Archive for the ‘Celtic conlang’ Tag

Creativity’s Messy–1: The Druid’s Prayer   2 comments

In previous posts [A Celtic Conlang |Invoke for a Tongue 12 | Druid Ritual Language 123 ] I’ve written about the inspiration and the rudiments of creating a ritual Celtic language. And one of the first obvious places to try it out is with the Druid’s Prayer.

(As a small offering, this is in partial repayment of a sacred vow to Brighid and Ogma, mentioned in “Invoke for a Tongue” above.)

asc-steps

June trail on Mount Ascutney to the north

The prayer’s widely known, though it hasn’t yet fulfilled the preamble it’s often given in OBOD ritual — “Let us join in the prayer that unites all Druids”. Yet the energy released just by saying those words (preamble, or prayer, or both), even if they’re not “true”, deserves a separate meditation all its own: “the truth against the world”. (In Welsh, that’s y gwir yn erbyn y byd. And it sounds good in both languages. But what is it?)

You can find a few other forms of the prayer at this link, but here’s the OBOD version I hear most often in the States, so I’ll work with it, because it’s familiar.

Grant, O Spirit, Thy protection;
And in protection, strength;
And in strength, understanding;
And in understanding, knowledge;
And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice;
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it;
And in that love, the love of all existences;
And in the love of all existences,
the love of spirit and all goodness.

In OBOD group ritual, “Spirit” works for most of us as an acceptable choice in the first line, among other versions of the prayer that offer “God, Goddess”, etc. — one of which we may prefer for private rites. (I tend to sing the awen much more often than I offer any sort of prayer, but that’s my animism talking. As verbal as I often am, a non-verbal approach short-circuits a lot of my mental crap and attunes me more quickly than most “talky” methods can.)

With some basic knowledge of Celtic languages*, I can set myself the challenge of respecting the sensibility and intent of this prayer as I “other” it into a fledgling ritual Celtic language. For a start, I’ve got an approximate dozen words to work on, most of them nouns: all, existence, goodness, grant, justice, knowledge, love, protection, spirit, strength, the, understanding, and your (thy). And that’s not even counting the title of the prayer, which in Welsh is Gweddi’r Derwydd “Druid’s Prayer” or Gweddi’r Orsedd “Gorseth Prayer”.

One of the great gifts of this kind of David-Peterson Game-of-Thrones constructed-languages special-interest “nerdiness-on-steroids” activity is that it compels one to look very closely at the words we say year in and year out. Great gobs of assumptions, some inherited — no surprise — from Christianity, pervade the Druid’s Prayer: does Spirit grant anything in response to this prayer, and if so, under what conditions? What does “protection” mean, concretely? What kind of “strength” are we asking for? How are “knowledge” and “understanding” different? (They’re tricky to translate!) “Justice” means different things to different people — is it the same thing we mean by “equality”? Or something else? How many of us actually do “love justice” in any useful sense, if we look at the world right now as any sort of evidence? And “existences”? Is that the same thing as “anything that exists”? Then why not just say “all things”? And so on.

Now that I’ve irritated at least some of my readers in the process of unraveling this prayer, and emptied it of almost any meaning until I can answer even some of these questions for myself, let’s move on to unmaking it in another mode — everyone’s favorite torture from secondary school: grammar!

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Because we’ve got a few Celtic grammatical processes to work out, too, for our language: (1) the imperative of grant, which is simply a more formal word for give; (2) the vocative or “direct address” form for spirit, rendered above as “O Spirit”, which can mutate the following noun (one of my students was named Megan; she hated that in Irish her name became, more or less, a Wegan “O Megan”); (3) any grammatical changes that happen to nouns following a possessive pronoun, here thy, or your; and (4) any changes that happen to nouns in phrases like “in protection”, or after other nouns, like “knowledge of justice”. (For those of you in the know, these are the famed Celtic mutations that bedevil the learner.)

But for the purposes of the draft below, I’m ignoring all four of these. Time for tweaking later.

Pesad an Derwidhe

Ri, a’h Isprid, do iscod;
ha’n iscod, nerth;
ha’n nerth, doithus,
ha’n doithus, gothved,
ha’n gothved, gothved cowireth,
ha’n gothved cowireth, i cared,
ha o’i cared, cared pob an bode,
ha’n cared pob an bode, cared Isprid
ha pob an mat.

This works out, more-or-less literally, to the following: Prayer of the Druids. Give, o Spirit, your shielding, and in shielding, strength; and in strength, wisdom; and in wisdom, knowledge; and in knowledge, knowledge of fairness; and in knowledge of fairness, its love, and out of its love, love of all worlds/existences, and in love of all of worlds/existences, love of Spirit, and of all goodness.

I know you have a range of reactions to this: (1) Cool! (2) Uh, what? (3) Why go to the trouble of making and teaching yourself a fake Celtic language when six real ones already exist? (4) Does Spirit care what language we use? (5) You’ve changed some of the meanings in the prayer. (6) Get a life! (7) I love this! And so on.

