Nobody is aware of why Celtic Crosses have a circle. Guesses embrace pragmatic utilitarianism (to carry the arms up),1 the solar, Greek laurel wreath, Egyptian ankh, circle of creation,2 the Chi-Ro Greek monogram for Christ,3 the divine gentle that imbues all creation,4 the “Celestial Sphere” present in earlier Jap Christianity,5 and a spread of fanciful innovations primarily based on fashionable creativeness and pseudo-scholarship about Celtic “paganism.” [Leading scholars of pagan history agree that almost nothing is known about pre-Christian beliefs in Britain and Ireland. The few, conflicting descriptions we have, all come from highly tendentious, frequently incorrect foreigners (such as Julius Caesar, who also claimed that German forests were full of unicorns) or from Christian writers of later periods with strong agendas of their own (such as creating a native pagan history and mythology to rival their snobby Greek and Roman “Classical” neighbors).6] The circles on Celtic crosses stay a thriller.
With that in thoughts, I do not recommend an historic speculation right here; somewhat, I supply a theological perception from a contemporary Feminist Christian perspective. I ask the invitational query: “What occurs when fashionable Christians permit Celtic Crosses to represent the Compassing of the Divine Womb?”
Let’s start with the Carmina Gadelica, a set of prayers, blessings, mythology, and folklore collected by Alexander Carmichael within the Gaelic-speaking areas of Scotland between 1860 and 1909. Carmichael’s e-book supplies an enchanting glimpse into his interpretation of the worldview in that point and place. The frequent use of the phrase “caim” (Scottish Gaelic), translated into English as “compassing” significantly struck me:
‘Caim,’ encompassing, is a type of safeguarding widespread within the west… The encircling of any of the Three Individuals of the Trinity, or of the Blessed Virgin, or of any of the Apostles or of any of the saints could also be invoked, in line with the religion of the suppliant. In making the ‘caim ‘ the suppliant stretches out the correct hand with the forefinger prolonged, and turns spherical sunwise as if on a pivot, describing a circle with the tip of the forefinger whereas invoking the specified safety. The circle encloses the suppliant and accompanies [her/]him as [she/]he walks onward, safe- guarded from all evil with out or inside. Protestant or Catholic, educated or illiterate, could make the ‘caim ‘ in concern, hazard, or misery, as when some untoward noise is heard or some untoward object seen in the course of the night time…
The encircling of God, of Christ, of the Spirit, of Mary, of the Holy Rood, of the Holy Rood and of the saints in heaven, of Michael, of the 9 angels, of the saints and of the 9 angels, of Columba; and to those could also be added the customary epithets… the encircling of the God of the creatures, of Michael militant the victorious, of Columba the kindly. It’s also referred to as ‘caim na corraig,’ the encircling of the fore-finger, and ‘caim na còrach,’ the encircling of righteousness…
Could the compassing of the Three defend me in my means,
The compassing of the Three defend me today,
The compassing of the Three defend me this night time
From hate, from hurt, from act, from in poor health.
From hate, from hurt, from act, from in poor health.7
Should you learn the Carmina Gadelica you’ll encounter these circles of safety, compassing, and three dimensional shielding repeatedly all through its nice size. Douglas Hyde information an identical invocation of protecting in nineteenth century Eire, the place individuals referred to as out, “The Cross of Christ upon us!” in response to sudden bother:
“Individuals nonetheless believed that there was an invisible host round them, prepared to harm them if it had the possibility. So they might use the cross as one would use a weapon.
Could or not it’s a powerful fortress, the fortress through which we’re,
Could or not it’s a blind host, this host that’s coming to us.”8
The favored Irish invocation referred to as “Saint Patrick’s Breastplate” (recorded 4 centuries after Patrick’s demise) expresses an identical request for protecting compassing. It reads partially:
Christ with me,
Christ earlier than me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my proper,
Christ on my left,
Christ once I lie down,
Christ once I sit down,
Christ once I come up,
Christ within the coronary heart of each man who thinks of me,
Christ within the mouth of everybody who speaks of me,
Christ in each eye that sees me,
Christ in each ear that hears me.
