Pwyll and the Celts

There seem to be many people in the Asheville area who claim affiliation to some form of paganism, and from both pagan and Christian communities in the area there are many who seem inspired by the idea of “the Celts,” so it is not surprising that writer Alli Marshall chose to retell the story of Pwyll in the holiday guide [“Holiday Folk Tale,” Dec. 19].

From the vantage point of those whose culture it is, or who are involved seriously in it, it is distressing that people exploit forms of Celtic culture for themselves and project their desired images into it without doing their homework to find out the historical realities. Christian ministers are highly trained in the history and literature of Christianity, and accordingly, we expect high standards of scholarship behind their statements. Like Native American spirituality, however, when it comes to “the Celts,” any old rubbish and wish fulfillment seem acceptable, despite reams of scholarship on the subject.

Christianity came to the British Isles with the Roman Empire, and the last vestiges of druidism were dead by the ninth century. All of the “Celtic” stories that survive were written by thoroughly Christian men. The earliest version of the story of Pwyll and Rhiannon survives in a Welsh manuscript of the 14th century, nearly 500 years after the final demise of pre-Christian Celtic religion. Alli is misguided [in] calling this a “pre-Christian” story, as we can’t be certain how much of this story is pre-Christian. There is furthermore no evidence of a Celtic midwinter celebration; that’s a Germanic tradition.

It’s great to “honor” various traditions, but it’s not an honor to be misrepresented or treated cavalierly.

—  Michael Newton

Reporter Alli Marshall responds: As Mr. Newton points out, religious and cultural history sprouts from extremely complex roots warranting years of scholarly research to understand with any accuracy. The Xpress holiday guide hardly aspires to serve as a textbook on spiritual traditions, but simply offers lighthearted entertainment—with warmest respect for the diverse array of cultures, heritages and religions celebrated at this time of year.

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