(1) Ah, you too suffer from the same pleasant affliction I do regarding language — this stuff is awesome, our most amazing creation ever!

(2) The tryptophan still hasn’t worn off yet. This is just a dream. You’ll wake up in a few more hours and everything will be fine. Stay away from any more turkey, though.

(3) Only six? There are several other Celtic conlangs out there. The more the better, I say. And if you want to make one, you need to know something about “real” Celtic languages. Besides, if I can speak it, and you could if you wanted, and we could pray in it, and find meaning and comfort using it, what exactly makes it fake?

(4) Yes and no. Unverified Personal Gnosis says it can swing both ways. Spirit doesn’t care, and spirits may care deeply.

(5) Meanings change every time we mean them. Take a look at the different versions of the prayer. I’m still reflecting on “God, impart Thy strength; And in strength, power to suffer; And to suffer for the truth …”

(6) I’ve had several so far, and will probably have several more.

(7) You sound like you’re a happy person in general.

I’m copying this prayer into my day-book, so that I’ll have it on hand at my bedside, and I can think and dream with it, trying it out. Already it feels more usable to me than either the English or Welsh version. And if I use it and gain benefit from it — if it sparks further development of this language for prayer and ritual — that’s a definite good, to my thinking.

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*some basic knowledge of Celtic languages: If you have a gift for languages, you can pick up a linguistic knowledge of one in a handful of hours — a sense of what the basic word order is, where the complexities lie, points of potential common ground with any other language you may know, and so on. It’s like visiting a city in a foreign country with a good map and helpful suggestions from natives: an afternoon can give you a general sense of how the main streets lie, what some of the prime tourist spots are, where to eat, how to “sample” the city without pretending to the intimate knowledge only a native or long-time resident can acquire fully.

I Invoke You for a Tongue, Part 2   Leave a comment

[Part One]

This post on creating a usable Celtic ritual language continues a number of previous posts on the subject.

Why do such a thing — create a new Celtic ritual language, rather than master an existing Celtic tongue, when all of them struggle to survive and need all the support they can get? Better yet, why not instead devote the same energy and time to creating rituals, songs, poems, prayers in the language of everyone who will take part? In a word, why be obscure?

Because language is — or can be — magical. Because sometimes we need the power of audible speech that means something only to us. Because a ritual language, a holy tongue, carries its own potency, apart from matters of practicality. Because a dedicated language, like anything else, accrues value and energy and strength precisely because it’s been set apart, treated with care and esteem, as a thing worthy of respect. Because if you go to the trouble of creating a ritual language, I assert that you honor the gods just as much as you do by learning an existing one. Because there’s a world of difference between theft and inspired imitation.* Because a vow, a dream, a burst of awen guided you to do so.

Here’s the prayer that opened the post linked to above:

For the gift of speech already, I thank you.
For the gift of a Celtic tongue I will make,
let my request be also my gift to you in return:

the sound of awen in another tongue, kindred
to those you once heard from ancestors
of spirit. Wisdom in words, wrought for ready use.

May your inspiration guide heart and hand,
mind and mouth, spirit and speech.

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So in the face of loud and rude reasons not to, you follow the urging to create a ritual language anyway. The Celtic world tugs at you, your practice draws on Celtic imagery, myth and folklore, and you opt for a Celtic language over a (re)constructed tongue native to the land where you live. (The possibilities of a Native American conlang deserve a separate post.)

Resources abound for such a project. After all, we have six surviving Celtic languages — Breton, Cornish, Irish, Manx, Scottish Gaelic and Welsh. We have reconstructed Proto-Celtic, we’ve got inscriptions in other extinct Celtic languages, and we have a couple of centuries of linguistic analysis that helps to clarify grammar, word derivations, pronunciation, etc. Beyond that are several Celtic conlangs of varying degrees of realism and fidelity to the historical Celtic languages (like Arvorec, Brithenig, Caledonag, Galathach, Proto-Brittonic, etc.).

In addition to language proper, we’ve got scripts, too, like Ogham and the Coelbren alphabet. An embarrassment of riches, truly.

coelbren

Coelbren alphabet

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So where to begin?

I’m partial to P-Celtic, or Brythonic (Breton-Cornish-Welsh), so that’s my starting point, rather than Q-Celtic or Goidelic (Irish-Manx-Scots Gaelic). But take your pick. It’s your flavor of awen, after all.

