Nov 17, 2007

Does Celtic = Pagan = Evil?

When I attended my first Irish festival and walked among the vendor booths, noticing Celtic knots and symbols on t-shirts, jewelry, lawn ornaments—you name it—I felt a little uneasy. Weren’t those pagan symbols, and aren’t pagan symbols evil?

But then I heard the Celtic music and began to browse the cultural areas. I attended an Irish-themed worship service on Sunday morning. I began to research the ancient Celtic Christians and the Celtic people, and learned that yes, Celts were pagan. That was before St. Patrick, of course. (I’ve been writing about St. Patrick lately—more on that in another blog sometime.) St. Patrick was a Roman Britain, kidnapped when he was 16 and brought to Ireland as a slave. Much later, after he had escaped, he had a dream where a man bearing letters approached him and handed one from “The Voice of the Irish.” It turns out Patrick heard the people in Ireland begging him to come back, and he, trained in the church by now, saw it as a missionary call. We know, of course, that is exactly what it was.

There are lots of places on the Internet and lots of books where you can learn more St. Patrick (one is the Saint Patrick Centre in Northern Ireland. I met the director this past August in Milwaukee), but back to the pagan thing. Of course, it was to the pagans that Patrick would minister. He, and those who came after him—including St. Brigid, the subject of my novel, Brigid of Ireland—turned Ireland into a Christian nation in just a few hundred years. But remarkably this was done without bloodshed, a contrast to the Crusades later. How was that accomplished? They did it not by condemning the people, but by coming alongside them to show that the things that they already believed and held in awe were created by the One True God. Sound familiar?

Acts 17:22-31 (New International Version)
“Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: ‘Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.’”

It was this example Patrick and the early Irish Christians followed. And it’s a great example for us to use today. Were the pagans evil? From what I’ve discovered, they weren’t any more evil than any other group of people. Very early on there were probably human sacrifices, and that’s what scares people off, but I don’t think they were common by Patrick’s time. People could argue with me, but the main point is that the pagans worshipped what they knew. They sensed God in the natural world. And that was a perfectly natural response.

Romans 1: 20 (NLT): “For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.”

I can’t possibly answer all questions on this issue in one blog, but there is a terrific discussion group online where Christians discuss these things. You’ll find me there a lot: Celtic Christian Spirituality

Feel free to leave a comment here also. Drop by my website to learn more about my novel: and sign up for my monthly newsletter.

Rath Dé ort! (The Grace of God Be With You!)

Jun 19, 2007


Brigid of Ireland t-shirts are now available on my Web site. Visit the link and look for the t-shirt button on the left hand side.

May 29, 2007

Hey, what is that?

Sometimes I wish people would ask instead of stare. St. Brigid's cross is certainly unique, as crosses go. If you've read Brigid of Ireland, you know that in the final chapter Brigid weaves her famous cross. But it's a book without illustrations, so you may not know what it looks like. Now you do.

The Christian version of the story is that Brigid wove this cross out of rushes she picked up from the floor. (Rushes were spread to soften the hard dirt floor, an ancient carpet of sorts.) She was attending a dying pagan and wove the cross to pass the time. In the process, she talked about Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross. As a result, the poor man found salvation before he died.

Some say that the cross represents the sun, an object of pagan worship. An ancient interpretation is that the four corners point to the four seasons or the four festivals of Beltane (May, the beginning of summer), Lughnasadh (August, harvest), Samhain (October, the end of harvest), and Imbolc (February, the beginning of spring.) Since this calendar was based on the solar and lunar calendar, it's a logical explanation of the cross looking like a sun.

Imbolc (also Imbolg) is celebrated on February 1, the day of St. Brigid's feast. That is the day the crosses are traditionally woven and hung over doorways. While the cross may symbolize the rebirth of the earth in the spring, it also represents the story of Brigid using it to save a dying a pagan. The Christian cross is also a symbol of rebirth, the new life that is possible because of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. It seems there is no separating these stories about St. Brigid's cross.

Here's a site you might want to check out: Irish Festivals

Do you have a favorite St. Brigid's cross? Send me a picture and I'll post them here!
Actually, there is a small cross on the book's cover. See if you can spot it and let me know.

May 16, 2007

Celtic Symbolism/HAPPY ST. BRENDAN

©Cindy Thomson

Many people are curious about Celtic symbols and the meaning behind them. Some Christians are even fearful of them, fearing all Celtic symbols as pagan.

I came across a wonderfully written article by jewerly maker Stephen Walker. The article was written back in 1996, but he has added new information. Anyone interested in this topic should read it. You can find it here.

May 16 is the feast day for St. Brendan, perhaps the first white man to discover North America. Read more about him here.
St. Brendan's Cathedral ©Cindy Thomson

Apr 30, 2007

The Night

photo creative commons by Moyan Brenn

Is the nighttime evil?

