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Monday, September 17, 2012

book review - the CR FAQ

   Today's book review will focus on the single most recommended book for Celtic recons, the CR FAQ. This really is one of those "must read" books for anyone interested in Celtic recon, and is the product of the collaborative efforts of some of the founding members of this approach to Celtic religion. It was published in 2007 in print and appears free online at
     One of the best things about this book is its flexibility. It can be read straight through or used as a reference with a very thorough table of contents and in depth index making looking up anything simple. The format itself is a typical question and answer FAQ style allowing for the reader to identify a printed question that is similar to what he or she is curious about and then read the answer. However, as I stated earlier, the book also lends itself well to cover-to-cover reading.
    The book begins by defining CR, Celtic, and reconstruction, giving someone new to the concepts a basis to understand the concepts. The next section looks at basic questions like whether Celtic ancestry is necessary, whether there is a particular "holy" text, solitary versus group practice, clergy and lay people, etc., This is followed by a section of intermediate questions, including a look at the place of UPG, and then sections on misconceptions, theology, ritual, ethics, druids and druidry, the difference between CR and other religions, how to get into CR, as well as a reading list and pronunciation guide. All of the topics touched on are common questions about CR and make reading the FAQ a good idea for beginners. Even after years of practice and community participation I still re-read it regularly just to re-connect with certain ideas within it.
   Generally I like the book and I like that it is willing to tackle difficult issues like cultural appropriation. If it has one drawback it is the nature of the book itself - it is a FAQ and not a definitive guide to practicing CR, but then again, there is no definitive guide (nor could there be with the diverse nature of CR itself). Also each answer is fairly short and concise; there are no in depth essays on CR beliefs or practices. A person looking for a detailed explanation of how to practice will be disappointed, but for anyone who is curious about what CR is, or  looking for a place to start creating an individual practice, or even someone new to the online or real world CR community that is just looking for an understanding of how it all works, this is the best place to start.


  1. I'm saddened to say that there have been few publications that have dealt with the topic of CR ritual at all, as it seems to have evolved as personal practice unique to each individual. Obviously, a great deal of these practices deal with the shrines one consecrates within our personal spaces and the methodology of our personal votive offerings. Kondratiev's work is the only attempt I have discovered at codifying any sort of cultural ritual, and - for some - it seems to miss the mark (I do, however, greatly enjoy it). Nonetheless, the CR FAQ is a good primer - I remember the days of cut and pasting it off the website...

    1. In addition to Alexei Kondratiev's estimable work, there are also Aedh Rua's Celtic Flame (though he no longer considers himself to "be a CR", whatever that means, he came out of that tradition of exploring Celtic polytheist religions that we have come to term "Celtic Reconstructionism" - I'll point out that I am one of the authors of the book under review here, and I do not consider myself to "be a CR"; rather, I consider myself a Celtic/Gaelic polytheist who makes use of Reconstructionist techniques) and Tadhg MacCrossan's The Sacred Cauldron (though problematic in some ways, it is the first attempt to lay out a communal, culturally-based rite, and the author, who now uses the name Teresa Monica Cross, and who is revising the original book and looking for a new publisher, seems sympathetic to CR goals and methods, and may consider herself to be such at this point, though I do not wish to speak for her). In addition, I am currently very much of the opinion that Ceisiwr Serith's Deep Ancestors lays out the ritual framework that should have been in Alexei Kondratiev's book, and that combining the two (perhaps also with a hierarchical structure derived from Aedh Rua's and/or Tadhg MacCrossan's books) may be the best possible route to take.

    2. I like Alexei's book and also Aedh Rua's - I think they both offer some good material and ideas, even if its not all exactly as I would do it. I still have to get a copy of The Sacred Cauldron; it would be nice to see that back in print.

  2. On behalf of all of us, thank you for this review! We worked hard on it, and I doubt that there will ever be anything quite like it again, with its attempt to synthesize all of our varying (and possibly incompatible) approaches. Regardless of any criticisms which can be made, the final product seems useful to so many who are interested in the subject that I can't say that we failed at all.

    1. I appreciate the effort that went in to the book and am glad you all put it out there. It is the best starting point to understanding what CR is, and I doubt it will ever be equaled by anything else. Honestly avoiding trying to define practice was probably the best way to go because it keeps the book open to all CR's instead of falling into the many arguments about how to actually do (in detail) anything.

  3. Ceisiwr Serith's book is a gem! I have absolutely enjoyed the approach to recreating an Indo-European framework that he put forth! Not CR, obviously, but truly inspired. I have however, in passing, heard of Aedh Rua's work - but not of MacCrossan's.

    Personally, I have completely deviated - after nearly 20 years - towards other roads myself. Where this is leading me, I don't know - but I spent so many hours pouring over archaeology and heavy history that I needed a little practical expression.

    I find myself taking pointers from Brunaux and reading more about Greek ritual constructs, learning about self development from Thorn Coyle, and working rituals with other serious Pagans of various stripes. The solitude of CR, for me, became almost numbing - an almost misanthropic sort of affair.

    I also live in rural Vermont, far from the cities and enclaves of the academic Pagan community - and I find myself increasingly thankful that I live in such an environment for the degree of natural connection. My path is different than a lot of CRs - though I avidly advocate and apply the methodology, to somewhat different ends.

    1. To advocate and apply the methodology is to use Reconstructionist methods (I will assume from the context that it is toward a Celtic or other generally northern European pagan/polytheist end). As I said above, I don't even know what it means to "be a CR", so I can't understand describing a person as "a CR" - unless it is a mere matter of self-identity, in which case I have no respect for the usage.

      One may reconstruct what the religious life of a particular culture (however one chooses to define "culture") with a view toward applying it in practice, which makes one a pagan/polytheist who uses Reconstructionist methods. Another calls himself "a CR", which says nothing about what he actually does, but only about his alleged allegiance. I have no patience for that second.

      MacCrossan's book, as I said, has certain problematic elements (an oversystematization of some aspects*, some ritual elements that are poorly thought-out at best**, and so on), but it is still the first book that approached modern polytheism in a manner that we would eventually come to describe as "Celtic Reconstructionist", having been first published in 1991 or 1992.

      Here is a quote from the introduction of MacCrossan's work:

      "…[T]here is a… version of the Celtic traditions which is grounded in solid scholarship and the scientific methods. This is the view grounded in comparative studies in linguistics, history, folklore and the mythologies of the Indo-European-speaking cultures. With these methods and tools we can truly discover what the Celts believed in by asking the Celts themselves what their old religion was about instead of telling them what their religion was about. This means not to allow oneself to create an old Celtic religion or druidism from one's own aspirations and beliefs, but instead to reconstruct the religion based on the oldest documents that preserve the authentic older faith." [bold emphasis mine, italics in original]

      The degree of success of the attempt is subject to debate, but the intention is clearly the same.

      *Some would describe these things as "UPG". I would call them instead "personal interpretation of extant texts".
      **Putting honey in a newborn's mouth can prove fatal.

  4. Agreed. I will check out the book, as I somehow had missed it, bearing in mind the caveats...