We can assemble a basic word-list of a few hundred items pretty quickly. In an hour, you’ll have enough for simple phrases even as you continue to tinker. For help, Omniglot has gathered some useful comparative lists to launch you, and so has this Wikipedia comparative table. (Mostly it’s the vowels that may need tweaking, but that can wait until later.) So we’ll start here with a small sample:

den: man [dehn]
dor: door [dohr]
gwreg: woman [roughly goo-REG]
plant: child [plahnt]
ti: house [tee]
ci: dog [kee]
mab: son [mahb]
tir: land [teer]
mam: mother [mahm]

mor: large [mohr]
neweth: new [NEH-weth]
bihan: small [BEE-hahn]
drug: bad [droog]

gweled: see [GWEH-led]
bod: be [bohd]

Every word above has clear cognates (“relatives”) in Welsh, Breton and Cornish, so we’re on very solid ground so far. Aim for a consistent pronunciation, write it down so you remember, devise a simple key as in the brackets above, and you’re on the way.

We know Brythonic, like Goidelic, had a definite article, for which we’ll choose an. So we can say “the man, the woman”, etc.: an den, an gwreg.

(We can address how we might want to handle those infamous Celtic sound changes later. To give just one a quick example, feminine nouns historically change their initial sound after the definite article, so we might include a rule that gives us gwreg, an wreg; mam, an vam, etc.)

We know that Celtic adjectives typically follow the noun they modify, as in the Romance languages:

an tir mor: the large land
ti neweth: new house
mab bihan: small son
ci drug: bad dog

We know that Brythonic, like the Celtic languages generally, makes phrases equivalent to English “the door of the house, the child of the land” by juxtaposing the words: dor an ti, mab an tir. (Again, we can work out any sound changes later.)

In addition, we know that Celtic often favors a verb-first sentence order (a simplification, but a useful starting point), as if in English we said “Sees the man the dog” instead of “The man sees the dog.”

So we can construct simple sentences:

Bod an gwreg an tir. The woman is the land.
Gweled an mab an ti mor. The son sees the large house.

Now this should serve to show the beginnings of what’s possible without earning a graduate degree in Celtic Studies. If you’re creating solely for yourself, you can follow the promptings of your guides, ancestors and awen. A dream, a book, a contemplation or a museum visit may inspire a particular project: a prayer, a chant or song, a rhyme or invocation, a simple story.

If you’re creating for or with a group, other factors may arise. How complex do you need the grammar? What kinds of things do you want or need to say? How regular and intuitive should the pronunciation be? Are others working directly with you in expanding the vocabulary, or are they asking you as their tribal bard for original and translated rituals and prayers in the language?

For instance, Celtic has an invariable relative pronoun, given here as “a”, which lets us make sentences like this:

Bod hi an gwreg a gweled an tir neweth. She is the woman who sees the new land.

Your choices as you create, after awen, the gods and common sense each have their say, operate in a cauldron that balances flexibility, regularity, variety and ease of use. Like any recipe, season to taste.

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Image: Coelbren alphabet;

*A note on cultural appropriation — as John Beckett suggests in his The Path of Paganism, “always credit your sources, never pretend to be something you’re not, and steal from the best”. To put it another way, all cultures borrow from each other, or die.

O Bríd and Oghma, I Invoke You for a Tongue   Leave a comment

[Part Two]

brigidscross

Brigid’s Cross: Crosóg Bhríde

For the gift of speech already, I thank you.

For the gift of a Celtic tongue I will make,

let my request be also my gift to you in return:

the sound of awen in another tongue, kindred

to those you once heard from ancestors

of spirit. Wisdom in words, wrought for ready use.

May your inspiration guide heart and hand,

mind and mouth, spirit and speech.

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The six living insular Celtic languages — Welsh, Breton, Cornish*, Manx*, Irish and Gaelic — have survived (*or been revived) against often harsh and long odds. I won’t go into the historical challenges that the Celtic tongues share with most minority languages. And I’m not even considering any of the extinct continental Celtic tongues like Gaulish, Galatian or Lepontic.

OgmapxSuffice it to say that not one of the six living Celtic tongues is secure enough that its advocates can relax into anything resembling the ease of speakers of a world language like English. So why not learn one of these endangered languages (or revive Galatian)? After all, with such knowledge comes the ability to experience a living Celtic culture from the inside, as well as gain access in the original languages to texts that nourish Druid practice and thought. One more speaker is one more voice against linguistic and cultural extinction. In the title and first section above I invoke Brighid/Bríd and Ogma/Oghma, to give the ancient and modern Irish forms of their names. With the experiences of many contemporary and ancient polytheists in mind, I can say with some confidence that the gods honor those who go to the trouble to learn the old languages and speak to them using even a little of the ancestral tongues.

Or if not one of the living Celtic tongues, then how about one of the Celtic conlangs that already exist? Arvorec, Kaledonag, Galathach and others wait in the wings, in varying states of development. They could provide a ready foundation to build on — a foundation already laid.

