Thursday, 30 June 2011

Beer, ploughs, and other matters of Celto-Iberian male interest...

And so, back to Spain.

What would life have been like for the Celt-Iberians?

One major advantage that the Celts brought with them was that they brought their plough. Although it was of little use on the highlands, it was immeasurably welcomed in the pastoral areas. It was women who planted seed and hoed the cereals for bread and beer (Cerveza - Cervexa in Gallego - is a Celtic word, by the way; Beer is Saxon). There seems to be little dissention in the association of males and ploughs and so to some degree men began to be involved in planting, which re-affirms the also universal fascination of men for tools and gadgets! Up to this point, men had considered farming unmanly and women's work. Now, they couldn't wait to get out into the fields to try out their new toys and no doubt congregated in Celt-Iberian taverns to down a brew or two afterwards and discuss the relative size and efficiency of their ploughs...

And their women folk likely breathed a sigh of relief and went back to raising children and small animals.

In the central area around the present cities of Zamora, Valladolid and Palencia, large quantities of wheat were harvested especially by the Vacceos, a group living close to the Douro valley; these people came late into the peninsula and may have brought more sophisticated farming methods with them. As their name suggests, they were also raisers of cattle. These people were likely also Celts from Europe, perhaps originating in the Alsace-Lorraine region. They organised into a collective society, and this made them unusual. The grain harvest was officially controlled - division was made equally and the death penalty was enacted for holding out any of the grain from the collective pool.

In the northern mountains, there was more a combination of herding, farming, and hunting and gathering, without any particular accent upon one or the other. This remains very much the system even today in Galicia. Strabo, writing about them was surprised that they lacked olive oil (which the Etruscans and Greeks introduced to the south and east much later). In its place he said they used butter, although it was much more likely lard. The words manteca for pig fat and mantequilla for butter predate Latin and as you see are very similar in sound and derivation. In either case, there was notable dependence upon animal fat and in fact still is. Olive oil is more a part of the Mediterranean diet.

To this day, the north west of the Meseta, the area known as Extramadura abounds in oak trees, as does much of central Portugal and north into the area around Leon. Gathering appears to have had much importance and Strabo also mentioned that the northern people gathered great quantities of acorns, both as food for themselves and for their livestock. He neglected to mention the chestnut. There are still woods of sweet chestnut trees in this area, and the vast forests which preceded them have disappeared only in the last few generations. In the 19th century they still flourished.

Although the Iberians knew iron, and in fact the northwest abounds in this mineral, they did not seem to have known how to use it. It was the Celts who taught them how to make tools and utensils from iron. Open-cast mining would have been in evidence, and by the time the Romans came in the 2nd century BCE, the abundance of iron in the northwest would have made this a desireable area to settle and work. And they did.

Despite, Asterix the Gaul, the Celts had met their match.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Tall Tales in Ireland ...

What I've suggested so far, and much literature concurs, is that the inhabitants of the north-west of Spain and Portugal began as one and the same people, originating near or east of the Black Sea. They left their homeland at some point in Biblical history, and separated near the Danube. There is good evidence which shows that these were of Indo-European stock and in fact originated in Assyria, but I shall return to this later.

It puts a very different spin on the notion of what was "Celtic"...and whom.

It took 2000 years or more for the family reunion. By that time, Great Uncle Arthur would barely have recognised Great Aunt Maud.

And so, we are free to pick up our tale once again of how the Hibernians got to Hibernia, and what they did when they got there. (Parental warning: Bad puns.)

It begins with King Breoghan, a Celt-Iberian who had two sons: Ir (or Ith) and Bil. Bil had a son whose name was Mil (Milesius, from whom the Milesians are named). Breoghan had built an enormous watchtower on the north west coast of Spain.

One winter evening, Ir, Breoghan's son, stood atop the watchtower and looking northwards across the seas he saw a glistening island (Don't say I didn't warn you!). He set off with 90 warriors to investigate.

The rulers of this land were the Tuatha Dé Danann, the gods who had wrested control from the giants. They welcomed Ir and his men when he landed, but Ir was foolish enough to speak of the land in such glowing terms that the gods decided that he might have plans to take over (and yes, you have heard this story before - you would think they would have known by now). So they had Ir killed.

When news of his murder reached Breoghan in Iberia, he ordered his nephew, Mil, to send his 8 sons north to even up the score. So they gathered an armada of 65 ships and sailed, arriving, legend has it, at Donegal. In their number was Scota, the wife of Mil, who was to give her name to the land of Scotland, as the Celts moved north-east. Amergin was the first to set foot upon the shore, and planting his right foot upon the soil, said: "What land is better than this island of the setting sun." Some reports say that he cut off his right hand and threw it onto the shore from the boat so that he would be the first to touch it. One can only assume this was not his sword hand.

