Sinnsreachd - Gaelic Polytheistic Tribalism
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Posted: March 7th. 2010
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Sinnsreachd is a cultural and religious movement that revives the pre-Christian religion, including cultural elements, of the Gaelic peoples of Ireland and Scotland from which it and many of its practitioners are descended. Sinnsreachd is a Gàidhlig (Scots-Gaelic) word that means, in this context, "Customs of the Ancestors", and is a term that truly expresses what it is that we hold dear. Our faith, our culture, our way of life all fall within the bounds of that single word, yet no simple term can ever describe the vastness and complexity that is encompassed in the ways of our people.
In simplest terms, Sinnsreachd is a polytheistic folk religion that bases its core cultural, social, and religious doctrine off of the extant customs and superstitions of rural Ireland and Scotland combined with modern restorations of society, culture, and customary law gleaned through research. Sinnsreachd draws on the ancient elements of Gaelic culture and religion as they existed prior to Christianity, but does so in the modern day and age. While the history of the Gael from which Sinnsreachd draws is recorded and quite clear-cut, its direct roots as a modern movement are harder to pinpoint. Though the first vestiges of a resurgence of the faith of the pre-Christian Gael are found in writings from over a century ago, it is hard to determine exactly when academic postulation became faith.
Today Sinnsreachd is an overarching term, like Christianity or Buddhism, which encompasses many independent tribal or clan groups, organizations, families, and individuals, each united by an adherence to a particular way of life and belief. Though there are many variations from family to family, organization to organization, these differences are subtle and do not detract from the unified adherence to the core beliefs and traditions we call Sinnsreachd. These include the social structure and cultural forms found within the Féinechais, the Laws of the Freemen, also known as Brehon Law, which are the founding social and cultural doctrines of the Sinnsreachd faith. Much of the secular cultural aspects of Sinnsreachd, such as tribal structure, castes, and other social organization aspects, are derived from these ancient laws of the Gaelic people.
Other core elements of Sinnsreachd are the ethics, morals, and teachings of wisdom found in the Triads and the Teachings of the Kings. One of the most distinct elements of Sinnsreachd- one that sets it aside from many other Celtic or Gaelic polytheistic faiths- is the underlying practice of tribalism. All elements of Sinnsreachd and the personal identity of the Sinsearaithe are based, directly or indirectly, in the concept of the túath, or tribe. Sinnsreachd is not a religion of the person, but of the people. While there are individual Sinsearaithe who are not part of a túath, they are the rare exception, not the rule. Tribalism is Sinnsreachd's key defining characteristic.
Sinsearaithe believe that the indigenous culture and beliefs of the Gaelic people are sacral, taught to our ancestors by our Gods as the proper way of living. To us, the túath represents the core of this sacred way of life, and it is paramount that it be followed. Our belief is that the foreign cultural and religious influences that have overwhelmed mainstream Gaelic culture are unacceptable to follow, and represent a breaking of the pact established between the sovereignty Goddess Éiriu and the Milesians-the Tribes of Miled, the founders of the Gaelic people- a pact we are beholden to uphold. We believe that to maintain our end of the pact we must adhere to and follow the core of our ancestral culture, society, traditions, and beliefs as a way of life. In exchange for this, should we succeed in rebuilding our people and proving our worth and dedication, we will be granted a union with the land and prosperity.
It is our belief that someday, many generations down the road after we have rebuilt our people and our way of life into a proper heir to that of our ancestors, we will again have a sovereign homeland in which the teachings of our Gods and Ancestors are honored. Our adherence to a belief that our ancestral way of life is sacral does not mean that we seek to return to primitive living conditions or Iron Age technology. In fact, we embrace modern technology and science, and we believe that our way of life is more needed today than ever before.
Sinsearaithe believe that a modern incarnation of our ancient cultural values, society, laws, etc. are not only perfectly viable today, but are vastly more preferable to the evolving global monoculture that is rapidly spreading to every corner of the planet. It is the belief of our people that we have a sacred duty to build towards that future- rebuilding our population, our túatha, and our pride, recovering what lore and tradition was lost, rebuilding our societal infrastructure now that our ancestral homelands no longer recognize any vestige of it and have freed it from their control, and preserving those traditions, customs, beliefs, and cultural paradigms that still exist.
It is our duty to not only preserve and honor our culture, but to help guide it into the modern era so that it can be the foundation for the future. In a nutshell, our way of life is both our sacral duty to our Gods and Ancestors to follow as best we can, and is also seen by our people as a far better, safer, and more rewarding way of life compared to the mainstream Western societies we live among.
Socially, Sinnsreachd is a tribal faith, grouping into small to medium tribe-like family-based groups. The smallest of these groups is the household, called a teaghlach, teaghlaigh plural, comprised of a family of persons living under one roof or in one general household such as a farmstead. The next largest of these groups is the kin-group, or fine, finte plural (fineachan plural in Gàidhlig) , which is comprised of everyone in a particular family group related by blood or marriage from a common ancestor. Different varieties of these kin-groups exist, but the most commonly seen version is the dearbhfine, dearbhfhinte plural (dearbhfineachan plural in Gàidhlig) , which is all persons descended from a common ancestor out four generations.
