Magazine article Teach

The Needfire: A Celebration of Celtic Culture in Canada

Magazine article Teach

The Needfire: A Celebration of Celtic Culture in Canada

Article excerpt

What is a Celt, Anyway?

The word, Celt, is a descriptor that dates back to ancient times where one version is derived from the Greek word, "Keltoi" which means barbarian. The Romans referred to the Celts as "Galli" or "Galatai", all meaning the same thing. As no soft "c" sound exists in the greek language, the word Celt is pronounced with the hard "c" instead. The Celts have a rich and storied history and culture, much tied to myth and legend, filled with distinctive music, energetic dance and song, poetry and storytelling. They are tied to the land and bound up with the sea.

Ancient Celtic culture was highly sophisticated and well-organized. The ancient Celts were greatly feared even by the mighty Roman empire and earned a well-deserved reputation for ferocity as a description by the Roman historian, Diodorus reveals: "Their aspect is terrifying...They are very tall in stature, with rippling muscles under clear white skin. Their hair is blonde but not naturally so: they bleach it, to this day, artifically, washing it in lime and combing it back from their foreheads. They look like wood-demons, their hair thick and shaggy like a horses's mane. Some of them are cleanshaven, but others -- especially those of high rank, shave their cheeks but leave a moustache that covers the whole mouth and when they eat and drink, acts like a sieve, trapping particles of food ... The way they dress is astonishing: they wear brightly coloured and embroidered shirts, with trousers called bracae and cloaks fastened at the shoulder with a brooch, heavy in winter, light in summer. These cloaks are striped or checkered in design, with the separate checks close togther in various colours. The Celts wear bronze helmets with figures picked out on them, even horns, which made them look even taller than they already are ... while others cover themselves with breast-armour made out of chains. But most content themselves with the weapons nature gave them: they go naked into battle...Weird, discordant horns were sounded, deep and harsh voices, they beat their swords rhythmically against their shields."

The ancient Celts were among the few to inflict a humiliating defeat on the Roman Empire. The like of them had never been seen before. Their influence spread across Europe and into the British Isles including Ireland and what was to become Scotland. The Irish and the Scots descend from the same tribe and with the Welsh, Cornish and the Manx form the better part of the Celtic family today. From what we see here, William Wallace of Braveheart fame descends from a clear line of intelligent, resourceful and fearless warriors.

Much more recently, it is the music, dance, and storytelling that has surged in popularity all over the world. Canada is no exception boasting a vibrant Celtic culture that is represented in many forms and by many groups, associations and organizations. The hub of Celtic culture is situated in the Atlantic Provinces but there is a mini-diaspora spread out among communities from Cornerbrook to Victoria. "Celt-ism" is alive and throbbing whether it's a Toronto-based Celtic rock band called Enter the Haggis ( their slogan: intent on world domination) or the White Spot Pipe Band of British Columbia.

No better example of the exuberance of Celtic Culture exists than the musical, THE NEEDFIRE, staged at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto. A magical production, it is filled with energetic music and dancing, woven together by the figure of a Poet who relates the old stories to a young man who comes into his life. The central symbol of the play is that of the fire which represents regeneration and renewal. When spring comes to the fictional community in the play, fires are put out, then collectively re-lit as the hearth is rejuvenated by the sudden return of the heat and light and warmth.

This teaching unit has been generously sponsored by Mirvish Productions, producer of the original Canadian production of THE NEEDFIRE. …

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