Celtic Spirituality – Advent and Christmas

On Wednesday, December 4, 2019 I went to a presentation on “Everyday Celtic Spirituality – Advent and Christmas” given by the Irish College of Minnesota at St. Paul’s Celtic Junction. The speaker was Katy Wehr. It was an excellent event. I learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed it.

She started with a brief summary of the history of Christianity in Scotland and then proceeded to introduce the Carmina Gadelica, from which her examples were taken. She discussed its history and the controversies around it, ending with the conclusion by Gaelic scholar John MacInnes that “Carmina Gadelica is not a monumental exercise in literary fabrication nor, on the other hand, is it a transcript of ancient poems and spells reproduced exactly in the form in which they survived in oral tradition.” It is still an indispensable source on popular Highland culture of the time.

She then proceeded to discuss some of the poems. Some of these she has set to guitar tunes, which she sung. They are lovely.

  • Prayer at Dressing – 222, p. 197

  • The Three – 235, p. 208

  • Milking Prayer – 373B, pp. 344-345

  • Loom Blessing – 112, p. 115.

  • Thou Great God – 333, p. 302

  • Be Thou a Smooth Way – 266, p. 241

  • Bed Blessing – 34, pp. 56-57

  • Reaping Blessing – 90, pp. 98-99

  • The Child of Glory – 254, p. 225. Near the end is what seems to be a reference to the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins.

  • The Virgin – 252, pp. 223-224. Note

    The Virgin of locks most glorious
    The Jesus more gleaming-white than snow”

    “Gleaming-white” seems like a reference to the Transfiguration.

  • Christmas Carol – 253, pp. 224-225. There is a repeated line of nonsense syllables “Hù ri vi ho hù.” I have seen similar lines in waulking songs. Note also the nature references and to “His foot.”

  • Hogmanay Carol – 64. The gift to the house-man is a coal. That to the housewife is honey.

Dr. Wehr encouraged everyone in the class to participate in the readings and discussion of the poems, and to sing along with her musical settings. I was able to contribute a little looking at some of the original Gaelic, feeling rather like the one-eyed man in the land of the blind. It was an excellent event and I hope to go to more of her presentations.