As I think I have mentioned in previous essays, I have come from a typically North American hodgepodge of cultures; 50% Finnish, 25% Germanic, and the remainder a mishmash of British, Irish, and Scottish incubated in the New World over many generations. Intellectually I have always been strongly drawn to Greek myth, and aesthetically I have always been drawn to Celtic culture. As a result, my spirituality has long reflected this kaleidoscope, although when it came to invoking Gods or Goddesses it was usually the Hellenic ones that I called to by virtue of knowing them best from the ‘classics’.
Thus it was that when I first joined ADF that I found the notion of choosing a ‘hearth culture’ to be somewhat foreign. I am not a carrot, I thought, with a single root that goes deep and thick in one single spot of dirt; I am like the barley with many roots extending hither and thither and yon. Indeed, I thought the idea almost unnatural; did not the Romans adopt Greek ideas about the nature of divinity? Did they not both borrow freely from their neighbours such as the Egyptians welcoming, as an example, the cult of Isis? The religions of the ancients were not static or insulated but ever changing and intermingling; therefore wasn’t the very idea of a “hearth culture” just an artificial construct?
Well as it turns out I have found that the answer is yes, but mostly no. Yes, the ancients borrowed freely from one another, but they made what they borrowed their own, and I have since discovered that each of the Indo-European cultures is a deep sea into which one can dive and submerge for a long, long time. This can come as a surprise to those of us with an eclectic Wiccan-ish background who have never considered that maybe the Gods might want to be honoured according to the traditions and customs of their ancient cultures. And, of course, deciphering those ancient customs is much more difficult than the average lay Pagan might imagine. There are no single references. Instead, the would-be adherent to a hearth culture needs to consider: primary sources, which are often at least partially inaccessible due to language issues; secondary sources, often written for purposes other than sincere attempts to recreate religious practices; archaeological sources, which require significant and subtle interpretation; and any surviving cultural traditions or recordings of old folk tales or songs. Additionally, these cultures are to a large extent linked intrinsically to the land and language of the people who lived them, requiring a geographic and linguistic approach as well. Cobbling together a spiritual practice from all of these sources can easily be an entire life’s work. When I came to realize this after deciding to try pursuing a hearth culture, the question quickly changed from “Why limit myself when I can pick and choose from the entire fertile field of Indo-European cultures?” to “With so much to learn about just one single culture, why would I want to go and bite off more than I can chew by tackling multiple cultures at once?”
Nonetheless, I still maintain that much of what we know about any of the ancient Indo-European pagan cultures represents so many fossils, frozen in time, of traditions that were in continual flux, and further that these fossils represent only the tiniest fraction of what these ancient cultures actually believed and practiced in daily life. For instance, we know that Lugh was worshipped amongst all the Celts so why should we assume that other deities weren’t just because they don’t appear in the smattering of fossils that we have? Hence I decided that I would adopt a pan-Celtic approach to a hearth culture rather than limiting myself to Gaulish, Irish, Welsh, or another specific offshoot. My patrons are the Welsh Cerridwen and the Gaulish Cernunnos. That said, when it comes to public ritual I do endeavour to centre the rite in a specific tradition, the exception being the gatekeeper for which role I now always look to Cernunnos (I used to try calling Manannán but I have never yet really formed a good relationship with him).
The subject of public ritual brings us to the question of “personal” vs “grove-centered” spirituality. I must admit that I am not entirely sure of why the requirement makes this distinction. I assume that it is because one might have a personal hearth culture that differs from the community hearth culture embraced by one’s local grove, although an equally valid reading would suggest that it refers to the possibility that one might only practice one’s spirituality as a member of a group. In my case I am in the happy situation where my current hearth culture and my grove’s community culture are both pan-Celtic. Additionally, I also have what I shall call a “family-centered” spirituality which is when my wife and I conduct private rituals together, alternately expressed in either my Druidism or her Wicca.
So how have I worked to develop my spiritual practice? Partially through my daily devotionals, solitary rites, and meditations, but I would say mostly through writing High Day rituals, either for my family rites or as chief liturgist for my grove. These have required that I delve deeply into Celtic myths and traditions around the High Days, and I am proud to say that I feel that I have brought my own unique perspective to these myths and traditions and as a result have created some fine rituals. I look forward to deepening my understanding of the High Days and my relationship to the Kindred through further cycles of the wheel of the year.
I do expect one day to explore further the gods of my Finnish and Germanic ancestors. And when I do, I will be able to bring to the exploration all of the lessons that I have learned on the Celtic path. And I don’t think that Cerridwen and Cernunnos will mind; after all, accepting new deities and even new concepts of divinity was a habit of the Indo-Europeans.