Why not use one of them? In part out of respect for their makers, who may not want their creations associated with Druidry. Arvorec, to focus on just one for a moment, is already part of the conlang community of Ill Bethisad, and has its own con-culture (and even con-religion — An Graveth, a cousin to Druidry). In part — a significant part for me — as a Bardic offering to the gods invoked here: gods esteem the taste of human sweat. Salt flavors the sacrifice. And for the very human reason that when we invest time and energy in something, we often value it more, and can draw on dedication, creative momentum, pride, inspiration, desire and love to see it through. If a Celtic language is not my mother tongue, then let it be a foster-mother. Let this tongue be one I have helped craft from the shapes and sounds and world we receive as a heritage.

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Like the Romance, Slavic, Germanic and Indo-Iranian language families, the members of the Celtic family show considerable similarities among themselves in vocabulary, grammar, and so on.  Centuries of work on the greater Indo-European family have already been done, insights and advances continue, and many resources exist for the Celtic conlanger and Bard-linguist to draw on. Proto-Celtic, the mother tongue of the Celtic languages, is also being reconstructed.

celtic_familyOne early question to answer in birthing a Celtic conlang is Q or P. No, that’s not some password you have to know in order to gain admission to the Secret Circle of All Druidry (SCOAD), or a riddle posed by the Planetary High Holy Archdruid. P- and Q-Celtic are shorthand for a linguistic division that usefully divides the six living Celtic tongues into two groups of three, based on their treatment of the Indo-European *kw- in words like *kwetwores “four,” Proto Celtic *kwetwar-, with Irish ceathair, Gaelic ceithir, Manx kaire for the Q-side, and Breton pevar, Cornish pesvar and Welsh pedwar for the P-side. Of course, being next-door neighbors as well as cousins, the six languages also borrowed from each other through their centuries together, which delightfully muddies the waters of linguistic post-gnostication (“knowing after the fact,” like pro-gnostication, only not). Flip a coin, go with your gut, follow your own esthetic, pray, do a divination, or some idiosyncratic combo all your own.

I’m going with P.

What else do we know about the Celtic Six as an initial orientation for a language maker? Quite a lot, actually. Here’s just a small sample: all six have a definite article (English “the”), but only one has an indefinite article (English “a, an”). Most have Verb-Subject-Object (VSO “Ate I breakfast”) as a common if not the dominant word order (English is SVO). All count with an old vigesimal system by twenties, as in French, where “eighty” is quatre-vingt “four twenties,” “ninety” is quatre-vingt dix “four twenties (and) ten,” and so on.

And the consonant mutations: no mutations and — sorry! — it’s just not Celtic! Sorta like a sundae without whipped cream, or a kielbasa slathered in coleslaw and mustard without the bun. In brief, depending on the preceding word, the initial consonant of a Celtic word changes in predictable ways. Here’s an example from Welsh:

Ei means “his.”  It causes lenition of the consonant of a following word.  Cath means “cat,” but when lenited after ei, the form is ei gath “his cat.

Ei also means “her” (and provides an example of how mutations can help distinguish words): ei “her” aspirates the consonant of a following word. Ei chath means “her cat.”

Eu means “their”: it doesn’t cause a mutation: eu cath is “their cat.”

It gets tricky because while the insular Celtic languages do all have mutations, their mutations behave differently from language to language. Here is Welsh again, now contrasted with Irish:

Welsh | Irish | English gloss

cath | cath | “cat”

ei gath | a chath | “his cat”

ei chath |  a cath | “her cat”

eu cath | a gcath | “their cat” (Incidentally, not a typo: Irish gc- — like bp- and dt- — is pronounced g but also shows it is derived from an original c. Cool. Or ridiculous. Depending.)

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May we remember you and your gifts, Bríd and Oghma: apt words, the praise of good things, and wisdom dark and bright.

To Brighid
(author unknown)

Brighid of the mantles, Brighid of the hearth fire,
Brighid of the twining hair, Brighid of the auguries,
Brighid of the fair face, Brighid of the calmness,
Brighid of the strong hands, Brighid of the kine.

Brighid, friend of women, Brighid, fire of magic,
Brighid, foster mother, Brighid, woman of wisdom,
Brighid, daughter of Danu, Brighid, the triple flame.
Each day and each night I call the descent of Brighid.

That the power of healing be within us,
That the power of poetry be within us,
That the power of shaping be within us,
In earth, and sky, and among all kindreds.

Kindle your flame in our heads, hearts and loins,
Make us your cup, your harp, your forge,
That we may heal, inspire and transform,
All in your honor, Brighid, font of blessing.

Brighid above us,
Brighid below us,
Brighid in the very air about us,
Brighid in our truest heart!

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Images: Brigid’s CrossOgma.

Edited/updated 15 April 2015

Steve Hansen and Galathach   2 comments

Steve, thanks for visiting and for your comment.  I’d actually visited the site of your worthy Celtic conlang, Galathach, prior to writing my posts on “A Druid Ritual Language.”  I would have included Galathach as well, but then along with other deserving candidates I might have mentioned, the post would have gone MUCH longer.

