Sacred Scripts: A Relationship to Irish

Greetings dear readers, following the series of posts from my fellow blogger Orfhlaith Robin over on Musings of a Young Irish Witch I’ve decided to revisit some of the Irish terms that might be of interest to people and add my own suggestions to the list. Orfhlaith has done a wonderful rendition, as a Gaelgoir this is most helpful.

Grace meets Lizzy
Grace meets Lizzy

Now for my approach to this convoluted approach to magic! First, I’m not stating that Irish magical practitioners need or are required to use the Irish language. Indeed I once pointed out to a friend who lived in Galway that the Pirate Queen, Grace O’Malley, used Latin to converse with Queen Elizabeth I when they met because O’Malley only spoke in Irish and Latin and the Queen of England didn’t know Irish. He rightly spotted then that Latin would be an ideal choice to work with her in a magical setting [I’ll refrain from the usual commentary of Grace O’Malley as a godform; this idea seems to have seeded itself in the practice of those who would allow it]. My point here is simple, godforms and (actual) gods are one bridge into the magical traditions but by no means the only bridge. Indeed most magical systems and traditions use a synthesis of Gods, languages, usually deemed sacred i.e. Hebrew or Sanskrit, symbolism – in particular a set of key tools or implements (fetishes) which form the central cosmology on a microcosmic scale.

So with all this in mind I plan to explore the cosmology common to most cultures and subcultures. To get the ball rolling let us look at some of the Systems and Traditions known to be operating in Ireland and see if we can render these in Irish terminology.

British Traditional Wicca (BTW) – Wica Traidisiúnta na Breataine (WTB)

British Traditional Wicca can also be known as Traditional British Wicca, now why might one draw a distinction between this you ask? Ah well simple in terms of translation work it matters! Heck in terms of English it matters i.e. is it British Wicca that happens to be Traditional? Or is it Traditional Wicca that happens to be British? This does mean that ‘word order’ can become problematic, especially if you’re not familiar with the language you are translating.

I tend to err on the side that it is Traditional Wicca which has evolved from a British only tradition to the US taking on cultural idioms along the way. Traditional in this sense refers to the mode by which the teachings of Wicca are disseminated through traditional modes of the system. Just for divilment lets reverse matters and say its Traditional British Wicca we want translated and then we need to look for what the defining features of Wicca make it British, are these found in downlines in the US? Is so, why so? Language carries culture but these are American witches learning a British magico-religio system in a traditional fashion.

  • Alexandrian Wicca – Alexandrian came, according to Alex Sanders, from the Library of Alexandria. What I can suggest, and to be honest I probably wouldn’t bother; is, a Bearlacais or a word sounding like it would in English. Since we have no ‘X’ naturally in Irish, Wica Alecsandraiochta*. This one was/is a toughie since Alexandria in Egypt has been rendered as “Cathair Alastair” in modern Irish.
  • Gardnerian WiccaWica Gardnereán. Why the difference between Alexandrian and Gardnerian you ask?* Well as always this is a best guess scenario and my best offers that the ‘-ian’ suffix in Gardnerian is different because it is Gardner’s own name, now Sanders may well have used his own but the common telling of the tale [hint: clue here too!] is he named it for the Library so this is where I went off after for names in Irish.

Modern-pagan – Págánach Nua-Aimseartha

Personally I would render this as Nua-phágánach (Neo-paganism). Generally speaking in English when we say paganism, modern practitioners are referring to the contracted term of neopaganism. Indeed the latin term paganus means “country-dweller” or “rustic” according to contemporary etymological research but as one might expect its not simply a descriptor but the term seems to have been use pejoratively in a similar fashion that someone from Dublin (a “jackeen” colloquially speaking) might refer to me as a “culchie” – I am and damn proud of it too!

Placing a word in context is paramount to understanding how the word changes and morphs with time. People often assume that Irish speakers are being rude or mean toward a querent’s spirituality (as whimsical as it may be in some cases) but this isn’t so! What most people asking for translation work can’t seem to grasp is that languages aren’t translatable in the first instance, but rather we agree a series of meanings which are developed over time. See, for instance the term paganus to pagan to neopagan and back around to label pre-historic spiritual practices.

  • Neo-druidism – right before we get started on this one whatever you think you know, you don’t! Its all speculative in nature and we’re all guilty of running with it from time to time. This isn’t an Irish practice, all the neo-druidic traditions are British and American, there I said it! We have Order of the Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) and Ar nDraíocht Féin (ADF). Thing is all we have in Ireland on the practices of the Filí or poets of Ireland are to do with legal tracts, indeed the word draoi in modern Irish lending itself to the term druid comes from dair/duir meaning oak and refers to a class of judiciary (druí). As before; the prefix neo- can be rendered nua-, and druidism isn’t going to be altered by me so my vote is on Nua-draoidheachta.
  • Shamanic practices – this is awkward as a Bearlacais needs to be created for Shamanism as we simply don’t have the practice in Irish Traditions, since shamanic practices often rely – though not exclusively – on this the scots-gaelic term: Taibhseara Cleachtais meaning “Seer-ship Practices”. Before people get high and might Scots-Gaelic is related closely to middle-Irish.
  • Heathenism – Gentliucht (includes magical practitioner too). I’m outright going for the old-Irish term here as simply put we have no modern term since pagan and heathen tend to mean a paynim in general.

Thelema – TolTuili

The term Thelema is greek for Will; and I translated using old-Irish. Why am I including a Crowley-ism here? Well simply put a lot of Crowley material as moved on over to the Wicca side owing to a meeting of minds between Gerald B. Gardner and Aleister Crowley but also because the whole issue of linguistics as presented by Wicca also are to be found in Thelemic religion as modern magical systems with Thelema at their core tend to owe a lot to the Mediaeval Grimoire Traditions. Below is my translation on two Thelemic systems I know to be in operation in Ireland:

  • Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO)… Ordú an Teampaill an Oirthir (OTO) / Ord Tempul Anair (OTA)
  • Irish Order of Thelema (IOT)… Ordú na hÉireann den Tuili (IET)

Here’s how this’ll roll out, as people post comments in the blog below I’ll vet them for relevance where I missed the plot or messed up or both. I’ll update the post here but do check the comments someone might explain something and others might refute it. I will have other terms coming along over the Christmas break or into the New Year. Remember this is step one I want to bring everyone along with me and so language needs pacing for people.


  • Blue = Modern-Irish (or a hybridization of old and new Irish)
  • Green = Old-Irish
  • Italics = Latin (occasionally names to groups)

2 Replies to “Sacred Scripts: A Relationship to Irish”

  1. Originally it was pointed out to me that while commentating on “word order” I’d missed out on “nua-aimseartha paganach” being “new ageism of paganism”, rather than Modern Paganism as contemporary Paganism.

    Much obliged Orfhlaith! 😉

    1. You phrase what I mean to say better than I do! Excellent post again, I really enjoyed it, especially the use of Sean-Ghaelige and the reference to Grace O’Malley. My sentiments exactly.

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