FAMILY - the extended family ('fine' or 'clann')
was the basic social unit,
consisting of several generations of descendants from one ancestor. When several
families settled in a particular territory they formed a 'tuath', ruled over
by a chieftain or a petty king. There were some 150 tuatha, or kingdoms, in
The family group, or Clann, formed the very foundation of Brehon law. Each
Clann group was responsible for the actions of each of its members. Yet it
went beyond this, because responsibility aside, one never turned their back
on family or another member of the family. Family stuck beside one another
regardless of differences. The only exception to this was when the family
name had been dishonored. For a family to turn its back on one of its own
required much more than the petty disagreements which bust families apart in
the modern era.
Kinship and lineage provided a real tangible link to the area where one lived.
Kinship insured rights to build a home on and use in other ways the land of the
Clann. Belonging to a family also insured inheritance, legal protection, the
right to follow a particular craft as well as many other benefits.
The family unit played an important role in the education of the young. It
provided a stable setting for the transmission of cultural knowledge. In the
Gaelic beul aithris (oral tradition), grandparents, aunts and uncles, parents
and foster parents passed on their knowledge, whether it be story or song or skill.
The family also once functioned as an integrated economic unit in which all its
members engaged in various work tasks according to age, experience and aptitude.
Within the Gaelic home, not all children remained with their parents. It was
quite common to find that children had been sent to be educated in a trade and
also reared in the home of another family. In Ireland fosterage was still an
active custom as late as the eighteenth century. The special circumstances of
the fosterage relationship allowed for very tight bonds to be established between
families. In the modern Gaelic tribe we still foster, but the norm is only for
some period within the summer vacation from school.
FAIRS, FESTIVALS AND BANQUETS - These were important occasions which brought
together all parts of society. Participation in the festivities was compulsory!
(Not to enjoy the life you had been given was an insult). Guests were seated
according to rank. The "champion's portion" was awarded to the warrior who
showed the greatest courage.
To hold a good banquet was a matter of much prestige. It was considered good
form to invite the 'aes dana' (people of the arts - bards, musicians, smiths,
etc. ). Songs were sung, legends retold, and clann genealogies recited. Also,
at festivals, settlements and judgments of legal cases were made, and handfasting
contracts signed. However, no enmity was allowed to exist, no debt could be
collected nor weapon lifted.
The Ancestors didnt celebrate eight festivals in the year as do modern neo-
pagans. Instead they celebrated the four solar events associated with the pastoral
peoples which inhabited the Isles before the coming of the Roman, Saxon, Jute and
Angle. These times are those commonly referred to as Samhain, Oimelc, Beltinna,
Lughnasdh. The proper names of the festivals are Oi/che Shamhna, La/ Fhe/ile
Bríde, La/ Bealtaine, and La/Fhe/ile Lu/nasa.
Another things that must be remembered when figuring the reckoning of days that
our ancestors used, is that they were pastoral people. This means that their days
were from sunset to sunset. This little fact, which goes unnoticed by most, is
the reason for several manifestations in Celtic society. These include such things
as their use of the 13 month lunar calendar.
HEARTH - The hearth was of central importance in
Celtic society, and its foundation
was the marriage contract. Within the hearth the woman's authority was absolute.
The hearth was the center of much activity, where many traditional crafts were
carried out; it also provided warmth and nourishment, it was a gathering place
for storytelling and music, and it had to be an open place of hospitality to
HONOUR PRICE - Honour price, or eneclann, was a central feature of the Brehon
Law. It was an intricate system of prices paid above and beyond actual damages
that one my have suffered at the hands of another. The higher a persons position
in society the higher their honor price was. Honour price was, in effect, a method
for both making sure that agreements were abided by as well as to restore face to
someone who had lost it.
In the modern Gaelic Tribe we have simplified the formula for Honor Price to
one that is applied to all of the People in the Tribe. This formula is 1/3 for
something out of ones power, 3 times for reason of sloth or carelessness, and nine
times for reason of malice.
