Celts – Prehistoric Indo-European Iron Age tribes that lived in preRoman northwest Europe and colonized Europe west of the Danube from around 1000 BCE; also, speakers of ancient and modern Celtic languages, especially in the modern national regions in Northern Europe of Scotland, Ireland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Cornwall, and Brittany. The notion of a “Celtic shamanism” is quite recent, used most often by neo-shamans exploring Druidry and practices of altered states of consciousness among the Celts, although some academics have also examined evidence for these themes.
The term Celt, however, is a construct and is contentious. Used by archaeologists to mean the prehistoric Iron Age peoples in northwest Europe, it is nevertheless problematic to define any people as Celtic based on their metalworking and material culture alone. More strictly speaking, the term Celt is a linguistic convention, the Celtic language being divided into Brythonic (“P” Celtic) and Goidelic (“Q” Celtic), both of which survive in modern form in parts of Great Britain, Ireland, and France. While it does not therefore denote a racial or ethnic category, Celt and Celtic endure (among academics and in popular culture) to refer to a distinct people and culture, although these people( s) and their culture remain slippery and difficult to pin down. Archaeologically and historically, it can be difficult to distinguish the ancient Celts from their neighbors (e.g., the Germanic tribes), while linguistically and geographically the Celts were regionally variant— Gaulish Celts were similar to but not the same as Irish Celts. The writers of the Celtic Twilight contributed a romantic and a nationalist spin to the image of the Celts and their medieval literature, and some inhabitants of the modern Celtic nations have enthusiastically embraced this identity. Celt has an undeniable “currency,” and while archaeologists, linguists, and historians have little choice but to battle with its generalizing, nationalist, but useful nature, in popular culture Celtic is a buzzword frequently used unreservedly to mean many things, from the Neolithic passage tomb of Newgrange to silver jewelry, rock music—and shamanism. The works of John and Caitlin Matthews on British shamanism, including The Celtic Shaman (1991a) and Taliesin: Shamanism and the Bardic Mysteries in Britain and Ireland (1991c), popularized and offered considerable evidence for Celtic shamanic practices and how modern Westerners might use these. Other manuals of practical Celtic shamanism have been contributed by Tom Cowan (Fire in the Head: Shamanism and the Celtic Spirit, 1993), Jan Fries (Cauldron of the Gods: Manual of Celtic Magick, 2001), and Frank MacEowen (The Spiral of Memory and Belonging, 2004). More recently, the Druid Philip “Greywolf” Shallcrass has been involved in reconstructive Celtic shamanism, using the practice of Awenyddion as described in the late 12th century by Gerald of Wales as a primary source. Scholars are more reluctant to ascribe shamanism (a constructed term itself) to the Celts, but Leslie Ellen Jones (author of Druid, Shaman, Priest: Metaphors of Celtic Paganism, 1998) and Robert Wallis have offered careful, critical analysis of both contemporary practitioners and speculations on ancient Celts, which indicates the term Celtic shamanism may not be the oxymoron it first appears.