The History of Celtic Scholarship in Russia and the Soviet Union
Mr Chairman, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen, let me begin by thanking our distinguished Patron, Professor K.H. Schmidt, for agreeing to open this inaugural conference of Societas Celto-Slavica. We are greatly honoured by his presence here today and we thank him most sincerely for his excellent introduction and for his kind words regarding the formation of the Society.
I thought initially it would be possible in my lecture this morning to give a brief outline of the main works and achievements of Celtic scholarship in the Slavic countries, secure in the knowledge that it would not be necessary to discuss Celtic Studies in Poland as this subject would be dealt with by Professor Piotr Stalmaszczyk in a subsequent paper. However, having gathered together a significant amount of material on Celtic Studies in Russia, the Czech Republic and other Slavic countries, it became clear to me quite early on that I could not do my subject justice in the time available without narrowing the scope of my investigations. I decided therefore to confine myself primarily to Celtic Studies in Russia. This subject has been previously addressed to some degree by Russian Celtic scholars but has received much less attention from Celticists outside Russia.
Narrowing the scope of the topic means that you will not hear from me today about the work of the Irish college established in Prague in the seventeenth century, for example, or about Czech linguistic and archeological studies, which is represented at the Conference by Prof. Vaclav Blazek; neither will it be possible to discuss the important contributions of the talented and significant Celtic scholar, Josef Baudis, nor the work of the Irish Centre in Prague which offers courses in Irish and has published a bibliography of many works concerning Irish and Celtic scholarship. The history of Celtic scholarship in the Czech Republic and in other Slavic countries will, I hope, be addressed on another occasion.
1. The Slavs and the Celts
Of all the ethnic European peoples, the Slavs are the most numerous. They reside principally in Eastern Europe, but are also found in Asia. The Slavic languages are normally divided into three main groups, as follows: East Slavic (of which the major sub-groups are Russian, Ukrainian, and Bylorussian); West Slavic (including Lekhitic, that is, Polish and related divisions, Czech-Slovak, and Sorbian); and South Slavic (with two main divisions, namely, Bulgarian-Macedonian, and Serbo-Croatian-Slovene). While the eastern origin of Slavic is not in doubt, the assumption of an original Balto-Slavic unity still remains uncertain. As Professor Schmidt has pointed out in his address, the many correspondences between the languages may be due to a common IE inheritance or to shared forms which have resulted from having been in close proximity for an extended period of time. Moreover, the Baltic area at the beginning of the historical era was larger than it is today, much of it being later slavicized (Schmid 1976: 15). Several centuries before Christ, the proto-Slavic dialect area appears to be between the Rivers Oder and Vistula in Poland and the Dnepr in the Ukraine, north of the Carpathian Mountains. This proto-dialect area is in a kind of so-called intermediate zone. It includes the Illyrian, Thracian and Phrygian languages of the Balkans, and is bordered to the west by Germanic, Celtic and Italic, and to the east by Scythian and Tocharian.
As to some of the other surrounding languages, the Thracians were located in Thrace which was bordered on the north by the Danubian province of Moesia and to the south by Macedonia, Thrace and Moesia occupying the territory which roughly corresponds to modern Bulgaria. The Phrygians had come from Asia via the south Russian steppes and settled in the Balkans, in proximity to the Thracians and the Illyrians; and between c.700 BC and 200 BC, the Scythians had settled between the Dnepr and the river Don in present-day Ukraine. Then, in the historical period, there occurred the great migration of Slavs into Bohemia, Moravia, Austria, the Pannonian plain and, in the fourth century, into the Balkans, and northward along the upper Dnepr river and the Black Sea.
The Celts appear in central Europe along the upper Danube c.600 BC and spread thereafter to the west, east and south. In the middle of the first millenium, Celtic tribes settled along the upper Oder and a new period of Celto-Slavic contacts starts about the fourth century B.C. in the Carpathians and Silesia. Archaeological evidence, such as the Podkloshevy grave culture, shows clear Celtic influences. Germanic tribes, who occupied territory adjacent to and north of the Celts, settled on the lower Oder and Vistula. The Celts also spread into Bohemia, Pannonia, northern Italy and the Balkans. They founded, for example, at the mouth of the Save in Moesia, the town of Singidunum, known today as Belgrade. In 280 BC they invaded Macedonia and crossed thereafter into Asia, settling in Galatia. Hence, the Celts were in close contact with a number of peoples in this zone, including the Slavs.