HOMOSEXUALITY - While the evidence is scant there are some real pieces to give
us an understanding of the attitudes toward homosexual behavior. The first
evidence is the importance placed upon the warrior segment of the social
structure. Anthropologist have ascertained that homosexual behavior runs very
high amongst those societies with a strong warrior impulse. There is also the
brief statements by the Roman chroniclers which tell that it was common for
people of the same gender to share the same bed. This seems to be born out in
the story of CuChullain, as even these centuries latter, the redactors hand
aside, there is still told of Cuchullains love for and sharing the bed with
It would seem that our ancestors had no particular concern with who people
had sexual relations with. Marriage unions were seen to be civil affairs. The
Brehon Law itself has as its main concern the progeny which come out of a
union. There is no prohibition against homosexual behavior specifically. Sexual
acts before a union were of no concern to the union, and any sexual partners
outside the union are by the evidence okay so long as such is acceptable to the
terms of the marriage contract.
HOSPITALITY - A very important aspect of Celtic life. Both the hosts and the
guests were expected to observe certain social customs. The host had to provide
food, drink, a warm bed if possible, and entertainment. They had to give the
very best they had for not to do so was a gross insult. Once the guests had
partaken of the hearth's hospitality, the hosts were obliged to refrain from
any violence or quarreling with them, for the guests were under the protection
of the dun from then on. The guests would be expected to make an offering to
the hearth of cakes, bread, wine etc. according to their ability. They must
show respect to the hosts and not cause quarrels, fights or disruptions during
their stay. They would normally be expected to sing a song, play a tune, or
tell a tale.
KINSHIP - The kinship group, and not the individual, was of utmost importance
in the Laws of our Ancestors. The kinship group was responsible for the actions
of all its members. 'Eric fine' had to be paid by the whole family on behalf of
any transgressors of the law. Kinship also ensured a right to shares in any
family inheritance or derbhfine.
LAW - The social structure of Iron Age Celtic society was highly developed.
It was a tribal society that was bonded together by a complex system of laws
and social customs. The established body of Law was known as 'Fenechas', the
law of the Feine (Freemen), or more commonly, the Brehon Law. This body served
the People for centuries.
The most common body of Brehon Law was codified in 438 CE, by the order of
Laighaire, a High King of Ireland. The proceedings by which this work was done
by Three Kings, Three Brehona (Recitors of the Law), and Three Christian mission-
aries. By this act Pagan Fili and Christian Monk came together and worked out
a set of laws that was workable for people of both religions. The body of that
law has been transmitted to us in the volumes known as the Senchus Mor.
The body of Law know as Brehon Law, as contained in the Senchus Mor is a
body of national law. However, national law was secondary to local law.
Whether local or national it was the Brehons who acted as the recitors of
the Law. There has been some confusion about who acted as the judge. It was
the nobility who acted as such. As stated the Brehons were the recitors of
the Law. After the Brehon had recited the Law, only then could the King or
Queen render a decision. This is why lore is replete with examples of the
Kings or Queens Druid, actually the Ard-Fili, having the right to speak be-
fore the King. If the Brehon, who was a member of the intellectual/skilled
caste, recited the law incorrectly they were expected to forfeit their
fee and pay damage costs.
The Brehon laws were responsible for regulating how people interacted. Hos-
pitality, etiquette and other things were set out in ways that left little
room for doubt. The codes of behavior established in the Law was such that
all members of a family had to adhere to it. Codes of behavior and levels of
responsibility were laid down in the laws for each social group. The more
responsibility a social group had, the more restrictions were placed on them.
Status was determined by the ownership of cattle and a few other things. There
was no concept of land ownership in early Celtic society. This stands in sharp
contrast to the Roman and Anglo patterns.
In the modern Tribe we primarily utilize the Triads as our body of Law. We
see the Triads as a contraction containing the very Spirit of the Brehon Law.
We are also bringing forward applicable sections of the Law for use today.
MARRIAGE - To our ancestors marriage was a civil matter wholly. The only
religious aspect given to it was through keeping the oaths specified in the
contract by which the marriage became official. The marriage contract, as the
very foundation of the hearth, had certain things that it addressed. The first
of all topics was the well being of any progeny which issued from the union.
After that the Law addressed such topics as the assets of the parties to the
union and other arrangements. We utilize the marriage contract in the modern
Tribe for the very same reasons. The side benefit of the contract, in the modern
era at least, is that it causes the parties to learn to communicate about topics
that they would probably not otherwise. Traditionalist marriages last much longer,
even for the life times of the parties involved, probably because of the deep
levels of communication that the process causes.