I know you’ve taken some flack by critics regarding the “authenticity” of your reconstruction and revival.  From my perspective, the proof is in the passion: you’ve actually done the work and you have a well-elaborated language to show for it, while they quibble over details and apply criteria that I suspect never interested you in the first place!   After all, you’re very clear and transparent about your process at the outset.  As you note explicitly in your introduction,

Drawing on the existent available material, and making use of the surviving Brittonic languages, as well as the Gaelic languages, for support and comparative studies of such things as vocabulary, semantics and grammatic structure, a modernised version of the Gaulish language is here presented. Departing from the state in which Gaulish was last attested, that is Late Gaulish, the language of circa the fifth century CE, a series of sound changes, phonetic evolutionary processes and grammatic innovations are postulated. As such, a hypothetical evolution of the language is constructed, the proposed outcome of which is a practically useable modern Celtic language, to be situated in the framework of the modern Celtic languages.

While the process of reconstructing or reassembling a language is challenging, it has been done as conscientiously as possible, starting from the original material and attempting to stay as faithful as possible to it, while applying a set of changes which could have been reasonably expected to have happened to the language had it not ceased to be spoken. These changes are based on evolutionary processes which can be observed in the available authentic material, as well as on related processes which have occurred in the related surviving languages. As much as possible, justification for changes and adaptation is provided by drawing from the original material. Creative imagination, or, to put it differently, making up random stuff , has been kept to a minimum. These various changes, adaptations and processes will be discussed in detail in the various sections dealing with them in the body of this document.

The notable point is that Galathach now exists, when it didn’t before, and as you say, it has a full grammar and a (soon to be) dictionary.  Nicely done!!  Already that puts it in the top 5 or 10% of conlangs, hordes of which rarely get beyond a short wordlist, if that, or a provisional sketch of grammar.  (Incidentally, there’s nothing wrong with that; most conlangers have many sketches and usually — unless you’re David Peterson of Dothraki/Game of Thrones fame — only one or two conlangs elaborated to any degree.) Your reconstruction/modernization of Galathach hAtheviu, “Revived Gaulish,” is documented, reasoned, consistent, and reflective of a devotion to things both Celtic and “conlang-y.”

So I’m happy to commend it and refer others to it (repeating that it IS a conlang rather than one of the six living Celtic tongues, just so everyone is clear).  That said, it certainly is Celtic in blood and bone!  And if a grove or an individual uses it for ritual, it becomes a living language by choice and art, equal to any other.  As conlangers like to say, Fiat Lingua!  Let there be (more) such languages! Humans made languages, so it’s a quibble of a peculiar kind to call one language “natural” and another “artificial.” (Conlanging has always seemed to me a particularly Druidic activity, but then I’m clearly doubly biased myself as both conlanger and Druid.)  May Galathach thrive!

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DRL — A Druid Ritual Language, Part 2   3 comments

[Part 1 | Part 3]

I’ll be covering a fair bit of ground in this post, and supplying a larger than usual number of links (distractions?), since so many of you, my readers, come from such diverse perspectives and experiences. Thus it is that while some of what I say here will be sure to irritate, confuse or bore some of you, there’s a very fair chance the same sections won’t be the same irritants for everybody.  And with a liberal helping of what goes under the names of luck, awen, grace, and chance, some of it might actually be useful to you.

So what do you make of this video?!

Ritual and Ritual Language are Pan-human

One of my points in including the “Biker Blessing” — whatever you think of Pope Francis, the pontiff sure has his own style — is simply to illustrate two important points we keep forgetting:  all humans participate in and perform rituals, and they’re both utterly common and rather strange, when you actually begin to examine them more closely.

To give just one common example, if you intend to get hitched in a church, you’re not yet married until right after the presiding clergy says some equivalent of the words “I now pronounce you man and wife.” So what do those words do?! (For the nerds among us, this has been called the performative aspect of language, according to the theory of speech acts in a book with the fine title of How to Do Things with Words by Brit J. L. Austin.)

It’s because the West in particular often lacks (read “threw the baby out with the bathwater over the last century”) meaningful ritual that ritual has come to preoccupy many Druids and Pagans generally. But it bears repeating that ritual isn’t merely a Druid or even a Pagan concern: ritual and ritual languages cover the planet.

Here’s a remarkably respectful video from a 3-minute 2010 BBC broadcast.  (Title includes “OBOD” but no mention is made of it in the video itself, so don’t worry — I’m not proselytizing — really!):

“Ceremonies of Innocence”

Another common example. Depending on how you were raised, your parents taught you to say “thank you” and “excuse me.” In the process they likely also taught you that the forms themselves matter, as much as or often more than your heartfelt gratitude or apology. The discipline of saying the words themselves – often — was enough. (If you’re feeling cynical, you could argue that this is one of our first formal lessons in hypocrisy.) We may rail justifiably against “empty language,” but that’s not the fault of ritual. The emptiness of much empty talk issues from a lack of conviction or perspective behind it. As Yeats said in his poem “The Second Coming,” “The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned;/The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.” So we get loudness and passion as the daily menu on far too many of our media of choice, while stillness and reflection flee for the hills. But (to mix metaphors) that’s where these two inexhaustible caves of treasures lie waiting. We can, if we desire to, recover the “ceremonies of innocence.”