Read the full article: Parallels between Celtic and Slavic, pp. 3-41.
Russia, Cradle of the Gael
One of the points of overlap between Celts and Slavs is a matter of geography, although it is the geography of the imagination, not that of conventional history: certain of the Celtic peoples claimed to have originated in a region where certain of the Slavic peoples subsequently settled. This is the territory known as Scythia: a term which was used by many ancient writers as a general designation for the northernmost parts of the world, but which was more specifically applied to the lands north and northeast of the Black Sea, including what are now Russia and the Ukraine.
1. Medieval pseudohistorical tradition and Scythia
Although the notion of derivation from Scythia is, as we shall see, one of the constants of Gaelic pseudohistorical tradition, it appears to have played a relatively peripheral part in shaping Irish and Scottish conceptions of identity. The doctrine that the Gaels invaded Ireland from Spain probably arose as a result of cultural contacts between Ireland and Iberia in the seventh century; it went on to serve the interests of propaganda in the attempts to forge an Irish-Spanish alliance against England a thousand years later, and is not without its adherents even today (Van Hamel 1914-15: 173; Carey 2001. The latter article provoked one reader into writing a letter arguing on behalf of the historicity of a Gaelic migration from the Iberian peninsula). The belief that they had also come into contact with the Israelites, upon whose wanderings their own were largely modelled, enabled the Irish to claim that their pagan ancestors had had some knowledge of the Mosaic Law (Macalister 1938-56: i, xxvii-viii; followed e.g. by Scowcroft 1988: 20; and McCone 1990: 67). An alternative view that the Gaels were originally Greeks, often attested despite being at odds with the normative pseudohistorical model canonized in Lebor Gabala, also had an obvious motivation in that it linked Irish origins with the high culture of the ancient world (e.g. Jaski 2003). But what was to be gained from an association with the Scythians?
On the face of it, such references to Scythia as would have been available to a medieval Irish scholar would not have suggested that such an association was a flattering one. Thus a reader of Orosius’s Seven Books of History Against the Pagans would learn that Ninus taught the ancient Scythians to drink human blood; that the heinousness of an atrocity could best be evoked by saying that it would have been “loathsome... even to the remotest barbarians of Scythia”; that “the vast Scythian peoples” were “feared by all [our] ancestors, and even by Alexander the Great” ; and that the barbarian leader Radagaisus was “truly a Scythian, who in his ravenous cruelty loved not so much fame, or plunder, as carnage for the sake of carnage” (Libri septem historiae contra paganos i.4; v.4; vii.34, 37 = Migne 1844-64: xxxi, 700, 927, 1149, 1159).
For Isidore of Seville, Scythia was one of the remote refuges of the monstrous races, home to the Panotii with their enormous ears, and to the horse-footed Hippopods; “the land as a whole, on account of the barbarous peoples by whom it is inhabited, is called Barbarica” (Etymologiae XI.iii.19, 25; XIV.iv.3). Elsewhere, Isidore (XIV.iii.31-2) spoke of Scythia as containing
many peoples, who wander far and wide on account of the barrenness of the land. Some of them till the fields while others, monstrous and savage, subsist on human flesh and blood. Many regions in Scythia are prosperous, but many others are uninhabitable: for while they are, in many places, abundant in gold and gems, men can seldom come there because of the ferocity of the gryphons.
In such an account, it is the exotic and gruesome which stick in the mind: it is not surprising that Airbertach Mac Coise’s geographical poem, based extensively on Isidore, says of Scythia only that it contains “gryphons of valleys, guarding gold and pure gems” (Best et al. 1954-83: lines 16254-6. The story of gryphons guarding gold in the far north goes back at least as far as Herodotus iii.16; iv.13, 27).
Read the full article: Parallels between Celtic and Slavic, pp. 149-61.
On the Function of Name in Irish and Slavonic Written Incantation Tradition
The comparison between Irish and Russian popular charm-traditions can be, or may be, a subjective one. I have studied the spiritual culture of Celtic peoples for a long time, and tried to compare it with Russian material familiar to me and easily accessible.
