The Apple Branch: A Path To Celtic Ritual by Alexei Kondratiev
This is one of the very few books out there that discusses how to walk a Celtic rituals in a well thought out structured manner. It is not Celtic Reconstruction. It is however, a great book to read if you want to start performing your own rituals. I’ve read this book a couple of times and now I am reading it again to review it, and I expect as time goes by I will read it again.
Chapter One: The Tale of the Celts
This first chapter gives you the history of the Celts from their first emergence as a distinct culture to the time they split into the Celtic countries of today. The author admits that it is his view of the history of the Celts. There is nothing incorrect in the history per se but he does view it from the viewpoint of how the culture behaved rather than the economic or in the time line sense. Still it was a great survey of the history in such a small space. He also discusses how the western world has ignored their environment to their detriment and that perhaps reclaiming this old/new spirituality is the way to bring our selves back to an eco-centric worldview rather than an egocentric one.
Chapter Two: Drawing The Circle
This chapter has always been a little difficult for me to read. Not because I didn’t like what I was reading but because it took me a while to get my feet grounded in mythology enough to know what he is talking about. The author does have some ideas on the people following the Celtic path. He tries very hard to answer a lot of questions that might come up for people who want to follow this path but are scared somehow. For example he has a lot to say about genetics, mainly that being Celtic is a cultural association more than a blood related one though having “Celtic” ancestors is certainly a plus. He stresses that it is important to learn at least one of the Celtic languages, and I know that that has disgruntled a lot of people, but I have to agree on that point. Having a working knowledge of a culture’s language gives you a great insight into their thought process and their way of living. Plus whether it is Welsh or Irish or any other of the Celtic languages, they are beautiful in their own right and deserve to be preserved. He does also think that in order for the Celtic culture to survive all the Celtic countries should unite I’m not sure how viable that is. In his enthusiasm it does seem like he is trying to lump all the Celtic countries together but he isn’t, he does say that they are each distinct in their own right but should be associated wit each other. Seriously though, if the ancient Celts couldn’t unite, how can the current Celtic nations with all the history between them? The author also points out that when studying the Celts and taking in their spiritual traditions we should not dismiss the influence of Christianity, it is after all one stream in the long history of the Celtic countries. He describes the importance of tribe and land to the Celtic spirituality and how you can incorporate that into your life. The rest of the chapter goes on to describe the sacred space and how to set it up and how to associate direction with function. I think it is here that most people will say that he has strayed into Wiccan territory but I disagree. His associations are just as valid as the Sky, Land and Sea associations. He does pick them from known parts of mythology like the stories in the Book of the Taking of Ireland and The Settling of the Manor at Tara and if you know a little about the Indo-European cultures you know that some of what he presents in this chapter also jives with them, for example, facing east to pray. Archeologically, even in the Indo-European times worship enclosures if available were mostly square or rectangle with only some being circular so having four directions is just as valid as having the three of Sky, Land and Sea. Still this is a tough chapter and I guess what you take from it is your own choice.
Chapter Three: The Cycles of Earth and Sun
This is the longest chapter of the book. In this chapter the author argues that even though the ancient Celts may have originally celebrated only Imbolc, Beltaine, Lughnasadh and Samhain (which are connected to the earth), the other four festivals associated with the sun were later incorporated and became part of Celtic tradition. Some people now a days (he calls them purists) and I’m one of these people, only celebrate the four festivals mentioned above. He goes on to describe each of the eight festivals in detail and give the associations of each.
Chapter Four: The Cycle of the Moon
In this chapter the author outright tells you that the association between the 13 moons of the year and the lines of Amergin’s Song are his own creation though he has tried to stay true to the spirit of Celtic tradition. Though I do not use these associations myself I thought it was an interesting chapter to read.
Chapter Five: The Cycle of the Tribe
This chapter is one that I’m going to guess will make pagans a little angry because it involves the dates ascribed to saints. I think though that I know why the author included them here. We cannot erase the Christian history of the Celtic countries, and we cannot completely ignore it. These days represent important events in the lives of the Tribes we have chosen and though we do not have to celebrate them we can’t be ignorant about them. When you are a part of a tribe everyone has to be included.
All in all I think this is a book that everyone should at least read. You may not agree with all of it, but it does have some interesting ideas on the structure of ritual and a lot of good information for the person or persons hoping to follow a Celtic path.