A Side-note on Definitions

You may have noticed that I carefully sidestepped the issue of what “ritual” is and what a “language” is. If you want more information on these fascinating and often controversial topics than the quick-and-dirty Wikipedia links can give, and you don’t have a good town library handy, just search “magical use of ritual language” on Google Scholar. Earlier today (3/24/14) it returned 168,000 results. So even if upwards of 90% of these prove to be some combination of junk or dead links, you’ll find remarkable studies, academic and amateur and much in between. Enough in fact to launch you into a lifetime of fruitful reading and study on just this one topic, should you wish.  (See the end of this post for a detailed excerpt of  the Wikipedia entry for “magical language.”

All or Nothing

allnothingOf course, using ritual language doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” proposition. A few words and phrases can often be sufficient to signal important parts of a ritual, or to heighten the charge of ritual atmosphere. Any decent magical training curriculum will show you this. Like all conscious acts, those performed with intention carry power. (Anyone reading this knows, for instance, the difference between a casually tossed-off “I love you” and the same words said with full attention and feeling. If you don’t, don’t come back here until you do. That part of your life obviously deserves more atttention than this blog.)

As an example of this “ritual sprinkle” approach, here’s an excerpt of the ritual use of Welsh from the “Grand Sword” page of the Gorsedd of the Bards (Museum of Wales online):

One of the Gorsedd’s oldest rites is the ceremony of partly unsheathing the Grand Sword. The Archdruid asks the following questions and the audience replies ‘Heddwch’ (Peace) three times:

Y Gwir yn erbyn y Byd, A oes Heddwch? (The Truth against the World, Is there Peace?)
Calon wrth Galon, A oes Heddwch? (Heart to Heart, Is there Peace?)
Gwaedd uwch Adwaedd, A oes Heddwch? (Shout above responding Shout, Is there Peace?)’

Carrying a sword was one of the rites in Iolo Morganwg’s first Gorsedd in 1792. As a pacifist Iolo wanted to emphasise that the Bards met in peace and when a naked sword was placed on the Logan Stone they proceeded to sheath it as a symbol of peace in Gorsedd.

Bardic chair inscription: "the truth against the world"

Bardic chair inscription: “the truth against the world”

With no more than this much Welsh in a ritual, or even just Y gwir yn erbyn y Byd [approximately “uh GWEER uhn EHR-been uh BEED”] “the Truth against the World,” you can clearly set apart the language of your rite from ordinary language, and help evoke the heightened state of consciousness characteristic of much (not all) successful ritual.

Benefits of Ritual Language

If you want the John F. Kennedy version – “what ritual language can do for you” – here’s a start.

An FAQ of the Latin Liturgy Association site lists several “important benefits of using Latin” as a “sacral” language, including its close association with worship, as with the Arabic of the Qur’an, the Sanskrit of Hinduism and the Hebrew of Judaism. It also “helps us overcome limitations of time and place” and “participate in the universal reality of the Catholic Church, linking us with the generations” who preceded us. As the language of a sacred musical tradition, it also gives access to the plainsong and chant of the Church.

So Why Use a Distinct Ritual Language?

Huston Smith

Huston Smith

OK, you get that ritual and ritual language are powerful and widespread. But why not keep it to your own native tongue and skip the difficulty of learning another language besides? Who has the time for studying and mastering a dedicated language? Isn’t a dedicated practice more important? Aren’t ritual and worship and devotion in [insert your language here] better than none at all? This cry of the heart has a strong appeal. Its human roots are ancient. Huston Smith in his The World’s Religions (p. 34) cites a Hindu prayer, noting, “Even village priests will frequently open their temple ceremonies with the following beloved invocation:

O Lord, forgive three sins that are due to my human limitations:
Thou art everywhere, but I worship you here;
Thou art without form, but I worship you in these forms;
Thou needest no praise, yet I offer you these prayers and salutations,
Lord, forgive three sins that are due to my human limitations.

Surely this is justification, if indeed we need any? You may have seen this prayer incorporated into rituals as part of the reach toward the divine – I have. Of all human failings, surely what language we use in our quest must rank low on the scale of such things?

M. Isadora Forrest notes in her book Isis Magic, “Isis of the Ten Thousand Names provided Her ancient worshippers with a broad range of Divine aspects, functions and affinities” (pg. 8). So if we can approach spirit or divine realm using our own names for it, what’s the need for a separate ritual language? Can’t we reach and communicate with the Goddess [substitute your own preferred name here] using what is, after all, our “mother tongue,” the speech that is most intimate to us? Isn’t this language therefore among the most valid of tools we can use, if we wish to contact and plunge into the Otherworld, the divine realm? It reaches and extends from the heart.

