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Celtic Virtues

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Celtic Virtues

Postby SifGreyWillow on Sat Jan 03, 2009 8:10 am

Celtic Virtues
by Alexei Kondratiev

0. HONOR- (oaths, duty)
2. HOSPITALITY - (generosity, care for dependents and followers)
3. TRUSTWORTHINESS - (truthfulness, honesty)
4. JUSTICE - (fairness, balance, respect for others)
6. INDEPENDENCE - (liberty, responsibility for choices, resistance to compulsion)
7. SELF RULE - (individuality, self-reliance, self-restraint)
8. INDUSTRIOUSNESS - (perseverance, persistence)
9. RESOLVE - (determination, setting a goal, taking a stand, steadfast)

A. INITIATIVE - (vigor, energetic, active)
B. CLEVERNESS - (wit, ingenuity)
C. WISDOM - (knowledge, discernment, judgment)
D. CREATIVITY - (playfulness, delight, puzzles, games, mischief)
E. EXCELLENCE - (achievement, success, skill)

With "responsibility" we're getting into a range of concepts that early Celts would probably not have articulated as we do. For "responsible" most modern Celtic languages use a word that translates the original Latin and means "answering to" (Irish 'freagrach', Welsh 'atebol', Manx 'freggyrtagh').Cornish translates "responsibility" as 'omgemmeryans', literally "taking upon oneself". Breton uses 'kiriek' for "responsible", which originally means "guilty" in the sense of "bearing the blame" (it's a cognate of Irish 'coireach', which also means "guilty"). In earlier times the word most commonly used in Gaelic languages in roughly this sense was 'cú ram', which literally means "care (for something)", so that anything that's in your 'cú ram' is your responsibility. Scots Gaelic still uses 'cu\ramach' with the sense of "responsible" (in Irish it simply means "careful"). All these words refer more to "what one is responsible for" than to "the quality of being responsible", which is too modern a concept.

The traditional Irish word that is usually translated as "honour" is 'oineach' which (by way of 'ainech') goes back to OI 'enech' which originally means "face" (from Old Celtic 'eniequos') -- cognates in Welsh 'wyneb', Cornish and Breton 'enep' (same meaning). Thus the idea of honour is primarily related to one's "face" which must be saved in the eyes of the community. A closely related concept, often mentioned in the same contexts, is that of 'clú ' ("reputation" or "fame"), which comes from an IE root meaning "to hear" and thus refers to what is being said about someone. To be honourable, then, is to maintain one's "face" before the community and to be "heard of" in a good way. Dishonour comes from losing "face" and being "heard of" in a bad way. The term 'enech' also expresses the idea of personal power, since as long as one has "face" in the community one is able to influence others: thus people or things that are your responsibility or otherwise under your protection are described as being "on" or "under" your "face". When you lose "face", of course, you're no longer able to extend the protection. What emerges from this is a sense of honour and dishonour being very much defined by the community, rather than the individually chosen codes of honour that are more characteristic of our modern way of thinking.

The Irish word that best translates "loyalty" is 'tairise' (from Old Irish 'tairisiu'), which literally means "steadfastness". Originally it had both passive and active meanings: ie, it implied a state of trust in the other as well as consistent involvement for the other's benefit. The key notion here is consistency, sticking to one's chosen position in relation to other people. The other word often used for "loyal" is 'dí lis' (Old Irish 'dí les'), which comes from Old Celtic 'dí lestos' and also appears as Welsh 'dilys'. This is the secondary meaning of a term widely used in Brehon Law to mean "inalienable property": the idea is something that is unquestionably the attribute of something else. Thus it also comes to refer to consistency and permanence: certain (desirable) traits and sentiments are so deeply imbedded in the person that they are unchangeable and can be depended upon. In modern Welsh usage 'dilys' often means "authentic".

Courage was a virtue of such paramount importance to a warrior society that there are lots of terms that could be said to refer to it. 'Meisnech' (modern 'misneach') means "courage" in the sense of being able to keep one's head (it comes from the root 'med-' "to measure, to reckon"). It generally implies that one can maintain control over one's mood. 'Calmacht' (derived from the adjective 'calma') comes from a root that means "hard" (the same as in Welsh 'caled' "hard") and implies strength in endurance. The same is true of 'cró dacht' (modern 'cró gacht'), derived from 'cró dae' (modern 'cró ga'), which originally meant something like "bloodthirsty", the hardness that prevents one from being swayed by pity in battle; eventually this came to mean simply "bravery" in all senses. 'Uchtach' comes from 'ucht' "breast, bosom" and originally meant a breastplate, and then acquired an abstract meaning of moral defense; it was also understood as "spirit, mettle". All the Brythonic languages use 'calon' ('kalon'/'kolonn') "heart" to mean "courage" (notice that it's also formed from the root that means "hard"). Welsh also uses 'gwroldeb' derived from 'gwrol' which means "male-like, typifying masculine virtues", as well as 'dewrder' derived from 'dewr', which had similar connotations. Older Welsh also used the word 'glew' which basically means "bold, daring" -- as in the name of King Arthur's doorkeeper, Glewlwyd Gafaelfawr "The Bold Grey One of the Mighty Grasp".

