The Catholic Church are full of the drama lately that the Irish have reverted to Pagan beliefs, with the drive towards recognition of equality, basic human medical rights, and other such truly shocking things… but the reality is, we never REALLY gave up on our Pagan beliefs.
To get a good look at Irish Pagan Beliefs, there are three things we’ll need to take into account:
- historic pagan beliefs, ie, pre christian native spirituality
- the blend of christian and pagan beliefs through folklore and culture
- modern pagan beliefs, ie, neo pagan spirituality and organisation.
Briefly though, coz any of those things are an essay in their own right. We’ll keep it simple enough here.
Historic Pagan Beliefs in Ireland
One of the sources that is often cited for this topic, are Caesar’s writings on Gallic Druidism to Ireland. Now, that’s not really an accurate take on what would have been happening on the ground, on a daily basis, to be honest.
Celtic religion on the continent is better documented, in many ways, but you’ve got to remember that Ireland is an island. And quite removed from the continental Celtic culture, though it started with the same roots. Taking those roots and planting them here has led to a tree growing in Irish soil that is quite different to the parental rootstock, is all I’m saying.
Irish traditions through the ages took in any invaders and blended them with what was here already, a grafting if you like, to truly flog the tree metaphor. Blending is what we do, and we sort of stick to our own ways in the meantime. A bit stubbornly like.
It’s one of the reasons why it doesn’t really work to map our pantheon onto the structure or functionality of other pantheons either. Even Celtic deities don’t quite match up.
In brief though, we can get an idea, some basic concepts at least of the Irish Pagan beliefs, by tracking what we know about the root Celtic Religious beliefs, and what we have in our own native source material; archaeology, mythology and folklore.
- Birth, death and rebirth – the continuation of life through cycles.
- Reality and relevance of the Otherworld – not an ‘underworld’, but a whole other world or life that runs parallel to this one.
- The Otherworld being populated with an entire eco-system of beings, from gods and goddesses to noble or royal Sidhe (fairies) to elemental beings.
- Importance of meditation, or Journeying, between the worlds.
- People who had, or could develop, the skills to personify and share deep Wisdom – sacred or special, ‘occult’ (hidden) knowledge.
- Knowledge and understanding of magic, prophecy, and divination.
The Blend of Christian and Pagan Beliefs
Our written sources don’t really begin until the coming of Christianity, which was anytime between the 300s and the 600s CE [Common Era] in Ireland.
Despite what St. Patrick’s hagiographers would have you believe, it wasn’t all about him. Oh no.
As per the above mentioned tendency to take in any invaders and blend them with what was here already, Irish Pagan beliefs began to meld and blend with the quiet incoming flow of Christianity.
As the society and culture shifted, Druids were replaced in function by priests, and it would seem that many of them may have moved with the times and become priests or monks themselves.
This led to rather a lot of pure Pagan beliefs being subsumed into a Celtic Christian church, that then held a lot of beliefs and practices that the Roman Catholic church regarded as wrong, or even sinful.
Spotting a trend here? The roots from elsewhere were finding a fertile, but very different environment on this island, in which to grow and flourish.
Rome squished down a lot of that golden age growth, and we ended up with something very forced, unnatural, and toxic in its place, that has not been at all good for our people as they’ve held power over us.
But the Irish Pagan beliefs still held true in many of the folk ways and practices.
For example, holy well observances that are so very close to tending and utilising a sacred magical spring in Pagan terms. And our relationships with the Good Neighbours, the Other Crowd, the Sidhe or the Fairies, as ye might call them.
Sure, don’t even get me started on that.
Modern Pagan Beliefs
Paganism in Ireland has grown since the popularisation in the 1970s, in much the same way as it has elsewhere.
Well. Not quite the same maybe… there’s still that whole pattern of being given a thing and making it our own.
We’re a tribal lot still, you see, and fiercely independent in many ways. We’re also TINY, population wise, compared to Britain or the U.S. And with quite a rural, spread out population.
All of this makes it more difficult to organise – Pagan events, groups, and organisations. It’s all a bit hit and miss, says the one who co-organised our national Pagan Festival (Féile Draíochta) from 2003 til 2016 or so.
But at this point, we have a healthy enough network across the island.
I personally would love to see less focus on non native practices – seriously Nora, we don’t need another Pow-Wow drum or a Siberian Shaman at one of our most important sacred sites for our festivals – and more work being done by native practitioners to (re)create native systems and celebrations of our indigenous spirituality.
However, the folk in Ireland who are doing the work with regards to creating community around our Pagan beliefs are doing a bang up job, if I may say that as ONE of those folk.
Take Pagan Life Rites (Ireland), for example.
This is a non-profit organisation, operated by a nationwide network of Priests and Priestesses, offering a range of services to the greater Pagan community of Ireland.
One of the founding principles is respect and honour of the land and of nature:
“The island of Ireland is our home and Her sovereignty is treated with respect. It is held within Pagan belief generally, but not exclusively, that Deity resides within Nature and is immanent in all that is around us. Therefore, the land we live in and the Earth that we walk upon should also be revered and treated with respect.”
I’m down with that anyway.
No, like literally. I’m one of the founding members of Pagan Lifes Rites, so it’d be weird if I wasn’t, right?
One of the ways we are of service, is to organise a series of Pagan Moots (monthly social and networking meetings) across the island, to facilitate the meeting and connection of people who are interested in Pagan beliefs, and creating community in their local area.
Want to get in touch? – You can find a list of Pagan Moots in Ireland here.
Also of interest – Irish Celtic Pagan Symbols.
If you want to get some focused guidance on where (or how) to start exploring an authentic Irish spiritual practice, there are 2 Beginners’ Classes on the Irish Pagan School…
- A Practical Guide to Irish Spirituality – How to Begin? – from the 3 Worlds of Irish Cosmology, through Ancestry, Ancient Places, Sacred Cycles…. and More (just €17, $20).
- Introduction to Irish Pagan Spirituality – Learn about Irish Paganism, Magic and Spirituality from a practicing Draoí, a Native Irish Priestess of Ireland (just €17, $20).
Hopefully, those options give you something solid to be getting going with. If there’s anything else I can do for you, let me know?