Well, just like you generally appreciate home-baked over store-bought, deities show preferences. Among them are offerings, names and languages. That doesn’t mean that English or whatever your native language is won’t “work” as you lay the roses, pour the mead, light the cedar incense, offer the myrrh or dragonsblood or cinnamon, but it does mean that a more immediate connection is one benefit and advantage of using a ritual language. In part it’s a matter of dedication and devotion. Our efforts please the divine; as someone said – I’m quoting badly here – “the gods enjoy the taste of human sweat in their offerings.”

A tradition can have profound impact on our spiritual paths. Forrest observes (again, insert your preferred designation for “Goddess” and “Isis” as needed):

By examining the evidence this tradition has left us, modern devotees of the Goddess can be connected with and find inspiration in the ancient worship … We can discover the traditional ways Isis was worshipped and learn how her worshippers thought, talked and taught about her. In the stories they told, the religious purposes they agreed upon … we can follow the path of a very ancient religious tradition that can connnect us to our spiritual ancestors. By using the symbols they used and found meaningful– and by finding our own meaning in them – we are empowered by tradition. It can guide us, inpsire us, explain things to us. It provides potent archetypal symbols, sanctified by centuries of use, energized by the meaning invested in them. The devotion of thousands upon thousands of Isis worshippers before us can provide a path we can walk and a context for our own relationship

with the divine. Thus, “tradition can be an extremely valuable tool of connection with the Divine; yet it need not constrain us. Human religious history is a history of change” (9).

Ritual Language and Two Kinds of “Users”

The use of a special ritual language concerns two groups of ritualists in different ways. For writers or composers of rituals and liturgies, the language must be “composable in.” That is, it shouldn’t be so difficult to use that the creation of new rituals and liturgies is so challenging only a few can pull it off. This means that those who know the language can use it creatively. Need a new handfasting ritual, or a rite to plant potatoes? No problem! This also means that the first group can make the ritual accessible to the second and much larger group, the users or participants in rituals and liturgies. This latter groups includes not only the “usual suspects,” the regular participants in rituals, but also any visitors (assuming your rituals with a ritual language are open to them), and readers of any media like your group’s website that explains or presents rituals to a wider audience.

Which Ritual Language?

There are currently some 6000 human languages on the planet, though the number is decreasing dramatically. However, Celtic-inspired Druids need not sort through them; under a dozen ready and suitable options present themselves. (If you want to focus on Asatru and other similar northwestern European Heathen traditions, replace Celtic with Germanic tongues. Likewise, substitute some Slavic options, if you’re into Baltic Heathenism like Romuva, or Hellenismos if you’re a Greek Pagan.etc.).

Welsh, Irish Gaelic, Scots Gaelic, Breton, Cornish, Manx. Throw in Proto-Celtic if you wish. All but the latter have communities of speakers, grammars and dictionaries and various learning resources. (Proto-Celtic lets you try out an ancestral speech in a form that’s still being reconstructed as we speak. Enough exists to compose in it – barely.  See the next section for more possibilities.) Admittedly you’re most likely to encounter the modern forms of these, but dive into the modern form, and you can begin to make use of preserved older forms in manuscripts, chronicles, epics and legends, rich with symbolism and myth for rituals, prayers, chants, song lyrics, etc. as yet unborn, unwritten, unchanted, unsung.

Conlangs, Arise!

DanaeLang4

Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones

Another option lies in the adaptation of a Celtic language to your purposes. Ritual language is already heightened, altered, shifted.  Well, a conlang or constructed language may fit your needs.  (For a detailed look at some possibilities, visit Mark Rosenfelder’s online Language Construction Kit.)  Conlangers have been modifying adapting, regularizing, extending and creating out of whole cloth an astonishing range of languages. A significant number of them exist in forms complete enough to use for ritual. And you can actually commission a language from the Language Creation Society. You too can do just as the producers of Game of Thrones have done with Dothraki, whose creator David Peterson has created other languages. Visit his website for a sampling.

Perplexed by the contradiction between authentic or historical and concocted or created ex nihilo? You’ve arrived at the classic a priori versus a posteriori nexus – a lively point of debate in the conlang community.

J M Greer

J M Greer

Ends and Beginnings

Had enough? Need a break? Or want to sample the sounds of some 30 European languages? Below is a Youtube clip featuring Celtic, Romance, Germanic and Slavic languages, along with Greek, Albanian and Hungarian to round out the linguistic variety of Europe (see the note below for a complete list of languages and approximate times). You may have visceral reactions to accents, pitches, sounds. I urge you to make note of them. See if you can get down in words what it is that appeals or doesn’t appeal to you in the sounds and overall sprachgefühl, a wonderful German word that literally means “speech-feeling” — the character of a language. This can be helpful as you consider the sound of any ritual language you might want to use. It may also prove useful if you’re wondering what languages you might want to study in the future (if you’re following the language learning advice of John Michael Greer in his talk “A Magical Education”). And there’s a chance it may spark a dream of a past life when you may have spoken a form of one of these languages yourself.

