Session 33: Ystafell 9
'The Celt' - representations and reinventions

Chair: Richard Glyn Roberts

Samhain at the Hill of Ward?

Allison Galbari
An Coláiste Ollscoile, Baile Átha Cliath (UCD)

Samhain is a festival that was celebrated in Ireland before the arrival of Christianity and thrived in a Christianised Ireland under its translated name, Halloween. Unfortunately not a lot is known about Samhain before Christianity arrived in Ireland due in part to a lack of written sources, but also due to the difficulties of archaeological interpretation. There are no artefacts that belong solely to Samhain and no archaeological sites or known locations that were only associated with Samhain. Everything we know about it comes from literature, specifically the medieval texts, ethnographers, and folklore. By examining the folklore collected by the Irish Folklore Commission between the 1930s and 1970s and the medieval manuscripts we can guide an archaeological study which may help us to gain a better understanding of the festival. These sources provide locations that can be tied to archaeological sites and geographic features on the landscape which archaeology and anthropology can help interpret. This combination of folklore, archaeology, anthropology, and medieval studies provides a novel view of Samhain, laying the groundwork for future studies. It also provides archaeologists with a tangible “Samhain” to conduct further research from, ultimately helping to understand and research the festival customs of pre-Christian and Christianised Ireland. This paper displays the work done on this thus far.

Celtic festivals: a cultural memory approach

Erick Carvalho de Mello
Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro

I analyse institutional festivals as social and symbolic performativity, arguing that in the European Celtic fringe, Celtic festivals constitute an organized form of consumption allied with personal belonging. It is not the case - as often claimed - that such festivals are a repository of ancestral customs. They publically express the conditions under which the ethnic group under consideration may integrate with a large and modern Celtic fringe, but while this fringe exists beyond the political state, the ethnic group may yet not exist apart from the state itself. I demonstrate how this process demands an invention of memory that allows us to engage in a more intense debate on post-colonial topics within the European Celtic fringe, and also in academic debate on Celticity on many levels.

The esoteric Celt: historical and contemporary perspectives on the Celtic tarot

Juliette Wood
Prifysgol Caerdydd (Cardiff)

From Merlin's relocation of Stonehenge to Glendower's 'spirits', Celts have been associated with magic. The historical roots for this assessment of Celtic culture have been the subject of extensive discussion on Celticism and Celticity. This paper examines a specific aspect of this broad field, namely the perception of Celtic culture through the esoteric movements of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. A.E. Waite' commentaries on the Tarot and Celtic mysticism, W.B. Yeats' 'Red Hanrahan' and Jessie Weston's Grail seeker have contributed to the concept of Celtic esotericism. These ideas influenced literature at the beginning of the twentieth century, most notably Eliot's 'Waste Land', and they continue to appear in fantasy literature, modern Tarot praxis and its spinoffs. In this context, the esoteric Celt has created a participatory fantasy which plays out in speculative fiction, 'Celtic' Tarot cards and their elaborate explanatory books, Internet blogs and role-playing games.