“so long as a conquered people speaks another
language than their conquers,
the best part of them remains free.” (De Gaulle)
DIGGING CELT FROM A DESECRATED TREE
A ‘passage grave’ is actuality an initiatory womb within earth
We have been given garbled, sacrificially righteous us and them stories. Of firstly the colonizers of vast, worldwide indigenous landscapes, their descendants and, of seemingly lesser importance, the (in the matter of this topic) human people, that have been slaughtered, scattered and disenfranchised as a result. What is the logic behind this arrogance? That of the perpetrator? The thoughtlessness of those who, in the wake of military and religious oppression, systematically steal and settle territories that, for countless generations, have been hunting grounds, contained the lore and are the lifeblood and memory, of people.
None of the above includes our relatives of forest, fur, fin, stone and soil. Also decimated.
It is thoughtlessness that needs interrogating, because hidden in plain sight is our real history. Not taught by parents and grandparent, not by schools, and never by governments, politicians or clergy has perpetuated injustice.
Thoughtlessness is passed up the splintered bone and razor-wire scaffolding, even made from their own mothers’ ashes. From the deep crevasses and burial caves an ancestral dead whose outraged keening rides winds and storms, any of countless and continuous weather-related deadlies moving over the whole earth, their howls rarely—if ever—recognized as a language, let alone heard. Let alone listened to. Let alone understood. Let alone claimed.
During the 1960s, when Australia enacted war on the landscape and the people of Vietnam, in the name of a kingdom and a republic, I woke up from some weird hypnotic sleep. I began to seriously question everything claimed as historically, socially and morally acceptable. Two of my friends, both in their teens, were killed in that war. The stereotyping of non-Anglo cultures was finally becoming an uprising outrage, as was the realization of the suppression of women.
Claiming Celticness was, in retrospect something to which I could identify as a young person, but generally, and in retrospect, without the wisdom-minutiae of ancestor training. Rather it was born of a desire to belong to a culture that was plausible—more authentic, and more richly woven into an animist and nature-related tapestry than that of a rapacious English monarchy, adorned with the diamonds, rubies and pearls stolen from the lands of Africa and India, and under whose jurisdiction, and that of her forbears, culture after culture has been plundered and decimated.
How could we have known? We had been cuckolded into a false self-identity and a network of lies. Forty years ago there was little to no information on historic Celts. Nothing on King Leopold. Nothing on Bobby Sands: a byline in Australian newspapers. What I read was repetitious and, in the lingua-franca of the current era, fake news: The Celts began around the Austrian Alps, as the Beaker Peoples, and they spread out across Europe, through Spain, and came to live on the islands of Britain and Ireland.
Was the information that simple and that stupid? It’s what we were told. No. Not even that. In the school system of the decades following the bombing of Hiroshima, our ancient history consisted of Greece and Rome—their empires, their civility, their philosophers, their mathematics (stolen from Arab scholars) and their men (exclusively) of renown, the splendor they brought to the barbaric. A little about Cyrus of Persia, Alfred the Great, Genghis Khan and Christopher Columbus. Of Hypatia, or any other woman, with the exception of Henry 8th’s daughter Elizabeth, her religion and her virginity, and her murder of her sister, there was nothing.
Modern history? Cook, anchoring his boat in an alien cove, establishing a fledgling British colony and declaring terra nullius. More ships deporting the orphaned and the suffering from London, Dublin, Glasgow and Liverpool and calling them criminal for the sake of expediency. Establishing a slave class to work the stolen lands. The success of wheat, sheep and coal.
This immigrant migration were, and became, the subject and liege of a United Kingdom, a mainly-christian, privileged monied over-class, some with convict grandparents who, hey! Gained their freedom and were granted parcels of land and hey! are also the soldiers who killed their quota of natives that refused to wear aprons, or track their own cousins to save their own children (a retrospectively pointless desperation), the Anglo aristocracy denying wrongdoing by saying but they’re savages, behind-the-hand snigger of naughtiness. Nothing was ever taught to us of the slaughter, rape, stealing or indentured enslavement of First Nation people. Those files were locked away in the archives in Canberra, and the White Australia Policy written into law.
