INTRODUCTION to "The Imagination of Albion: Summertime in England"
After presenting a musical essay series on the Celtic cross-quarter summer fire festival of first harvest, Lughnasadh/Lammas, this new (but related) Orphic Essay-with-Soundtrack series is for the on-going celebration of the late summer season (just before the autumnal equinox). The first musical essay is entitled "The Imagination of Albion: Summertime in England."
In the last musical essay series, the GS presented the celebration of the high summer season with the Celtic festival of Lughnasadh, which includes the mainstream Celtic traditions of Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man, Cornwall, and Brittany.
Who Were The Celts?
The Celts were a European ethno-linguistic cultural group of tribal societies in Iron Age and Medieval Europe who spoke Celtic languages and had a similar culture, although the relationship between the ethnic, linguistic, and cultural elements remains uncertain and controversial. (Many scholars argue that our modern concept of the “Celts” obscures the fact that the “Celts” were warring tribes who certainly wouldn’t have seen themselves as one people at the time. The "Celts," as we traditionally regard them, exist largely in the magnificence of their art and the words of the Romans who fought them. The Greeks called them Keltoi and the Romans called them Galli—both meaning "barbarians." The trouble with the reports of the Romans is that they were a mix of reportage and political propaganda. It was politically expedient for the Celtic peoples to be colored as barbarians and the Romans as a great civilizing force. In other words, history written by the winners is always suspect.)
The people we call “Celts” gradually infiltrated Britain over the course of the centuries between about 500 and 100 BCE. However, there was probably never an organized Celtic invasion due to the fragmented nature of the Celtic peoples. The Celts were a group of peoples loosely tied by similar language, religion, and cultural expression. They were not centrally governed, and since they were warriors living for the glories of battle, they fought with fight each other as much as they fought any non-Celt. They were also the people who brought iron working to the British Isles. When they weren't fighting, the Celts were farmers. One of the innovations they brought to Britain was the iron plough.
The Iron Age is the age of the "Celt" in Britain. (The Iron Age of Celtic Britain: 600 BCE - 50 CE.) A Celtic culture established itself for over the 500 or so years leading up to the first Roman invasion throughout the British Isles. The Celts were first evident in the 7th or 8th century BCE. Their maximum expansion was from the 5th to the 3rd century BCE, when they occupied much of Europe north of the Alps. Thus Celtic culture spread throughout Britain, France, Western Spain, Southern Germany to the Black Sea. The Celts arrived in Britain by the 4th or 5th century BCE and Ireland by the 2nd or 3rd century BCE, and possibly earlier. The Gaels, Gauls, Britons, Irish, and Gallations (Tracian Gauls from highlands of central Anatolia) were all Celtic people. It should be pointed out that there were among the Celts of the Gallo-Roman period (the Romanized culture of Gaul under the rule of the Roman Empire, from which Lughnasadh is best known) other Continental-European Celtic tribes, such as the Celtiberian, who occupied the Iberian Peninsula (modern-day Spain) across the Pyrenees from Central Europe (These were only a recently recognized addition to the Celtic peoples, due to archeological studies from Spain.)
By the mid 1st millennium CE, with the expansion of the Roman Empire and the Great Migrations of Germanic peoples, Celtic culture and Insular Celtic (Celtic languages that originated in the British Isles) had become restricted to Ireland, the western and northern parts of Great Britain (Wales, Scotland, and Cornwall), the Isle of Man, and Brittany. For much of Celtic history they relied on oral transmission of culture, primarily through the efforts of their bards and poets. (They had a written Celtic language, which developed well into Christian times.) These arts were tremendously important to the Celts, and much of what we know of their traditions comes to us today through the old tales and poems that were handed down for generations before eventually being written down. Another area where oral traditions were important was in the training of Druids. The Druids have been sensationalized and mystified since the 19th-century, but we do know that they were a class of high-priests, prophets, historians, teachers, healers, political advisors, and arbitrators. They had their own universities, where traditional knowledge was passed on. They had the right to speak ahead of the king in council, and may have held more authority than the king. They acted as ambassadors in time of war, they composed verse, and upheld the law. They were the culture-bearers of the Celts.