NOBILITY - The King or Queen (Righ or Rian respectively) was the central part
of the social structure. They were responsible for harmony between the tribe
and the land, and also for the prosperity of the tribe. It was their job to
make sure that all of the people prospered as well as existed in good repute.
They had to be generous. If they were stingy they would suffer the poet's satire,
or Glam Diccin, (a formidable weapon in Celtic society). This could well cause
their king/queenship be taken from them, much as Bres saw his reign removed from
him by the will of the People. They also had to be without blemish in intelli-
gence, character and physiology. The nobility was responsible for the redistri-
bution of wealth in their kingdom, by means of banquets and donating gifts. In
contrast to the later patterns imported by Saxons and Normans, the position of
nobility was not something that was a matter of inheritance amongst our early
In the modern Gaelic tribe we have forbidden the position of Ard-Righ or Ard-
Rian, instead having a Taoiseach. The Clanns in the revitalized Tribe may still
have a Righ and/or Rian, though the interaction at the Tribal level is still
through the Ard-Fili of each Clann as well as the Fili of each Clann.
RELIGION - It is conventional wisdom to think that the Druids were the priest-
hood of the Celtic peoples. Even as astute a scholar as Piggott has referred
to them as such. This misconception is one that arose as a result of the British
Celtic Revival of the 18th Century. The basis for this idea was a quote of Caesar
which in fact never existed. Fortunately there are now researchers such as Ellis
who are finally putting this to rest.
Those who have spent any time at all researching the religious practices of
the Gaelic Celts have come away seeing that our ancestors mediated the Gods on
their own behalf. This is such easily ascertained knowledge as to now be in the
domain of pop culture and new age writers which pose the subject in trendy ways.
The actual religious practices of our ancestors are more accurately expressed
as votive in nature. The actual practices being a matter of hymns and incantations
recited during the act of living or working of an actual skill (smooring the fire,
woulking, forging steel, etc.), as well as special little actions done at appro-
priate times such as placing out milk and food at night for the Gentry, which
in actuality are the Gods of old. Even the practices such as tying bits of
colored cloth to tree limbs at wells and on special occasions are testimonies
to the votive nature of our ancestral religion. Magick was, and is, seen to
be part and parcel of the various little things said and done as a part of
every act in everyday living. For our ancestors, as for ourselves, there is
no separating the Sacred from the everyday, every thought word and deed and
every moment of every day is sacred. Special formalized ritual played a very
small part in the traditional religious practices of our ancestors.
SOCIETAL STRUCTURE - The ancient Celt saw that there were three legs upon which
the Cauldron of the World stood. They, as Tribal peoples the world over have
done, based the basic structure of their society off what they perceived as the
basic structure of the cosmos. It was centuries after the tribal beginnings of
our culture that Dumezil saw that the same basic format was found in most Indo-
European societies. Amongst the Gael these three legs of the Cauldron of our
ancestral society is Fili, Ruadh, and Aire. In the modern Gaelic Tribe this
division is used more as an incentive for individuals to quest after self
betterment through the acquisition of knowledge and skill than anything else.
TUATH - Beyond a family member's particular tuath, or tribal land, they could
not normally be guaranteed legal protection, unless formerly agreed between
tuatha. If a person was banished from their ancestral lands, always as a result
of some actual crime, then they became free game to any who crossed their path.
WOMEN - In Celtic culture women were equal in the eyes of the Law up to the
coming of the Romans and Christians. Some patriarchal extremes may have started
to be taken on with the continued interaction with Brythonic tribes, however
the Laws and customs remained largely unchanged until Christianity became
implanted on Irish soil. This was compounded with the coming of the Saxon and
then the Norman. Though the Brehon Law remained gender neutral and in power
up to the 17th century, patriarchal elements who had gained power over our
people interpreted the Law as only applying to men much earlier than this.
The records show that women had the rights to own and disburse property,
inherit property and have skills, as well own and use weapons on the field of
battle. They also had rights in the construction of their marriage contract,
as well as complete authority within their homes. A womans authority was in
the hearth and the mans on the land.