In practice the dearbhfine is often a sort of “proto-túath”, being a large single family sometimes residing in more than one home. The largest organizational body of the Sinnsreachd faith is called a túath, túatha plural. The túath has been roughly equated to mean "tribe", and is considered to be all members of the Sinnsreachd faith in a cohesive body living in a particular geographical area. In practice a túath is a single entity consisting of two or more families. Túatha are independent; there is no single governing body for all of Sinnsreachd.
Sinnsreachd observes the four traditional Gaelic Féilte (religious festivals) . The dates are usually calculated to fall directly between the associated Solstice and Equinox. However, some Sinsearaithe use fixed dates.
Samhain (pronounced “SA-wen”) is the beginning of winter and is one of the two times when the veil between our world and the Otherworld grows thin allowing spirits and ancestors to cross over. We honor our visiting ancestors by setting an extra place at the table for them. In ritual at Samhain we call the rolls of our dead, especially remembering those that died in the previous year. Samhain is the end of the old year and beginning of the new.
Imbolc (pronounced “IM-bulk”) is the beginning of spring. As a time of renewal, it is traditional to ready our homes and tools for the active summer season. Imbolc is sacred to the goddess Bríghid. While other Féilte are more community-centered, Imbolc is traditionally family-centered. As such it is normally celebrated at the family home with only close family present.
Bealtaine (pronounced “BAL-tin-uh”) is the beginning of summer and really kicks off the season of growth and activity. It is the other point of the year when the veil is thin. Again a place is set for visiting ancestors. Also at Bealtaine, all hearth fires would be extinguished and then symbolically relit from a central fire at Uisneach. Today, the hearth or house candle is extinguished and the relit from the ritual fire. After the doldrums of winter, the Bealtaine feast is a very joyful affair and is often celebrated with a cookout and much revelry. As a time of great fertility it is also a time for marriages, both trial and legal, and other such activities.
Lughnasadh (pronounced “LOO-nuh-sah”) is the beginning of fall. This Féile is sacred to the god Lugh. Lugh is said to have started the Lughnasadh festivities in honor of His foster-mother, Tailtiu. Lughnasadh traditionally was a time when all the tribes would come together for tribal trade, negotiating treaties, settling of legal matters, etc. As part of this gathering great contests of skill and athletics were performed. Today we still hold various physical contests as part of the celebration. The overall winner is honored with the title of Tribal Champion for the year.
The methods of celebration of these Féilte are as varied as the túatha that make up Sinnsreachd. Some sort of ritualized observance is universal; however, the content and structure of the rituals range from very fancy affairs on par with many modern Druid groups to a simple prayer followed by a feast.
Sinnsreachd also has a fairly universal code of ethics and morals spelled out in various poems called Triads, primarily focused on honor, integrity and hospitality in both religious and cultural practices. Our standards of conduct are also gleaned from the Féinechais and the teachings of Irish kings such as Cormac Mac Art. A sample of those ethics is summed up in the teachings of the hero Fionn Mac Cumhail, champion of Ireland and founder of the elite Fianna-
"If you have a mind to be a champion, be quiet in a great man's house; be surely in the narrow pass. Do not beat your hound without cause; do not bring a charge against your wife without having knowledge of her guilt; do not hurt a fool in fighting, for he is without his wits. Do not find fault with high-up persons; do not stand up to take part in a quarrel; have no dealings with a bad man or a foolish man. Let two-thirds of your gentleness be shown to women, and to little children that are creeping on the floor, and to men of learning that make the poems, and do not be rough with the common people. Do not give your reverence to all; do not be ready to have one bed with your companions. Do not threaten or speak big words, for it is a shameful thing to speak stiffly unless you can carry it out afterwards. Do not forsake your lord so long as you live; do not give up any man that puts himself under your protection for all the treasures of the world. Do not speak against others to their lord, that is not work for a good man. Do not be a bearer of lying stories, or a tale-bearer that is always chattering. Do not be talking too much; do not find fault hastily; however brave you may be do not rise factions against you. Do not be going into drinking-houses, or finding fault with old men; do not meddle with low people; this is right conduct I =m telling you. Do not refuse to share your meat; do not have a fool for a fri=nd; do not force yourself on a great man or give him occasion to speak against you. Hold fast to your arms till the last fight is well ended. Do not give up your opportunity, but with that follow after gentleness."
While none are currently in print, Sinnsreachd-specific books are currently in the works and will be published over the next few years. Members of the Sinnsreachd faith look to various manuscripts and historical treatises for research, and books such as Lady Greggory’s Gods and Fighting Men for tales and inspiration. It is recognized, however, that not everyone is a scholar or researcher, and thus the need for books by Sinsearaithe for Sinsearaithe. Until then the following books will provide much of the basic foundation that Sinnsreachd is built upon.
Ancient Irish Tales by Slover and Cross
Celtic Heritage by Rees and Rees
A Guide to Early Irish Law by Fergus Kelly
Cattle Lords and Clansmen by Patterson
The Triads of Ireland by Fergus Kelly
Gods and Fighting Men by Lady Augusta Greggory
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