symbol.

Grounding: To disperse excess energy generated during a magickal rite by sending it into the earth. It can also mean the process of centering ones self in the physical world both before and after any ritual.

Gwlad Yr Haf: This is one ot the names for the Welsh Otherworld, or Land of the Dead. It translates as "The Land of Summer" and is the origin of the Wiccan Land of the Dead known as Summerland. It is also one in the same as Annwyn, of the Druidic traditions.

Handfasting: This is the Rite of Pagan marriage, traditionally contracted for a specific period of time depending on ones tradition. It is renewed only if both parties agree. In Old Irish the word for handfasting is lanamnas. Within the Druidic traditions this was usually an eternal vow taken with a soul mate.

Herbalism: The art of using herbs to facilitate human needs both magickally and medicinally.

Hibernia/Ivernia: The old Roman name for Ireland, still used poetically today.

Hywel Dda, Laws of: Welsh legal system equivelant to the "Brehon Laws" of Ireland, named for the tenth century king who united Wales.

Imbolg: Also known as Imbolc, Oimelc, and Candlemas. It is observed on February 2, and is a day which honors the Virgin, Goddess as the youthful bride of the returning Sun God.

Invocation: The act of drawing the aspect of a deity into ones physical self. The rite of drawing down the moon is an example.

Iona, Isle of: A center of Druid teaching and gathering in the Hebrides Islands off the west coast of Scotland. In the sixth century, St. Columbus turned the island into a large center for Christian worship and study. Today many Catholics make pilgrimages to Iona to pray to St. Columbus. "In my opinion this was the emergence of Catholicism from Christianity caused by the merging of Druidism and Christianity."

Keltoi: The Greek name for the ancient Celts. Greek writings give us our first glimpse into the culture of the Celtic people dating from around 700 BCE.

Kernewek: A native name for the Cornish language.

Kernow: The Cornish name for Cornwall.

Law of Responsibility, The: This is an often repeated corollary to the other laws of Paganism. It simply means that if you inadvertantly violate someones free will or harm them in any way, you will accept responsibility for your actions and seek to make restitution. This, of course, does not apply in cases where you have used magick to protect yourself from someone seeking to harm you. Also see "Pagan Rede".

Lia Fail: "The Stone of Destiny", which was used in the crowning of the High Kings of Ireland. Many regard it as the Irish equivelant of Excaliber from the Arthurian Myths.

Libation: A portion of food or drink ritually given to a deity, nature spirit, or discarnate.

Lughnasadh: Also known as Lammas and August Eve. This Sabbat celebrates the first harvest. The date is August 1 or 2 depending upon your tradition.

Mabon: A Sabbat named for a Welsh God associated with the Arthurian myth cycles. This is the Sabbat observed at the Autumn Equinox and celebrates the second harvest, wine, and balance.

Mantle: A cloak worn by the Celts whose color, fabric, and condition was often an outward sign of a persons rank or positon in society. Also a vestment of power, hence the Celtic expression "inheriting the mantle." A mantle is often reffered to as a kersey in Scotland.

Megaliths: The large standing stones of the Celtic countries which were probably erected as holy sites or for astronomical observation points. Stonehenge, on Englands Salisbury Plain is the best known example of a surviving megalith.

Menhirs: The standing stones from Celtic countries wich are made of single stones or a circular series of stones. Menhir literally means "long stone," and surviving ones range in height from a few feet tall to as high as 64 feet tall. Brittany is famed for its many menhir circles.

Milesians: A cousin race of the Celts who came to Ireland from Spain, via Scotland, as early as 1500 BCE.

Monotheism: The belief in one supreme deity who has no other forms and displays no other aspects. Judaism and Islam are both monotheism.

Music Magick: Also known as Bard Magick. This is a spell created in song, a popular method used by the Celts.

Nemed: The name of one of the invader races of Ireland; also an old Irish word meaning "sacred space." The word is derived from the better known Gualish word nemeton.

Niam-Lann: A metallic headpiece worn like a thin crown or headband around the forehead. Often the front peice, which rested just above and between the eyes, cattied some emblem of religious significance.

Nine: A Celtic sacred number which represents the beggining and ending of all things. The square root of nine is three, the basic sacred number of the Celts.