The Milesians agreed that this was their new home, but first they had to contend with the gods.

They marched towards Tara and along the way they met with Erin, one of the goddesses and the wife of the god, MacGreine. She prophesised that the land would become theirs and asked them to name it after her and Amergin consented.

However, when they reached the home of the gods, the gods complained that they had been taken by surprise. A cry of "No Fair" was heard upon the land. A plan was agreed upon whereby the Milesians would behave in an honourable manner and that they would once again embark on their ships, returning to a distance of nine waves from the shore. By then, the gods would be ready for battle.

But the gods played a trick on them and raised a powerful wind preventing the Milesians from reaching the shore.

This, not to put too fine a point on it, pissed Amergin off!

"I invoke the Land of Erin," he bellowed, "The shining, shining sea! The fertile hills! The wooded vales! The rivers abundant! The fishful lakes...!" ("Fishful": I love that word.)

The incantation worked as the land itself rose up and forced the wind to die down.

To make an increasingly lengthy story shorter, the final result was Milesians 1 and the gods, Nil - but since Nil is an Irish name, perhaps zero might be more accurate. The gods and goddesses retreated below the earth and selected a new king, the Dagda, who allotted each member a mound beneath which the deities would engage in perpetual feasting, emerging every now and then to curdle milk, and blight corn, and so on, as crossed gods and goddesses do.

After a while of this, the new kings of Ireland decided it was in their best interests to make peace with the deities, hence they were given an honorary role - even if their palaces were below ground.

Many stories issue from here, some as tall or taller. But I shall leave those to the Irish!

Friday, 10 June 2011

Who were the Celts?

Although there was certainly a variation between the generally dark haired Iberians and the taller, blonde or red-headed Celts, both types may be seen in the northwest today, and have quite easily identified features which differ both from the Spanish of the Eastern ports, and the Andalucians, which show considerable Moorish influence.

Today's Galician or Asturian, as well as the people of Northern Portugal, show that the Celti-Iberians, as they became known, have produced many descendants who occupy these regions today.

But did these earliest people call themselves Celts? As we have already seen, there is some conjecture that they called themselves Iber, and that the land of Iberia, today's Spain (which comes from Hispania, the name given to the Peninsula by the Romans), and subsequently Hibernia as the ancient land of Ireland, the Land of Ir, or of Erin.

While he may not have been the first, Herodotus mentions the Keltoi. They are also called this and Galatai by other writers of the period and later, and it is interesting that the two names are given to essentially the same peoples. They are generally described as having fair or red hair, and blue eyes. But the same description has been attributed to the peoples of Scythia. The Romans modified this to the Celtae and the Galli. But although there were to be found throughout Europe and as far as the Black Sea, the Celts as a people do not seem to have existed. They were instead a great number of tribes who appeared to have acted, for the most part, independently of one another. There was no Celtic Emperor, nor common leader. They had no central administration, no form of government outside of what was determined individually by the tribes. They had no unified army which could be called upon in times of war against a common foe. Perhaps because the European Celts, such as they were, had no common foe.

The problem of identifying who, in fact were "Celtic" and who were not and the extent of Celtic culture might be solved if we were more knowledgeable as to which of the tribes identified by the Greeks and the Romans were indigenous and which were not. This is particularly true in the Iberian Peninsula. Speaking of the Keltoi of Iberia, Herodotus identified them in a region close to the Algarve in southern Portugal, yet Aristotle claims they were above Iberia in a very cold region. Although the northwest is colder than Portugal, even during the winter, it could hardly be described as very cold - very wet, maybe. The interior of Castilla, however, can be downright chilly in the winter.

It would appear that there is little agreement. The problem as it appears to me is that we have fallen into a tendency to think of the Celts as a clearly identifiable people, and I think I have demonstrated that this was not so. Although the term "Celtic" may mean certain common features in terms of economics, social structure, and religion, even this differs from area to area, and likewise, since geography frequently determines character, from tribe to tribe. Only language seems to be a constant factor and it remains so today, although by this criterion - and this has kept Galicia from being accepted by the Celtic League - the so-called Celtic peoples remaining in Galicia and Asturias, are not so by contemporary definition.