Virtues from the Audacht Morainn

Trocár - Mercy
FIrión - Justice
Chosmuil - Impartiality
Chuibsech - Conscience
Fosath - Firmness
Eslabar - Generosity
Garte - Hospitality
Fiálainech - Honor
Sessach - Stability
Lessach - Beneficense
Étir - Capability
Inric - Honesty
Suthnge - Eloquence
Foruste - Steadiness
Fírbrethach - Truth in Judging

Here's a clarification of the terms

Trócar (modern 'trócaire'): "mercy". This comes from 'tróg' + 'car', literally "friendly to pity". Old Celtic 'trógá ' means both "sorrow, grief" and the emotions aroused by seeing this in others. The idea is the ability and willingness to empathize with others. In legal situations it carries the meaning of "leniency". Welsh uses the same word: 'trugaredd'.

Fíreoin (ie, Fírén, modern 'fíréán'): "Justice". This is really derived from 'fírue, truth" and refers to the discerning of the truth in a situation, which results in justice.

Cosmail (modern 'cosúil'): "Similar, fitting". The noun is 'cosmailius' (modern 'cosúlacht'). It originally comes from Old Celtic 'kom- samalis', which gives the idea of "like goes with like". It doesn't per se mean "impartiality", but the idea is of doing what the situation normally requires, rather than changing the rules.

Cuibsech "Conscientious, scrupulous": The noun is 'cubus' (modern 'coibhse', which now means "confession, examination of conscience"). The best modern English equivalent might be "responsibility" -- the awareness of one's duties to others.

Fossad (modern 'fosadh'): "Steadiness, stability". It literally means "having a seat under oneself". It means consistency and firmness in one's position, not easily swayed by outside opinion (ie, from pursuing the truth).

Eslabra "Generous, liberal, unstinting": The noun is 'eslabrae'. Originally from Old Celtic 'ex slabratobis' "out of chains" -- ie, knowing no bounds. The idea is that one doesn't place arbitrary limits on one's generosity and availability.

Gart "Generosity, hospitality, open-handedness": It comes from a root meaning "warm", so its literal meaning is "warmth, friendliness" --acceptance and openness to other people, giving each their due.

Fíalainech: This is composed of 'fíal' ("faithful, seemly, proper, generous, noble") and 'enech' ("face, honour"). It means essentially "politeness, courteous behaviour".

Sessach (modern 'seasmhach',from 'sessmach'): "Sturdy, strong, steadfast". The noun is 'sessacht' or 'sessmacht'. the idea is someone who stands his ground and is not easily intimidated.

Lessach "Helpful, beneficent": This comes from the noun 'les' (modern 'leas') which means "(someone's) good", and also refers to the verb 'lessad' (modern stem 'leasaigh') 'to remedy". The idea is to seek actively to help other people.

Étir (modern 'féidir', as in 'is féidir liom' "I can"): "Power, ability". A modern English equivalent might be "competence".

Iondraic (modern 'ionraic'): "Honest, trustworthy". The noun is 'iondracus'(modern 'ionracas'). In a legal context it refer to a witness whose testimony can be believed.

Soithnge "Eloquent": Originally 'so + tengae', literally "good with tongue". The noun is 'soithnges'. This refers, of course, to the Celtic emphasis on the mastery of good language.

Forusta (modern 'forasta'): "Well-grounded, sedate, composed". The noun is 'forus' (modern 'foras') which originally means "established base". The idea is "calm, composed" -- also "sensible".

Fírbrethach "Giving Correct Judgment": Self-explanatory from 'fír' "true" and 'breth' "judgment" -- ie, not allowing one's personal bias to interfere with the determination of right and wrong.

I (Alexei) think this list of virtues would make an excellent base for building a consistent moral philosophy. I'd like to advise some prudence in dealing with the "modern / not-modern" issue, however. A lot of our "modern" attitudes are simply the reflection of our dominant materialist/capitalist culture, and to adapt a Celtic moral system to what seems "normal" in everyday life is simply to undermine our effort of devising an alternative, Celtic-based moral philosophy. If we want to "modernize" any of these virtues, it should be as part of a process that grows organically out of the original moral philosophy, not simply an uncritical "giving in" to modern pressures.
Alexei Kondratiev ( mailto:AlexeiK@aol.com )
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