At the same time, as may be suggested, this comparison is not so subjective, because of a special kind of “naïve Christianity”, superimposed on the developed priestly pagan culture in combination with traditional popular beliefs. This superimposition created a specific symbiosis of cultures both in Ireland and in Russia. We draw the reader’s attention here not only to the so-called “double-faith” (dvoeverie), but also to a specific attitude to magic, especially to the magic of a spoken or written word. The words of a Russian annalist, that “the Russian people like magic and witchcraft” (Русские люди прелестни и падки на волхвование) could be applied to the Irish people too, and a specific kind of Irish women-magic (amaitecht) is reminiscent of the Russian “wizard-women” (вещие женки).
Each word of our title needs a special commentary. Our investigation has a further aim of drawing a universal model: of the functioning and pragmatics of ‘magic texts’, inside a local culture as well as, in general, against the wide background of the stable belief in the ‘power of the word’. But before we proceed to investigate that, we have to start with the problem of terminology.
By ‘incantation’ or ‘charm’ (from Latin canticum ‘song, incantation’) we would understand, following J. Roper (Roper 2004: 1), “the verbal element of vernacular magic practice”. We suppose this definition is better than an old definition by brothers Grimm, which proposed to call ‘charms’ “verbal formulas, of Christian and non-Christian form, used outside of a Church context, and to which are attributed a supernatural effect, mostly of a protective, healing kind” (cf. [Roper 2004, 1]). Our definition, we suppose, may be too rather broad but for this very reason it allows for a wider comparative study, with regard not only to the folk charm-tradition, but also to medieval manuscripts created within monastic milieux (in Ireland and in Slavonic countries), as well as to the pre-Christian pagan ‘charm-material’ of the ancient world.
2. The concept of the name
With regard to the traditional culture of incantations (or charms) we propose to distinguish between two different uses of the term ‘name’: the ‘background name’ and the ‘subject name’.
By ‘background name’ we mean the use of the names of Christian saints (including local saints from apocryphal traditions) as well as personages of pagan beliefs; all of these create a specific background to the magic formula. The background demonstrates the orientation and the religious identity of the compiler and of the user of the magic text. As we understand, our material, especially Russian and, in general, Slavonic, provides us with numerous examples of the confusion between naïve Christianity and popular superstitions and beliefs, which may not be really pagan, but may demonstrate the adoration of the forces of nature.
Read the full article: Parallels between Celtic and Slavic, pp. 163-73.
Life & Death
Hope for Amy Walters
In contrast to this, our discussion readily shows that the double meaning in question belonged to the word taboo from the very beginning and that it serves to designate a definite ambivalence as well as everything which has come into existence on the basis of this ambivalence.
Taboo is itself an ambivalent word and by way of supplement we may add that the established meaning of this word might of itself have allowed us to guess what we have found as the result of extensive investigation, namely, that the taboo prohibition is to be explained as the result of an emotional ambivalence. A study of the oldest languages has taught us that at one time there were many such words which included their own contrasts so that they were in a certain sense ambivalent, though perhaps not exactly in the same sense as the word taboo. Slight vocal modifications of this primitive word containing two opposite meanings later served to create a separate linguistic expression for the two opposites originally united in one word.
The word taboo has had a different fate; with the diminished importance of the ambivalence which it connotes it has itself disappeared, or rather, the words analogous to it have vanished from the vocabulary. In a later connection I hope to be able to show that a tangible historic change is probably concealed behind the fate of this conception; that the word at first was associated with definite human relations which were characterized by great emotional ambivalence from which it expanded to other analogous relations.
Unless we are mistaken, the understanding of taboo also throws light upon the nature and origin of _conscience_. Without stretching ideas we can speak of a taboo conscience and a taboo sense of guilt after the violation of a taboo. Taboo conscience is probably the oldest form in which we meet the phenomenon of conscience.