This is true the world over, I now understand. Tell them nothing but what we want them to hear and they will be obedient and pliant. Joyful and proud even. They will buy white goods and Coca-Cola, and believe the delusion of the great Australian dream of owning property and, later, from the 1990s during the John Howard administration, that this continent has a genuine cultural identity! Even though that identity has never been extrapolated beyond bilious talk of a fair go, fair dinkum, mateship, cricket, Acubra hats and crocs and What beer do you drink?
In the 1980s my ideal of Celticness, while inclusive of all other cultural identities, was personally entrenched. As a young mother, then, I was still under-educated, aware of Roman invasions of the British Isles, of the woman called, incorrectly, Boadicea and her revolt against the invasions, of the war against Ireland, the protestant revolutions in England, and that Australia was a misnomer, its history a stylized propaganda. I think I was still caught up in the romance of Celticness whilst, by now, an amatore (for the love of it, not a beginner with no experience: known as an amateur) hunter and gatherer of lore and history, as intent a student as could possibly be… considering that I lived in the neopagan-ness of country Victoria, with three kids, near-poverty and a genuinely limited inter-library system. No Wikipedia in 1983.
I knew that I was adopted. I knew that the woman who bore me was English. My sold-to mother had told me in 1972. She also asked that I not follow up on the information (that she secreted away again, no sooner had she spoken) while she was alive. She wept in embarrassment that I had been lied to, my entire life, in the same breath that she begged me to keep schtum. I had agreed. She lived until 2001.
Everything changed in 1984, when two things happened:
- Callum, the 15 year old son of Irish/Celtic-scholar friends, wrote his Year 9 history exam, taking the part of the British in the war between the indigenous tribes and Rome. He had been failed. Completely. His history teacher had confidentially told him that everything he had written was well-documented, but that the knowledge was not sanctioned. Was not in the curriculum. She was sorry.
- I lived with my family and friends at the base of Mount Kooroocheang, named for the ibis that still came to the area every year after winter. Local legend had it that the aboriginal tribe, named for the mountain and the birds, came from wherever they had been for the other times of year, to join local tribes, for corroboree, on the flat land on one side of the mountain. There were said to be only a hundred or so of them, and that one year they had stopped at the homestead of Captain John Stuart Hepburn (the local village and springs outside of Daylesford are named for him) who had claimed the land and built himself a homestead. One of the people, with enough English, had requested food. It is said that Hepburn had his housekeeper make a stew, and got her to lace it with strychnine. That he murdered the entire tribe.
It had been difficult enough to learn about Wounded Knee and vivisection. It was impossible, then, to learn about Bussamarai, Calyute, Troganinni, Jandamarra, and Kickerterpoller of Tasmania and, of course, the great, mystic and seemingly unkillable Pemulwuy, a Dharug warrior of the Eora People who lived around where the Endeavour dropped anchor, claiming territory that was and never would be theirs.
- BONE AND STONE
The Lore My Mother Did Not Sing.
Our histories are twisted like the rope
That hung around many a rebel throat
Resistance and rising through the years
We’ve lost good men, shed blood and tears
Its time for England a truth to face
They will never defeat the Celtic race
Scots and Irish we are one
Our people, our culture, our Gaelic tongue
—Maire McNally, We’re Celts (sometime in the late 1800s)
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF AN ELDER
Fast forward to recent years. When I have become old. When I have learned, to an extent, the true history of the treatment, decimation, perpetual ignorance and patronizing of the First Nation people. Here, elsewhere, everywhere. And that it was supposedly done in my name. A woman born a bastard in a landscape not her own. A generic person, stamped English by matrilineal descent, called a white woman, like that means something.
But I also learned of Rome’s invasions and settlements of now-European indigenous lands. Those of the islands of the Britons and those that kept coming and coming after Rome. Of the imposition, within three hundred years and through force in the main, of the religion of a tortured and dead god. I did not, in those early nineties know the tribal names of the individual confederacies, or stories beyond Vercingetorix of Gaul, that of Budega or her partner Prasutagus, of that bastard emperor Claudius, the second army to land at what is now Kent, or that Tacitus had kept records that were to inform us of what really happened. I had yet to learn of the betrayal of Cartimandua, the burning of Londinium or the destruction of Mona (the isle of druids) by the emperor’s Rottweiler, Paulus Suetonius. But I knew enough. I also acquired a rather substantial library of notes and books pertaining to the Crusades, and the papal/Norman takeover of the now-Saxon, Danish and Viking settlements and fortresses. That England had become France, and that France built all the castles. All the cathedrals. Of the Inquisition, the grand scale impoverishment of folk regions, both in Britain and Europe, by the armies of a by now all-conquering christendom, the Maleus Maleficarum trials for the crime of the supposed witchcraft, and the murder of—mainly—women, estimated to be in the millions (their homes misappropriated, and doled out to soldiers, snitches and monasteries alike).
