Las Vegas Sun

September 16, 2019

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Rekindling an ancient faith

Recipe for reviving an ancient faith:

1) Research every detail you can through historical texts, archaeology and folklore.

2) Pray to the gods for divine guidance.

3) Invent as needed.

Those are essentially the steps a local Druid order is taking as its members try to reconstruct the belief system of the ancient Celts.

It's not an easy task. There is only piecemeal evidence about how the ancient Irish-Scottish tribes practiced their polytheistic faith thousands of years ago.

"We are mainly just trying to rebuild, re-create, piece together and fill in the gaps in what we do know," said Las Vegan Glenn Hall, a 31-year-old retail manager, husband and father of a 21-month-old son.

"We realize that it is not going to be exactly as it was 2,000 years ago. But it shouldn't be. We don't live like they did 2,000 years ago."

For Hall, this is not some idle fascination with mythology or an excuse to carry around a large staff carved like a snake and wear cool jewelry. It is not a hobby to him, but the pursuit of divine truth, he said.

Hall has studied the Celts for 21 years, and he trains others who want to be Druids or Celtic priests. His Druid Order of the Sacred Grove is incorporated as a religious nonprofit organization with the Nevada secretary of state's office, and he is licensed in Clark County to perform marriages. His order is small, with only 15 members in Las Vegas, but the group has other "groves" in California, Idaho and Texas.

He said that most neopagans are misunderstood. People think he's a devil worshipper or that he sacrifices animals, although neither is true, he said. When he does make offerings to the gods, it's in the form of oats.

Figuring out how the Celts might practice their faith today is difficult. The Celts did not write down anything they considered to be important, particularly issues dealing with religion, because to write it was to profane it, according to Isaac Bonewits, author of several books on paganism, including the forthcoming "Pagan Man." Stories or beliefs were passed down orally so they would be memorized.

What little was written down was destroyed or Christianized after first Romans and then Christians took over Celtic lands. Holidays such as Samhain, which Hall's order celebrated Oct. 30 based on the movements of the sun, became "All Hallows' Eve" or the modern day Halloween, All Saints' Day, All Souls' Day or the Mexican Day of the Dead.

Even Brighit, Hall's patron goddess, was made into a Catholic saint until the church realized centuries later they had canonized the pagan goddess of the triple flame, known to the Celts as the inspiration of bards, metal workers and her protection of the hearth.

There are some texts by Greek and Roman writers that refer to the Celts, but often in derogatory ways. There also is the archaeological evidence and customs that were passed down orally that survive today, such as dancing around the May Pole at the spring festival of Beltaine.

Some Celtic reconstructionists also look at information from other pagan cultures to learn more about their own, Bonewits, a Druid himself who has a bachelor's degree in magic from the University of California Berkeley, said.

"We really have about 80 percent of the material we need to reconstruct what the ancient people believed and practiced," Bonewits said. "We'll never be able to reconstruct all of it."

The key is careful study, Hall said, to make the "best educated guess" about how the ancient Celts practiced. People who wanted to be Druids usually spent 12 to 17 years in training. Hall offers online studies in music, poetry, art, herbology, divination, ancient Celtic law, literature, history and several different languages, including Gaelic and Latin.

"We seek the wisdom of our ancestors, not to walk where they have, but to pick up their torch and continue onwards," Hall said.

Christina Littlefield can be reached at 259-8813 or at [email protected]