If I judge my readers’ impressions correctly, I dare say that after hearing all that was said about taboo they are far from knowing what to understand by it and where to store it in their minds. This is surely due to the insufficient information I have given and to the omission of all discussions concerning the relation of taboo to superstition, to belief in the soul, and to religion. On the other hand I fear that a more detailed description of what is known about taboo would be still more confusing; I can therefore assure the reader that the state of affairs is really far from clear. We may say, however, that we deal with a series of restrictions which these primitive races impose upon themselves; this and that is forbidden without any apparent reason; nor does it occur to them to question this matter, for they subject themselves to these restrictions as a matter of course and are convinced that any transgression will be punished automatically in the most severe manner. There are reliable reports that innocent transgressions of such prohibitions have actually been punished automatically. For instance, the innocent offender who had eaten from a forbidden animal became deeply depressed, expected his death and then actually died. The prohibitions mostly concern matters which are capable of enjoyment such as freedom of movement and unrestrained intercourse; in some cases they appear very ingenious, evidently representing abstinences and renunciations; in other cases their content is quite incomprehensible, they seem to concern themselves with trifles and give the impression of ceremonials. Something like a theory seems to underlie all these prohibitions, it seems as if these prohibitions are necessary because some persons and objects possess a dangerous power which is transmitted by contact with the object so charged, almost like a contagion. The quantity of this dangerous property is also taken into consideration. Some persons or things have more of it than others and the danger is precisely in accordance with the charge. The most peculiar part of it is that any one who has violated such a prohibition assumes the nature of the forbidden object as if he had absorbed the whole dangerous charge. This power is inherent in all persons who are more or less prominent, such as kings, priests and the newly born, in all exceptional physical states such as menstruation, puberty and birth, in everything sinister like illness and death and in everything connected with these conditions by virtue of contagion or dissemination.
First of all it must be said that it is useless to question savages as to the real motivation of their prohibitions or as to the genesis of taboo. According to our assumption they must be incapable of telling us anything about it since this motivation is ‘unconscious’ to them. But following the model of the compulsive prohibition we shall construct the history of taboo as follows: Taboos are very ancient prohibitions which at one time were forced upon a generation of primitive people from without, that is, they probably were forcibly impressed upon them by an earlier generation. These prohibitions concerned actions for which there existed a strong desire. The prohibitions maintained themselves from generation to generation, perhaps only as the result of a tradition set up by paternal and social authority. But in later generations they have perhaps already become ‘organized’ as a piece of inherited psychic property. Whether there are such ‘innate ideas’ or whether these have brought about the fixation of the taboo by themselves or by co-operating with education no one could decide in the particular case in question. The persistence of taboo teaches, however, one thing, namely, that the original pleasure to do the forbidden still continues among taboo races. They therefore assume an _ambivalent attitude_ toward their taboo prohibitions; in their unconscious they would like nothing better than to transgress them but they are also afraid to do it; they are afraid just because they would like to transgress, and the fear is stronger than the pleasure. But in every individual of the race the desire for it is unconscious, just as in the neurotic.
It seems like an obvious contradiction that persons of such perfection of power should themselves require the greatest care to guard them against threatening dangers, but this is not the only contradiction revealed in the treatment of royal persons on the part of savages. These races consider it necessary to watch over their kings to see that they use their powers in the right way; they are by no means sure of their good intentions or of their conscientiousness. A strain of mistrust is mingled with the motivation of the taboo rules for the king. “The idea that early kingdoms are despotisms”, says Frazer, “in which the people exist only for the sovereign, is wholly inapplicable to the monarchies we are considering. On the contrary, the sovereign in them exists only for his subjects: his life is only valuable so long as he discharges the duties of his position by ordering the course of nature for his people’s benefit. So soon as he fails to do so, the care, the devotion, the religious homage which they had hitherto lavished on him cease and are changed into hatred and contempt; he is ignominiously dismissed and may be thankful if he escapes with his life. Worshipped as a god one day, he is killed as a criminal the next. But in this changed behaviour of the people there is nothing capricious or inconsistent. On the contrary, their conduct is quite consistent. If their king is their god he is or should be, also their preserver; and if he will not preserve them he must make room for another who will. So long, however, as he answers their expectations, there is no limit to the care which they take of him, and which they compel him to take of himself. A king of this sort lives hedged in by ceremonious etiquette, a network of prohibitions and observances, of which the intention is not to contribute to his dignity, much less to his comfort, but to restrain him from conduct which, by disturbing the harmony of nature, might involve himself, his people, and the universe in one common catastrophe. Far from adding to his comfort, these observances, by trammelling his every act, annihilate his freedom and often render the very life, which it is their object to preserve, a burden and sorrow to him.”
Excerpts from Totem and Taboo by Sigmund Freud.