Thursday, May 13, 2010

"The Gundestrup Cauldron & 'Celtic Buddhism'": my article

"The Gundestrup Cauldron & 'Celtic Buddhism'", has been published in Epona: E-Journal of Ancient & Modern Celtic Studies 5 (2009): 1-29. (PDF). For you with short attention spans, here's an "abstract". (Via the "journal's homepage", click a Union Jack first for English-language text.)

I'm happy to have contributed. I started my investigations nearly two years ago while re-reading Michel Houllebecq's combative novel of ideas "The Elementary Particles" (=my review). A chance reference tied the "Book of Kells" illumination of St Matthew to a "mandala". My curiosity whether any Celtic-Buddhist transmissions could be proven led to this survey of the evidence, or lack of, as opposed to the invention of influences.

In its supersized format my survey comprises this article. A second piece, revised and updated, (if half the 15,000 word length of the "Epona" article) has been submitted (a few days ago) for publication in selected papers revised and expanded from the proceedings of the "Alternative Spiritualities in Ireland" conference held last Samhain at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth.

The reason my "Epona" article's so lengthy? I wanted to delve as deeply as I could into a topic in the backwaters of exploration. Luckily, this peer-edited journal welcomed my research, for as Dr. Emilia Szaffner explains in her "editorial introduction" to the "Epona" project:
The journal is named after the Celtic horse goddess Epona, who was also an incarnation of fertility. The worship of Epona was widespread, especially in the 1st–3rd centuries CE inside and also outside the Roman Empire, for instance in Pannonia and Transylvania. Among the Celtic gods it was Epona whose cult lasted probably the longest in the Carpathian Basin.

Yeats mused that until the Battle of the Boyne, Ireland belonged to Asia; for the far-westbound Magyar coming from above the Caspian Sea, they stopped only at the Danube. Before they arrived, Pannonia halted at that wide river. I recall crossing the bridge north of Budapest to see right by the roadside Roman ruins-- their military camps did not cross that riparian frontier, home to the untamed barbarians. And among these, perhaps contacts no book extant can account for once happened. What beliefs shared, surmises entertained?

The title of my paper, with the Gundestrup Cauldron, symbolizes one connection, however far-fetched or conjectural. So, the congruent, complimentary Central European-Celtic-and perhaps Buddhist (as mavericks may meditate) route of cultural influences beckoned me down my own Road of Great Events. Maybe not a Silk one, but a pilgrimage I've enjoyed.

It's led to a lot more reading than I'd expected into Buddhism itself, far deeper than shows in my scholarship I confess. It's helped me pursue an endeavor that reminds me of how closely intertwined the personal and the academic paths can tangle when one loves what one does. I let go now-- of retyping of MLA punctuation vs. Harvard Style documentation, refusals of copyright permission for image use, or reduction of amassed research to meet word count and deadline.

Photo: Visit the "Gundestrup Cauldron" entry on Wikipedia; this displays Plate "A" with the horned figure said by some to be Cernunnos the Celtic horned god-- and a few to be an antlered shaman as "yogic adept" clutching a Hindu "naga" snake.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting post a Fhionnchú ! Returning from NY today with a pain in my heart x Was delighted to read your update x

Fionnchú said...

Tá dea-mhéin agamsa dhuitsa. Ba mhór an gar dá mbeadh tusa níos fearr sa bhaile anois aríst, a hEabha. Dála an scéil, scríobh mé an lá eile faoi do ghreásán-suíomh anseo.

tamerlane said...

One of my ancestors, and one of my horse's ancestors fought on opposite sides at the Battle of the Boyne. (Horse won.)

Fionnchú said...

Reminds me of Brendan Behan's similar Hibernian wit: defining an Anglo-Irishman as "a Protestant with a horse." Worth over five pounds, naturally!

Hue Hai said...

I'm curious if any Buddhist books (classical or modern) have been translated into any Celtic languages). I understand there's a bit 'o Buddhism in Wales, Cornwall, etc..., but I wonder if Celtic language resources on Buddhism exist. Email me if you know, please! amerimonk at g mail dot com. Thanks!

(note to readers: please do not use this email address for any commercial purposes.)

Fionnchú said...

Hue Hai, thanks for a great question. I admit being so immersed in the Irish alone I did not have time to seek out Welsh or Cornish comparisons, but I asked a medievalist and Celticist in the know if he knew of any works translated, and he did not. Until the 1800s there was not any real contact with the Buddhist tradition in the West beyond garbled hearsay. Stephen Batchelor's book "The Awakening of the West" (reviewed by me on Amazon US and this blog) documents well this situation.

I also did a search yesterday to double-check the Irish but and came up empty again. The only allusions to Buddhism even being covered in passing appear, as Professor Laurence Cox & Maria Griffin note in their article in the Journal of Global Buddhism 10 (2009): 93-126 on the history of Irish Buddhism, are brief indeed. See the article:
"Border Country Dharma"

Cox & Griffin are preparing a longer book on this topic; their revised essay will appear as will my updated and condensed one in "Alternative Spiritualities in Ireland" perhaps to be published in book form later this year. It's in the editing stage now. My essay did delve into one point the earlier "Gundestrup" one did not that is relevant. There was a FWBO puja book put out by the Samyedzong center in Dublin and they had one translation of the Heart Sutra into Irish. That's all I could find. But, I will now keep my eye out for Welsh or other Celtic translations. Odds are, however, very long that any will turn up.

Best wishes, and I cross-posted this on the blog in case any body else stumbles on it and can enlighten you or me...John L. Murphy / Fionnchu