Ogham: This was the ancient alphabet ot the Celtic people which consists of a series of marks in relationship to a center line. It is used today for both sacred writings and for divination.

Ostara: Also known as Eostra. The Sabbat observed at the Vernal Equinox, and often referred to as the Spring Equinox. This Sabbat celebrates balance and life renewed, but it was not a Sabbat for the old Celts until Saxons brought it to their attention around 600 CE. Ostara is named for the Teutonic Goddess Eostre and is symbolized by the egg.

Otherworld: Also known as Annwyn, Annwfn, Summerland, and Land of the Dead. Each Celtic tradition had its own euphemisms for this place. See names given above for more detail.

Pagan: This is an often misconstrued word. Deffinition of the word is "from the fields" and "hut dweller". In a generic sense the word means anyone who practices an earth or nature religion.

Pagan Rede, The: This is the basic tenet of witchcraft. "As ye harm none, do what thou will." The rede prohibits Pagans from doing any living creature harm, or from violating ones free will. It's origin is unknown.

Pantheism: The belief in many deities who are really one because they are all merely aspects of the single creative life source. Celtic Paganism is pantheistic.

Pantheon: The major deities in any religios system which make up the "whole" deity, or the complete power source.

Passing Over: A ritual observed when a loved one has died. Depending upon ones tradition this ceremony includes keening and candle lighting, feasting and revelry, sitting up with the body, ritualized farewell speeches, drinking, and storytelling. Also known or referred to as Wake.

Pentagram: The five-pointed star which has come to symbolize western Paganism. It is an ancient symbol with multiple meanings. It is always seen with its apex up. It can represent the four elements headed by the fifth element of spirit, or it can represent a human with its arms and legs spread to represent the creative principle over all creation. Satanic Cults often use the pentagram in an upside down fassion to show matter over spirit in much the same way that they pervert the meaning of the Christian cross.

Picts: A small, dark people who came to Scotland and northern Ireland before 2000 BCE. Their artwork and metal smithing was the basis for the crafts among the Celts.

Pobel Vean: The Cornish name for faery folk. The words literally mean "small people."

Polarity: Polarity means that everything has two sides or two forces within it that are not wholly seperate. For example, we can draw power from our Gods for either good or evil as these diverse powers are not contained in two separate entities, but in one.

Polytheism: The belief in the existence of many unrelated deities each with their own domination and interests who may have no spiritual or familial relationships to one another. Paganism is often erroneously characterized as polytheistic, but polytheism does not acknowledge a single source or force of creation, as most Pagans do.

Rath: A circular earthen fortress sometimes outlined with rocks. These ancient sites, found all over the Celtic lands, are sacred to the faeries and even today most natives of the region will not disturb them.

Sabbat: Any of the eight solar festivals or observances of the Pagan year. The word is derived from the Greek word "sabatu" meaning, rest. All sabbats begin at sundown on the eve before the dates given for them.

Sacra: The name used by Phoenician explorers of the sixth century.

Samhain: This is the Sabbat celebrated at what is now called Halloween, October 31. Samhain marked the beginning of winter for the Celts and was also their New Years DAy. It is a day to honor the Crone Goddess and the dying God who will be reborn at Yule. Samhain also marks the end of the harvest season.

Samhradh: Means summer in Irish GAelic, one ot the two recognized Celtic seasons. It begins at Beltaine.

Saxon Tradition: A Germannic tradition practiced by the people of Saxony. The Saxon path also shares some common elements with the Celtic traditions, including a veneration of trees. Their invasion of southern England brought their Pagan influence in contact with the Celts.

Seanachai: An Irish and Scottish word meaning "storyteller". The traveling seanachai was an integral part of the social structure of old Ireland, and was largely responsible for the survival of the oral traditions.

Shaman: Comes from the extinct Ural-Altaic language called Tungus. They are the priests and medicine men of old tribal societies worldwide. Shamans or Shamankas, the feminine form, practiced in every known culture, and many are still active today. In many vernaculars the native word for shaman roughly translates into "walker between the worlds." In Celtic terms, Shamanic traditions are thought to relate to the stellar, or heavenly/planetary deities, as opposed to the deities of the earth and her functions.

