Sunday, July 22, 2007

Gearóid Ó Colmáin on the roots of Ireland's Celtic heritage, and its Sanskrit origins

When the sun rises on the 21st day of June every year, throngs of new-age Celtic enthusiasts gather near the Hill of Tara for the summer solstice. They are no doubt motivated by a well- intentioned desire to revive ancient Druidic practices and ‘re-connect’ with our Celtic past. But the real significance of our Celtic heritage is only beginning to become clear to us, and it involves a journey which is not only historical but geographical as well; a journey which takes us across Europe and the Middle East into India and parts of China.
We are in the trail of one of the world’s great civilisations, which probably had its origins in the Caucasus or Anatolia (what is now modern Turkey), spreading eastward into India and westward throughout the European continent till it reached Ireland. I am talking about what scholars refer to as ‘Indo-European’, the parent language from which most European languages are derived.
The word ‘druid’ is comprised of two elements: ‘dru’, cognate with ‘drus’ in Classical Greek (both words used to name the oak tree), and ‘vid’, meaning ‘to see or to know’, comparable to the Latin ‘videre’ (both derived from the Sanskrit ‘vid’, which has a similar meaning). Therefore, someone who is a druid is an oak-seer, or oak-knower; in other words, someone capable of divining the innermost secrets of the universe.
The ancient texts of India are called the Vedic texts, from the same root ‘vid’. The interpreters of these texts were called Brahmins, and their occult knowledge was called ‘Vedas’, or wisdom. All the evidence suggests that the Brahmins of India and the druids of Eireann are cousins, and this is borne out by the astonishing similarities of Old Irish with the old language of India, Sanskrit. In fact, no other language in the Indo-European family shows such a close relationship. Just some examples will suffice to demonstrate this extraordinary affinity: naib (good in Old Irish) to noeib (holy in Sanskrit); badhire (deaf) to bodhar (deaf); names (respect) to nemed (respect) – there are many more.
But to come back to the cosmic divination I mentioned above, it is important to bear in mind that at the time, Europe was covered in forests, and that the oak tree was significant for many Indo-European cultures. I have written about this before, as I have about Danu, our great mother goddess whose breasts protrude from the hills of West Cork and whose waters flow where ever her name is known: the Danube, the Rhone, the Don, etc. She is also found in India. Rivers played a central role in divination and ritual, votive offerings and burials.
Perhaps an authentic reconstruction of druidic ritual in Tara this coming solstice might involve successive readings from the Rig Veda in Sanskrit, and perhaps the Song of Amghairghin the Druid in Old Irish – a song that, according to the scholar Peter Beresford Ellis, parallels the declaration of Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita:

Am gaeth im muir
Am tond trethan
Am fuaim mara
Am dam secht ndrenn

(I am the wind in the sea / I am the sea-wave upon the land / I am the roar of the sea / I am the stag of the seven fights)
That would be a ceremony worthy of respect.
And yet, even aside from the Hindu parallels, there is also a Buddhist connection. In an Old Irish manuscript found in Würzburg, Germany, the word ‘budh’ was given as ‘ point of fire’ and the ‘planet Mercury’ in the glossary. The basic meaning of the word ‘budh’ in all Celtic languages is ‘all victorious’ – ‘Buachaint’ in modern Irish means ‘ to win’. The name of the British warrior queen Boudicaa, who revolted against Roman rule in 60AD, is also derived from this root. The word occurs again in Sanskrit and means ‘to know’ or ‘to be enlightened’, giving us the term ‘Buddism’, while the name for the planet Mercury in the Vedas is also ‘Budh’.
I have to conclude that any ceremonies on the Hill of Tara which do not include Buddhist or Hindu incantations are little more than vacuous twaddle, for it is only through our encounter with these traditions, still very much alive, that we can begin to discover the possible meaning of our own. Perhaps then, as the sun descends on Tara, we can raise our heads to the skies and sing with Krishna – in Irish, croi (heart):

Among the Adiyas Vishnu I am/Among lights the radiant sun/Among the Maruts Marici I am/Among the stars I am the moon
Perhaps then, one could come down from Tara as, in the winged-words of the late John Moriarty, “a sage who comes back speaking Upanishads among us”.
For an archaeology of Irish and Hindi visit

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