Besides, the time of Herodotus is much later than our story, so next time perhaps it is time to return to it.
I've just discovered this very in depth article about the Celts in Iberia so thought I would share:

Thursday, 2 June 2011


II WORLD-WIDE PILGRIMS CONFERENCE, VILLAFRANCA del BIERZO, July 22nd to 24th, 2011, Spain. From Valencia in 2010 to Santiago in 2021, the next Holy Year. This is the stated aim of the "Siete Botas de Leguas".

Announcing the second conference after the very successful one in Valencia last year. This year the venue is much closer to Santiago: Villafranca del Bierzo in the beautiful wine producing part of Leon. This year I am particularly looking forward to supporting this much anticipated event because I am speaking at it about Pilgrimage to Heresy, Priscillian, and Archbishop Diego Gelmirez.

The doors of the Theater of Villafranca will open at 5:00 on Friday July 22nd and until they close again on Sunday 24th you will be in for a pilgrim treat.

Marialaya Burgos, presents the II World-wide Encounter of Pilgrims to Villafranca del Bierzo 2011 and thanks the mayor for welcoming us.
Roger de la Cruz, Vice President of the AACSdB will speak.
Following are Tomas, the last Templar hospitalero of Manjarin.
Jesus Jato, hospitalero in Villafranca.
Alfredo, hospitalero in Molinaseca.
Lydia B. Smith, director of The Camino Documentary Way,
Jose Almeida, will present his book, "Sentimientos Peregrinos"
Teresa Simal, presents her book “Mochila y Bordón
And yours truly, Tracy Saunders will speak about my new book St. James' Rooster/El Gallo de Santiago, the second book in The Camino Chronicles after Pilgrimage to Heresy/Peregrinos de la Herejía. Maybe I might be also talking about The Dove and the Yellow Cross which is my working title for the next book.

There will be a superb exhibition and film on "The Promotion of the Way of Santiago from the Holy Year of 1965” from Fernando Lalanda Pijoan who has rescued this material from oblivion.

Noelia Velasco, presents her photographic exhibition “Camino”.

The new Facebook page of Encuentro, very animated by the way, picks up the writings of Marialaya telling the news about the Organization and its Friends who contribute to the News Feed.

Thee will be a "Mini Camino": from Cacabelos to Villafranca (so bring your hiking boots!), Tapas, Meals, Dinners and Breakfasts, Water, Bread and the excellent Wine of del Bierzo; and Conferences, Exhibitions, Cinema, Books, Colloquies and Debates, Conversations and Cameraderie. Marialaya is busy making reservations right now but accomodation is sure to be limited so make sure you book early.

I for one am thoroughly looking forward to it: the Church of Santiago in Villafranca holds very special memories for me (and if you want to know what they are, read Miranda's account in Pilgrimage to Heresy!)

Looking forward to seeing many of my pilgrim friends and readers there...!/pages/ENCUENTRO-MUNDIAL-DE-PEREGRINOS/169224246468324

Con tiempo para la siesta incluido, a las 17:00 abriremos las puertas del Teatro de Villafranca donde podremos disfrutar de una estupenda tarde presentando este II Encuentro, Conferencias y posterior charla-coloquio:

- Marialaya Burgos, presenta el II Encuentro Mundial de Peregrinos Villafranca del Bierzo 2011
- Saluda del Alcalde.
- Bienvenida de Roger de la CruzVicepresidente AACSdB.
- Tomas, hospitalero en Manjarin.
- Jesús Jato, hospitalero en Villafranca.
- Alfredo, hospitalero en Molinaseca.
- The Camino Documentary, Directora Lydia B. Smith.
- José Almeida, presentará su libro «Sentimientos Peregrinos».
- Teresa Simal, presenta su libro “Mochila y Bordón”.
- Tracy Saunders nos hablará de su nuevo libro "El Gallo de Santiago", el segundo en «Las Crónicas del Camino».
Magnifica exposición y película sobre “La Promoción del Camino de Santiago para el año Santo de 1965” que propone un bonito recorrido por este material histórico rescatado del olvido por Fernando Lalanda Pijoan.
- Noelia Velasco, con su exposición fotográfica «Camino»
El nuevo Facebook del Encuentro, muy animado por cierto, recoge los escritos de Marialaya narrando los acontecimnientos de la Organización y a los usuarios que día a día se comunican y organizan.

Mini Camino, Degustaciones, Comidas, Cenas y Desayunos, Agua... Pan y Vino, excelente Vino del Bierzo. Conferencias, exposiciones, Cine, Libros, Coloquios y Debates, Conversaciones y Hermandad.

Esperando a reuniar con muchos de mis amigos peregrinos y lectores...