Saturday, 24 March 2007

So something about the Celts

It doesn't actually take long to notice the Czech interest in their Celtic roots and even in the British Arthurian tradition. There is even a guy in Cesky Krumlov who calls himself Merlin. You can buy a wonderful map which marks out the places of ancient power in the area - the comments are in Czech and so I am not sure of the places' significance. But you wouldn't get a map like that sold along side the Ordnance Survey in shops in England.

On two occasions I have been taken by some Czech friends to visit local standing stones. On one occasion my friend and I were taken to a place off the road between Cesky Krumlov and Horice na Sumave. We parked the car by the road, dropped down a short slope to cross a stream, passed one of the many small shrines that cover the Czech countryside and followed a path that curved up into the woods. After a while we came to an opening in the trees; the sun streamed through the trees on to a stone lying on the floor. We were told that this had long been a place of power with travellers coming here for centuries to access the forces. Individually we knelt by the horizontal stone and placed our right hands on it, as instructed. We then rose and waited. My friend having risen, found herself being compelled for no reason to walk backwards until she stopped a few yards away. Our guide was delighted - my friend had apparently stopped somewhere important. For me nothing happened.

As we walked back to the car I pondered my reactions to it all. Did I believe what had happened? I knew my friend's reaction would have been absolutely honest, and so something had moved her. But did I believe it? If I did, why did it not work for me? I had been open to anything, I thought. And for that matter I am usually very sensitive to places. As a teenager I had been as obsessed by the Celts as the Czechs, making pilgrimages to ancient places - standing stones, circles and Celtic hill forts (oppida). I had had a whole collection of clunky Celtic jewellary on leather thongs - but then so did everyone else in the early 70s. And I had bought every book I could find on the Celts.

I suppose it might just be that that particular place did not have an impact on me. Then it could have been that the rational and somewhat cynical English side of me was on top at that point - the Oxford-trained historian. You will note that I talk of it as the English side not the British. You see one thing we have in common with the Czechs is not just our Celtic roots, but that we have other roots, roots we are perhaps less fond of. The Czechs have the Slavs, the English have the Anglo Saxon. And so we seek what we see as the Celtic, - the other, the mystical side in our personalities.

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