Sith and Sidhe: Literally means, "faerie." Also Daoine Sidhe and Sidhe. This name is generally applied to all the faery races of Ireland and Scotland. The original word Sidhe meant piece, and Celtic faeries are sometimes euphemistically called "The People of Piece."

Tanaiste: A successor to an Irish king who was elected during the lifetime of his predecessor, and whose duty it was to protect the throne and its holdings.

Tara: The palace and hill names Tara in the County Meath was the home of the High Kings of Ireland. A gathering place for the Druids. A spiritual center, and the seat of old Irish law. The name Tara comes from the Irish Tea-Mur meaning the "burial place of Tea," one of the Goddess who cofounded Tara.

Theurgy: A word meaning the magick of union of a human being with a devine force. Invocation is an example. Is usually performed when seeking devine power. Not common practice!

Three Fold Law, The: The only karmic principle of Celtic Paganism. It states that any energy released by the by the caster either positive or negative will return three times over. Also called the Pagan Rede or Law of Responsibility.

Tirn Aill: Literally means "Other Land." Another name for Tir Nan Og.

Tir Non Og: Land of the Forever Young. This is the Irish Land of the Dead, or the Otherworld. Tir Nan Og is the land to which the Irish faeries known as the Tuatha de Danann (Too-ah day Thay-nan, or Tootha day danan) flead when their lands were taken by the Milesians. In Tir Nan Og they spend their days feasting, gaming, love-making and partaking of beautiful music. The faeries can even enjoy the thrill of battle, for anyone slain is resurected the following day. It is the paradise that mortals can only dream of.

Torque: A neck piece worn by Celts of high rank. Several have been excavated and have been found to be made of precious metals and embellished with jewels and Celtic desings.

Touta: A clan which was in fact a small chiefdom. This word is used in some Druidic circles in place of the term coven or grove. It differs from a clan because those who meet regularly in a touta do not have to be related in any way.

Transcendent Deity: A God or Goddess who is seen as dwelling outside, rather than inside, humanity. A non-invocable deity.

Transmigration: The Druidic belief that the life essence or soul of a living thing would pass immediately from their old vessel into a new lifeform after their physical death.

Tree Calendar, Celtic: The system of reckoning the thirteen lunar months of the year by assigning each a sacred tree which represents the character of the month.

Triple Goddess: The one Goddess in all of her three aspects: Maiden, Mother, and Crone. This triple theme of feminine deity has been found in nearly every known culture on the planet. She is represented by the three phases of the moon; waxing, full, and waning. There are also a few known male triplicities.

Triplicity: Sometimes called a Triad, trio, triune, or triple, this is a word used to indicate a devine threesome which is really one being with three faces. Triplicities are very common amoung the Celts and are often seen in many of their philosophies.

Triscale or Triskele: A Celtic symbol used by the Druids to represent the sacred number three. It was a cirlce devided into three equal spaces separated by swirling lines which radiate out from the center.

Tuatha De Dannan: Tuatha Dé Danann, were a race of people (descended from the goddess Danu) responsible for all the tales of fairies that Ireland is famous for telling. They were said to be adept in magic and, because of this, were banished from heaven. They possessed four talismans of great power: the stone of Fal which shrieked under the true heir to the throne; the spear of Lug which made victory certain; the sword of Nuadu which slays all enemies; and the ever full cauldron of Daghda from which no man ever goes away hungry. They came to Ireland where they were forced to go into hiding when that country was invaded by the Milesians, forefathers of today's Irishmen.

Tumulus: A particular type of cairn which contains an underground chamber and ritual space where death rituals took place. A tumulus is also referred to as a barrow.

Wake: A quintessentially Irish Passing Over ritual still used among the Irish today regardless of their religious affiliations. It is believed the wake grew out of an older Irish ceremony called, "fled cro-lighe," the feast of the death bed. Also seen as the Irish death ritual.

Wheel of the Year, The: A conceptualization of the eternal cycle of time. In Pagan mythology the Goddess turns the Wheel of the Year bringing everything to its season. The Wheel of the Year is symbolized by either a wreath, a ring, a snake holding its tail in its mouth, or an eight spoked wheel.

Widdershins: This is a Teutonic word meaning to go backwards or counter clock wise. It was used to banish, diminish, or counter some negative force.

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