The suffocation, more pervasive than any plague, of what might have once been lore, with the exception of confused snippets, often polluted and tainted by monkish interpretation, kept hushed and garbled by the people who once claimed the landscape as mother, and passed down the generations until, thought superstitious gibberish told by an odd and doddering remnant of a once barbarian and heathen culture. The secret of the red and white toadstool, of Rapunzel’s long hair, of Snow White’s seasonal meaning, the real reason the Pied Piper did what he did, of what a fairy isn’t. Distilled into childlike saccharine by the time of Little Golden Book
Then the woman who called herself mother died. The internet began, and the Australian government uncaged the hitherto iron-barred information act on adoption. I was able to learn who I am.
By now you might think this is just about me. I am irrelevant to this story, in the long run, because I will, within anywhere from 5 minutes to forty years from now, be dead and forgotten. But this is likely your ancestral lore. Most of you with the blood of Europe in your veins. And if this is not a song of your ancestral tree, and you are of another branch entirely, then it is a gift to you. A voice against bigotry, because a travesty such as that only exists when someone thinks they are better than someone else. And knowledge, and the sharing of ourselves, shuts that up. It becomes realized for what it is a contrivance from which someone seeks to benefit, from stepping on the back of someone else.
DESCENDING THE FRACTURED BONE SCAFFOLD
We descend with great care. And the rungs of truth are genealogy, archaeology, anthropology and the many threads of story learned and understood mainly from the cultures of others. Ours having been buried beneath a rubble so profoundly messy that the first rungs of this scaffold are treacherous indeed. Made of twigs, where once great forests of oak spread from horizon to horizon. Made of the fossilized bones of elephants with straight tusks. Of bears that once roamed across the landscape of our ancestors, that now adorn Elizabeth the 2nd’s Grenadier Guard, their mothers and grandfathers only a memory. In the Highlands. On the Cairngorms. In Llyn Trawsfynydd, in the mountains of Snowdonia. On what remains of the druid isle of Ynis Môn, now called Anglesey.
Of elk and reindeer. Of the Monarch of the Glen whose carved antlers dug the deep, acoustic song places: chalk ditches 30 meters deep and 30 meters wide, around Stonehenge, around Callanish on the Isle of Lewis far to sea in the Outer Hebrides, the one surrounding Avebury. The gathering places of singers and dreamers. An bailiú sóisialta rialto , for trade and to arrange marriages  and allegiances.
We so often suffer a profoundly illogical loneliness and homesickness for somewhere and something we cannot, anymore, name. And the so-called sins of the father are all our spirits have been allowed to know.
ROME 1, SCOTLAND 0 – NO LONGER ALBANACH CAN WE BE
Well the reality is altogether another story, and Calgacus accusations, screamed over the heads of an amassed Roman army on the day of the massacre of ten thousand people on the field of Mons Grapius 1934 or so years gone by of: You give us a wasteland and call it peace rings as loudly today as the words of the Uluru Statement from the Heart .
This scaffold is built on the bones of slaughtered ancestors whose songs have become louder and fiercer the older I get. They are an albatross around my neck that I carry because I broke the spell. Because my own grandfather, of many generations, also fought. And he let himself become known to me.
Those raped by alien invaders? This story is from before them. These are your bloodline ancestors also. This is as much your lore as it is mine.
STORY AND LORE FROM THE DEEP
This scaffold, no matter how fragile, is here to support us as we chisel the filth of abandonment from the bones of, not only our elders, but those of our children now and those yet to be born.
In the era of what science predicts as “the sixth mass extinction”, carrying one’s deeper story – not of self, but of our connection and communication with an ancientness that I propose links us, web-like, with all other peoples and beings of earth – is a gift.