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The Secret of the Celts Revisited

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image of Religion and Theology

What makes the Celts so popular today? Anton van Hamel and Joep Leerssen published on the popularity of imagery connected with pre-Christian Celts, Van Hamel seeing the holistic worldview and Leerssen mysteriousness as appealing characteristics. They explain waves of ‘Celtic revival’ that washed over Europe as reaction and romanticising movements that search for alternatives from contemporaneous dominant culture. Each period has produced its modernized versions of the Celtic past. Besides periodical heightened interest in things Celtic, Van Hamel saw a permanent basis of attraction in Celtic texts, which accommodate ‘primitive’ and romantic mentalities. This article also analyses Celtic Christianity (through The Celtic Way by Ian Bradley and The Celtic Way of Prayer by Esther de Waal) on the use of Celtic texts and imagery of Celtic culture. Two case studies are done (on the use of the Old-Irish Deer’s Cry and the description of a nineteenth-century Scottish ritual). Both the current search for ‘spirituality’ and the last wave of ‘Celtic revival’ seem to have sprung from a reaction movement that criticizes dominant religion/culture and seek inspiration and precursors in an idealized past. The roots of this romantic search for a lost paradise are, however, also present in medieval Irish literature itself. Elements such as aesthetics, imaginative worlds and the posited lost beauty of pre-industrial nature and traditional society are keys in explaining the bridges among the gap between ‘us’ and the Celts. The realization that Celtic languages are endangered or dead heightens the feeling of loss because they are the primary gates towards this lost way of (thinking about) life.

Affiliations: 1: Religious Studies, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands


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