I bind to myself to-day,
The sturdy energy of an invocation of the Trinity,
The religion of the Trinity in Unity
The Creator of the Components…
Medieval Celtic Christians additionally believed that angels, saints, and the ability of the Trinity encompass us in a circle of pleasant love and help, each as an unseen presence and likewise seen within the pure world,9 such that medieval Welsh poet Dafydd ap Gwilym describes the birds and timber of the forest as a Eucharist purer even than one discovered inside a church:
The Woodland Mass
A nice place I used to be at at present
Below the mantles of the worthy inexperienced hazel
Listening at day’s starting
To the skilful cock thrush
Singing a splendid stanza…
Like inexperienced mantles, his chasuble
Was of the wings of the wind.
There was right here, by the nice God,
Nothing however gold within the altar’s cover.
I heard, in polished language,
An extended and faultless chanting,
An unhesitant studying to the individuals
Of a Gospel with out mumbling;
The elevation, on the hill for us there,
Of a great leaf for a holy wafer…
The chalice of ecstasy and love.
The psalmody contents me;
It was bred of a birch-grove within the candy woods.
The forest Eucharist symbolizes the bodily presence of Christ encircling us. Christ-presence in birdsong, timber, mist, and fertility thus surrounds us with all-encompassing divine energy, power, and therapeutic love.
Protecting, loving circling, encompassing, surrounding, and so on., fills these prayers time and again, echoing and repeating in layer upon layer, varied variations of the image of a circle or sphere of divine presence, inside which we’re protected, nourished, and liked. Should you step into the world of outdated Celtic prayers and blessings, you step right into a world through which the Divine is an encompassing, embracing orb of protecting love.
Our fashionable world is filled with concern and uncertainty, with a determined want for non secular traditions that carry us consolation, fortitude, and inspiration. Within the subsequent submit, we are going to stare upon these historical prayers by way of a feminist lens and uncover how they deeply enrich our non secular and devotional path. Lovely Celtic invocations of the protecting presence of highly effective feminine saints will information us to embrace these traditions that present channels of emotional wellness within the face of griefs and brokenness. We’ll expertise the Compassing of the Divine Womb birthing Christian feminist liberation within the very coronary heart of the religion neighborhood.
1. Werner, Martin (1990). “On the Origin of the Type of the Irish Excessive Cross”. Gesta. 29 (1): 98–110.
2. De Waal, Esther (1999). Each Earthly Blessing: Rediscovering the Celtic Custom. Harrisburg: Morehouse Publishing., p112.
3. Bryce, Derek. Symbolism of the Celtic Cross. York Seashore, ME: Weiser Books, 1989.
4. Newell, J. Philip (1997). Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality. London: SPCK Publishing., p34-35.
5. Herren, Michael W.; Brown, Shirley Ann (2002). Christ in Celtic Christianity: Britain and Eire from the Fifth to the Tenth Century. Boydell Press.
6. Hutton, Ronald (2009). Blood & Mistletoe: The Historical past of the Druids in Britain. New Haven & London: Yale College Press.
7. Carmichael, Alexander (2020). Carmina Gadelica: hymns and Incantations Collected within the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Edinburgh: Floris Books.
8. Hyde, Douglass (1906). Spiritual songs of Connacht. London, Dublin: Irish College Press, II., p287 c.f. DeWaal, Esther (1991), p.120.
9. De Waal, Esther (1999), p125-130.
Trelawney Grenfell-Muir has taught programs about Intercourse, Relationship, Marriage, and Work within the Faith and Theological Research Division at Merrimack School and about Cross Cultural Battle within the Division of Battle Decision, Human Safety, and World Governance on the College of Massachusetts, Boston. A Senior Discussant on the Faith and the Practices of Peace Initiative at Harvard College, she holds an M.Div. from the Boston College Faculty of Theology with a focus in Faith and Battle, and a Ph.D. in Battle Research and Faith with the College Professors Program at Boston College. She at the moment writes articles, e-book chapters, and liturgical assets about feminist, nature-based Christianity.