From what we know of the Celts from Roman commentators (who may or may not be trusted), they shared some of the gods worshipped by the Romans (such as the “Gaulish Mercury,” or “Lugus;” from the distinctive iconography of Gallo-Roman inscriptions to Mercury). Julius Caesar believed that they worshipped the same gods and simply called them by different names. Assimilation was eased by interpreting indigenous gods in Roman terms, such as with Lenus Mars or Apollo. The Celtic peoples of Gaul under Roman rule fused Roman religious forms with deities and modes of worship from their indigenous traditions. In some cases, Gaulish deity names were used as epithets for Roman deities, as with the theonym of Mercury Lugus, Apollo Grannus, and Mars Lenus. In his Gallic War essays, Caesar enumerates the popular deities of the Gauls and refers to them by what he saw as a corresponding Roman name. Thus, references made to Mercury actually are attributed to a god Caesar also calls Lugus or Lugh. This god's cult was centered in Lugundum, which later became Lyon, France. His festival on August 1 (i.e., Lughnasadh) was selected as the day of the Feast of Augustus, by Caesar's successor, Octavian Augustus Caesar, and it was the most important holiday in all of Gaul. The Celts held many of their religious ceremonies in woodland groves and near sacred water, such as wells and springs. Modern historians of religion, such as Sir James Frazier, identify the prominent feature of the Druidic religion of the Celts as “tree-worship.”
Between the 5th and 8th centuries, the Celtic-speaking communities in the Atlantic regions emerged as a reasonably cohesive cultural entity. They had a common linguistic, religious, and artistic heritage that distinguished them from the culture of the surrounding polities. However, as previously indicated, the term “Celtic” is historically inaccurate, and the concept of an all-encompassing Celtic identity is a modern one, only evolving during the course of the 19th-century Celtic Revival.
In this new musical essay series, the GS plans to explore what is known as the "Anglo-Celtic" Imagination, which I'm calling "The Imagination of Albion" (Albion, the old name for Britain) and of which it has been said contributed a distinct temperament to the people those ancestors were known as the Britons, an Imaginal sense that is inseparable from the landscape. Indeed, the "Anglo-Celtic" Imagination could be depicted topographically.
Who Are The Anglo-Celtic People?
These Anglo-Celtic people are those of British and Irish descent. The hybrid designation is a combination of the combining form Anglo- and the adjective Celtic. Anglo-, meaning English and/or British, and is derived from the Angles, a Germanic people that settled in Britain (mainly England) in the middle of the first millennium, during the post-Roman period. (They founded several of the kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England. The Saxons, and their neighbors the Angles, started arriving in the British Isles from about the 5th century CE. They came from what is now Denmark, North Germany and Friesland, though they probably lived further East before that. They spoke Germanic languages, and having intermixed with the Angles, gave rise to the term "Anglo-Saxon." These languages, usually lumped together as "Old English" or "Anglo-Saxon," became dominant in most of England and southern Scotland, while Cornwall, Ireland, Wales and northern Scotland remained largely Celtic-speaking.) Actually, the very name of the country of "England" (Old English: Engla land or ģngla land) originates from the Angles people. The term "English" tends to be used more-or-less for the period after the Norman conquest of 1066 CE, when England became a single political unit. The English, then, are a mixture of Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Jutes, Danes, and Normans. Thus, there are no pure Anglo-Saxon people, and so any atavistic native element is out of the question. This English or British sense of belonging may have more to do with location and territory. Anglo-Saxon gradually merged with Norman French to become a language called "Middle English" (Chaucer, etc. etc.) and that evolved into modern English.
Thus, in this geographical context, "Anglo-Celtic" refers to the people of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, and Cornwall; the Celtic nations of the controversial term "British Isles" (which can be substituted by the term “Anglo-Celtic Isles”). Recorded usage of the term "Anglo-Celtic," dates as far back to at least the mid-19th century.
