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I would have much preferred to keep the ancient religion.
My Mom was so upset that I did not stay Catholic. Her faith was passed on from her parents down from 4th Century Ireland, the Irish culture, passed down from thousands of years before that …. The implication was that my parents would not steer me wrong on the most essential things in life. My teachers also warned me about hell as a young girl. Mother was afraid that I was doing evil by leaving the church. I don’t believe that, I think that real truth is one, and I never “left the Church” actually. But I was very close to my Mom when she died, and it is hard to totally ignore her feelings.
I prefer to honor my heritage where I can. But as an adult, I felt a religious emptiness, and was drawn to meditation in the Hindu tradition. I was taught that the only thing that matters in your religion is
YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE.
I have built a faith of my own through meditation, and it has become all things. I learned ancient techniques of meditation. It would be impossible to explain my experiences to you; they are incredibly personal, and they would mean nothing to you secondhand. The only thing that would be real to you would be your own experiences.
But, yesterday, I tried to reflect on WHAT MY ANCIENT IRISH HERITAGE ACTUALLY IS.
Because I realized I wasn’t sure.
I am a mixture of a lot of Irish and some Danish, German and French. I identify mostly with the Irish part. (No one in my extended family or local church ever had any knowledge of child sex abuse. That was not part of our experience.) My Mom was fervent about her faith and heritage, as many Irish Catholics are.
I browsed for hours though chapters of Irish history books. No one knows much if you go back far enough, but there were the kings Slaine and Rudraige mac Delta in 1500BC. …. it seems like hundreds of kings, most getting killed or dying young, and being succeeded by their sons, and dividing up the country. King Aed Findliath lived from 861-876. King Ruaidri ua Conch0bair died in 1198. The historic Irish kept track of their genealogy, going back thousands of years to determine their place in their clan and their claim on the land. Invasion after invasion by outside people changed Ireland. And they had internal fight after fight.
There were originally Druid priests in white robes, who worshiped in outdoor groves. They were poets/bards/ rulers/priests/wise men/learned men. Literature, singing and story telling were highly regarded. Almost no facts are known about the Druids, but they seemed all powerful. The Irish commoner people could only wear one color. The higher up in society you were, the more colors you could wear. Peasants could also not travel out of their home territory.The Druids left no written records, so all is vague Was it because they wanted to horde their power? They did know how to write.
Julius Caesar, a conqueror of Ireland, gives one of the few written records of Druidic society:
“Throughout Gaul there are two classes of persons of definite account and dignity. The common people are treated almost as slaves…. Of the two notable classes one consists of druids and the other of knights. The first concern themselves with divine affairs, managing public and private sacrifices and interpreting matters of religion. A great number of young men gather about them to learn and hold them in great honor. In fact, it is they who decide in almost all disputes, public and private; and if any crime has been committed or murder done, or there is any dispute about succession or boundaries, they also decide it, determining rewards and penalties: if any person or people does not abide by their decision, they ban such from sacrifice, which is their heaviest penalty. Those that are so banned are reckoned as impious and criminal; all men move out of their path and shun their approach and conversation, for fear they may get some harm from their contact, and no justice is done if they seek it, no distinction falls to their share.
…The whole nation of the Gauls is greatly devoted to ritual observances, and for that reason those who are smitten with the more grievous maladies and who are engaged in the perils of battle either sacrifice human victims or vow to do so, employing the druids as ministers for such sacrifices…. Others use figures of immense size, whose limbs, woven out of twigs, they fill with living men and set on fire, and the men perish in a sheet of flame.”
Many historians doubt this as too biased an account, but some agree with it. The Romans also “sacrificed” thousands of Celtic people and other captives in their Coliseum for sport.
As with many other violent cultures, this old Irish history almost reminds me of modern PBS nature shows. The male animals fight viciously to determine who is the strongest, and the winners rule the herd. The lesser status animals are kept in their place
A scholar at the University Of Michigan, Lauren Humphrey, argues in her thesis that St. Patrick was accepted as kind of a ”super Druid.” A holy man and good speaker who could do bigger and better miracles. Amazingly, the transition to Catholicism from the old ways was apparently rather nonviolent. St. Patrick met with the Irish King Loegaire and talked him into it. The Irish have always admired those who had the gift of gab!
But what was St. Patrick really like? Again, there is frustratingly little historic record. What exactly was his faith, and what was the faith of the early Irish? It has been so many long and confusing centuries since Jesus himself imparted that faith. How do I know exactly what has been passed down to me? Is my Mother’s fear of hell just a superstition passed down from the Druids and though the Catholic hierarchy to keep people in line?
But another reason for the fierce Catholicism of many Irish is their historic holocaust experience with the English. The English were constantly trying to enslave them. When Henry the 8th instituted the Church of England to replace the Roman Catholic Church in England, he outlawed Catholicism in some ways, and there were hundreds of years of persecution. The British finally tried to just wipe the Irish out completely. For some generations, they almost succeeded. The unbelievable penal laws of 1691-1778 included banning Irish Catholics from voting, holding public office, marrying a protestant, owning land in many cases, owning valuable horses, getting an education, selling their products. serving in the country as a priest, or saying Mass. People had to attend Mass secretly in the fields around large rocks, signaled by secret codes. Some residue of these horrible laws continued into the 20th Century.
As if this wasn’t enough, the English even sold off the stubborn Irish Catholics as slaves! Starting in 1641, 500,000 Irish were killed by the English, and 300,000 sold into slavery. Barbados, Virgina and New England were some destinations. The population of Erin fell to 600,000 from 1,500,000 in 10 years.
The later potato famine of the 1800′s reduced Ireland’s population to mostly starving peasants, many homeless and in rags, dying from Cholera and Typhus.
It is no wonder that Irish immigrants who survived their escape to America became powerful, proud and assimilated. They clung fiercely to the religion and culture that they had nearly perished as a people, trying to preserve.
There is no question that my Mom got a lot of strength and comfort from her faith. But I have tried both, and meditation is 1000% more meaningful to me. I believe that Catholicism is one of the true paths to God, many saints have renewed it through the centuries. I am not knocking it for anyone else.
But my meditation faith is a living breathing organism, totally built by me in my lifetime.
While the Catholic Church seems like a beautiful, enormous, ancient hall, full of priceless treasures — a museum.
But then …
Look at my own obsession with spirituality, my love of the secret rites of meditation, my life-long devotion to literature. Am I just one more example of the amazing staying power of ancient Druid genes?