Here’s the 32-language video:

A Next Step

In DRL —  A Druid Ritual Language — Part 3, I’ll look specifically at Welsh and then at a couple of conlangs as candidates for ritual languages.

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Images: Huston SmithGame of Thrones; all/nothingDanaelect4;  J M Greer; bardic chair.

From the Wikipedia entry for “Magical Language“, accessed 3/23/14, which I cite below for its interest:

The performance of magic almost always involves the use of language. Whether spoken out loud or unspoken, words are frequently used to access or guide magical power. In “The Magical Power of Words” (1968) S. J. Tambiah argues that the connection between language and magic is due to a belief in the inherent ability of words to influence the universe. Bronisław Malinowski … suggests that this belief is an extension of man’s basic use of language to describe his surroundings, in which “the knowledge of the right words, appropriate phrases and the more highly developed forms of speech, gives man a power over and above his own limited field of personal action.”Magical speech is therefore a ritual act and is of equal or even greater importance to the performance of magic than non-verbal acts.

Not all speech is considered magical. Only certain words and phrases or words spoken in a specific context are considered to have magical power. Magical language … is distinct from scientific language because it is emotive and it converts words into symbols for emotions; whereas in scientific language words are tied to specific meanings and refer to an objective external reality. Magical language is therefore particularly adept at constructing metaphors that establish symbols and link magical rituals to the world.

Malinowski argues that “the language of magic is sacred, set and used for an entirely different purpose to that of ordinary life.” The two forms of language are differentiated through word choice, grammar, style, or by the use of specific phrases or forms: spellssongsblessings, or chants, for example. Sacred modes of language often employ archaic words and forms in an attempt to invoke the purity or “truth” of a religious or a cultural “golden age”. The use of Hebrew in Judaism is an example.

Another potential source of the power of words is their secrecy and exclusivity. Much sacred language is differentiated enough from common language that it is incomprehensible to the majority of the population and it can only be used and interpreted by specialized practitioners (magicianspriests, shamans, even mullahs). In this respect, Tambiah argues that magical languages violate the primary function of language: communication. Yet adherents of magic are still able to use and to value the magical function of words by believing in the inherent power of the words themselves and in the meaning that they must provide for those who do understand them. This leads Tambiah to conclude that “the remarkable disjunction between sacred and profane language which exists as a general fact is not necessarily linked to the need to embody sacred words in an exclusive language.”

Video roster of languages and times; “FSI + a number” refers to the U.S. Foreign Service Institute ranking of difficulty for an English speaker, 1 being easier, and higher numbers being comparatively more difficult/requiring more hours of study:

0:00 Serbian—FSI 3
0:21 British English
1:03 Albanian—FSI 4/FSI 2
1:18 Finnish—FSI 4
1:46 Slovakian—FSI 4
2:25 German– FSI 2
2:56 Macedonian—FSI 4
3:26 Portuguese—FSI 1
3:54 Ukrainian—FSI 4
4:19 Croatian—FSI 4
4:50 Moldovan—not listed
5:48 Swedish—FSI1
6:14 Russian—FSI 4
6:52 Italian—FSI 1
7:22 Slovenian—FSI 4
7:49 Danish—FSI 1
8:22 Polish—FSI 4
8:44 Romanian—FSI 1
9:13 French—FSI 1
10:00 Byelarussian—not listed
10:24 Bulgarian—FSI 4
10:54 Greek—FSI 4
11:22 Czech—FSI 4
11:52 Dutch—FSI 1
12:35 Bosnian—FSI 4
13:00 Spanish (Castilian) – FSI 1
13:30 Estonian—FSI 4
14:02 Norwegian—FSI 1
14:53 Lithuanian—FSI 4
15:20 Irish Gaelic—not listed
15:52 Latvian—FSI 4
16:26 Icelandic—FSI 4
16:52 Hungarian—FSI 4
17:30 Slovenian—FSI 4

Edited/updated 10 July 2014

To a recent visitor re Celtic conlangs   Leave a comment

Brian (?) — You sent me an email to the adruidway AT yahoo DOT com address and Yahoo  Mail promptly ate it before I could read all of it or begin to reply.  Your message was dated around Jan. 25th.  (I only check the account about once a week or so.) You asked about Celtic conlangs as I recall, and I’d be happy to talk with you further and make some suggestions and maybe even collaborate on a Celticonlang! Sorry I didn’t even get your name before the entire email disappeared.  If you read this, please do write again!

Adruidway

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