Lots of people associate nighttime, because it's dark, with a time of evil. But it just cannot be. The Bible tells us that everything God made is good. It also tells us that God made the darkness

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night." And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. Genesis 1:1-5 NIV

In ancient times the night was really dark. If the moon didn't shine, the only light you had illuminated an arc around your torch or fire and the rest of the world was black. There were wild animals in the night. You couldn't see where you were going so you could fall and hurt yourself or be killed. So it's no wonder the nighttime could have been viewed as evil.

But I don't think the ancient Celts saw it that way. Darkness is a part of the cycle of life. It brought rest. The stars were wondrous and provided a tool for navigation. Nocturnal animals were well known by the ancient people, their likenesses showing up on manuscripts, so obviously the people didn't hide out at night.

Why give up half of our existence to evil? Look for our creator in all things, not just the things that are easily seen. (It's almost a full moon tonight. Go outside and look!)

Mar 16, 2007

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh!

Saint Patrick's Day Blessing Upon You!
public domain via Flikr

The Real St. Patrick
© 2007 Cindy Thomson, All Rights Reserved

He wasn’t Irish, and yet America’s biggest Irish celebration is held in his name. He wasn’t the first bishop sent to Ireland, yet he is responsible for launching the evangelical push that converted the pagan Irish to Christianity. He never drove the snakes out of Ireland—there weren’t any, at least not in the literal sense. He wasn’t a leprechaun, though his day is symbolized by smiling little men wearing short green pants and sporting a long white beard. The number of people who know so little about the real St. Patrick always surprises me. It’s probably not their fault. What most people know about him is delivered on cards and in fairy tales.

So what is true about St. Patrick? He is one of three patron saints of Ireland; the other two are Brigid and Columba. He was born in the late 4th century, most sources say 387, somewhere on the coast of Britain—perhaps in Wales or Scotland. As early as 431 Pope Celestine sent a bishop named Palladius to minister to the Christians in Ireland. Patrick came to Ireland when he was 16, but he came against his will.

Fortunately, we have his own words left to us in the form of his autobiography referred to as his Confessio, and his Epistola, an admonition of British mistreatment of Irish Christians. Patrick was kidnapped by Irish raiders searching for slave labor, a common practice in those days. He worked for six years as a shepherd, and in those lonely times—as he later explained in his Confessio—he began to pray in earnest and trust God. He escaped and made his way back to his homeland. Later he became a bishop and had a dream or a vision in which he heard the voice of the Irish calling to him to come and walk again among them. This is how Patrick, who wasn’t Irish, became the most revered Irish saint in the entire world. He did return, and apparently had several run-ins with pagan kings. Patrick stood up for his beliefs and was instrumental in guiding the Irish people to Christ. His predecessor, who was probably already in the country when Patrick returned, had been sent to minister to people who already believed; Patrick ministered to unbelievers.

Did Patrick convert all of Ireland? Hardly. That would have been a near impossible task in one man’s lifetime, especially since it was done without warfare, unlike Europe during the Crusades. Others came after him and carried on his work in Ireland and beyond: Brigid, Columba, Brendan, Aidan, and Columban to name a few. But St. Patrick is the name today that identifies all things Irish. The holiday is no longer just a religious observance. It is a day of cultural pride for all those with any hint of Irish blood in their ancestry.

Read the most famous of St. Patrick's writings (although it was most likely written in a later time period): The Lorica
(Also referred to as St. Patrick's Breastplate and the Deer's Cry.)

—Cindy Thomson is the author of a historical novel, Brigid of Ireland and co-author of Three Finger: The Mordecai Brown Story. This story may not be copied with the permission of the author.

Mar 2, 2007

What I'm Reading & Sayings of IrelandThe Quest of Three Abbots : The Golden Age of Celtic Christianity

Anam Cara is philosophical and meaty, but good food for thought. The proverbs are mainly for research, but fun to read. The Quest of Three Abbots is a book I started a while ago and am just getting back to. Now that I'm done some other research, this is falling into place for me.

This is a book written by my writing buddy, Sharon Hinck. Different from what I usually read, but I enjoy Sharon's style and her wit. And she moves me with the serious scenes. Life is not all roses, huh?

We are in Joshua. All the blood and gore in the OT is a little hard to swallow, but the devotionals in this version are helpful in putting it all in prospective.

Feb 16, 2007


photo via creative commons by S G
Ah, 'tis good to have a sense of humor.

I recently purchased a book of Irish children's jokes. Nearly all of them were pretty lame (I know the Irish have better jokes that this!), but here's one I liked:

TEACHER: Explain the following words by using them in short sentences:

Fascinate: Sean has nine buttons but can only fascinate.
Rapture: I rapture parcels.
Office: The priest fell office chair.
Dairy: Dairy be late for school again?
Juicy: Juicy the boy over there?

Can you think of some more? Please share!

Jan 12, 2007

Talk About It

photo via creative commons by Erika Thorsen
I imagine that these sheep are communicating somehow. They certainly seem to need each other. Would you feel more comfortable exploring Celtic spirituality in a crowd? There is a place where you can do this and you can listen and never speak at all if you'd like. You can stay at home, too. No crowding together on a twisting road. But you'll still feel connected. Check this out: CCS
Image from