The Green Martyrdom: Lent and Celtic Christianity

In Part 3 of Hunting Magic Eels I take you on a tour of what I call the "Enchanted Christianities." 

The point of this historical survey is to point out that, when it comes to re-enchanting our faith, we don't have to start from scratch. There are rich resources available to us within the Christian tradition. I devote one of these.chapters to "Celtic Enchantments."

One of the things I discuss at the start of my chapter on Celtic Christianity are the controversies surrounding it. Celtic Christianity has become very commercialized, with many authors and speakers marketing themselves as purveyors and teachers of "Celtic" spirituality. A lot of that stuff is hokum, warmed over New Age spirituality with an Irish twist. 

A good example of this is how many modern teachers of "Celtic" spirituality never reckon with the centrality that severe asceticism played within the Celtic monastic tradition, what the Celtic saints called "the green martyrdom."  As I describe in Hunting Magic Eels:

The Celtic Christians adored and emulated the Desert Fathers, with their severe fasting, penances, and mortifications...The Celtic monks reveled in nature, but they regularly sought harsh, forbidding locations in which to live. And lacking caves like their heroes the Desert Fathers, the Celtic monks built austere beehive-shaped cells out of stacked rocks. There is a life-affirming sensuality to Celtic spirituality, but Celtic Christian practice was also disciplined and ascetical...And similar to the Desert Fathers, the spiritual potency of the Celtic holy men and women was directly related to the severity of their ascetical practice. The Celtic saints who most severely mortified and disciplined themselves were the ones with the greatest miracle-working powers. For the Celtic Christians, enchantment wasn’t just a frolic among the shamrocks. Magic implied mortification. Enchantment flowed out of ascetical discipline.

...Celtic Christianity loves food, but it also loves to fast. The Celtic Christians called these ascetical practices the “green martyrdom.” (The Celtic word here is glas, which could be translated as “green” or “blue.” Most translators go with “green martyrdom,” but you sometimes see it translated as the “blue martyrdom.”) An old Celtic sermon describes the green martyrdom as “fasting and hard work,” through which Christians “control their desires or struggle in penance and repentance.” Never forget that Ash Wednesday is just as Celtic as Fat Tuesday.

In short, penance, self-mortification, and fasting is very Celtic. Lent is a very Celtic time of year. Lent is a season to pursue the green martyrdom.

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