That said, most of us are familiar with the idea that the English are descended from Anglo-Saxons, who invaded eastern England after the Romans left, while most of the people in the rest of the British Isles derive from indigenous Celtic ancestors with a sprinkling of Viking blood around the fringes. However, the fact is that the scholarly debate over the actual ancestral origins of the British people has raged for centuries, beginning with Geoffrey of Monmouth (c. 1100 – c. 1155), who was a cleric and one of the major figures in the development of British historiography and the popularity of tales of King Arthur (who has persistently been identified as a "Celtic king"). Consequently, there is no agreement among historians or archaeologists on the exact meaning of the words “Celtic” or “Anglo-Saxon.”
Most people are familiar with the term “Britons.” This designation dentifies the Celtic peoples who settled in Great Britain. Sometimes referred to as Brythons or British, the Britons were the Celtic people culturally dominating Great Britain from the Iron Age through the Early Middle Ages. They lived throughout Britain, and after the 5th century they also migrated to continental Europe, where they established the settlements of Brittany in France and the obscure Britonia in what is now Galicia, Spain. The British, per se, did not appear in history until Julius Caesar crossed the English Channel from northern Gaul and began his failed conquest of Britain. However, Rome didn’t abandon northern England until 117 CE. After the Roman conquest of 43 CE, a Romano-British culture began to emerge. With the advent of the Anglo-Saxon settlement in the 5th century, however, the culture and language of the Britons began to fragment. Despite this, the Celtic tribes were established all over England for over a thousand years. These separate British tribes or kingdoms survived from the pre-Roman Iron Age to the sub-Roman period and the Saxon invasions. Their verses of prophecy and legend remain in the Irish, Welsh, and Cornish vernaculars but in no other source. The presence, then, of a thousand years can never wholly die out; it lingers still not only in some of the words of the English language, but also Celtic words lie buried in the landscape. Many of the place names in southern England have Celtic origins. Among them are Avon and Downs, Leatherhead and the Isle of Man—even London itself is a Celtic name.
So the question is exactly who are the English people, where do they come from, and what defines the nature of their genetic and cultural heritage? In dealing with the ancestral origins of the English people, we have the so-called "Matter of Britain" (a name given collectively to the body of literature and legendary material associated with Great Britain and its legendary kings), which consists of the early pseudohistorical accounts of Britain, beginning with Bede’s An Ecclesiastical History of the English People (c. 731 CE), Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain (c. 1136 CE), and the anonymously written The History of the Britons (c. 828 CE), a purported history of the indigenous British (Brittonic) people that was written during the Anglo-Saxon period. But perhaps the most widely known “Matter of Britain” literature is the Arthurian literary cycle (c. 12th century), which is mainly composed of folklore and literary invention. (Here, King Arthur is a legendary British leader of the late 5th and early 6th centuries, who, according to medieval histories and romances, led the defense of Britain against Saxon invaders in the early 6th century. His historical existence is debated and disputed by modern historians.) Thus, with this legendary body of literature, we have the phenomenon of what has been called "the myths of British ancestry." In any case, the literature that emerged from this ethnic mixing, and in particular the influence of early Anglo-Celtic culture, is described as the basis of Western Civilization.
The term "Anglo-Celtic" lends itself to the term Anglo-Celtic Isles, an alternative term for the British Isles. Use in this term can be seen in a 1914 Irish Unionist ballad:
The United Anglo-Celtic Isles
Will e'er be blessed by Freedoms smiles
No tyrant can our homes subdue
While Britons to the Celts are true.
The false may clamour to betray
The brave will still uphold our sway
The triple-sacred flag as yet
Supreme, its sun shall never set
— Southern Unionist Ballad (Ennis Unionist, 1914)
It is this Anglo-Celtic literature that is the product of what I’m calling the “Imagination of Albion.” Therefore, the GS’s musical essay, “The Imagination of Albion: Summertime in England” (Albion is the mythopoetical name for England), will deal with poetry, imagination and memory, in connection with the mythopoetic landscape—“the spirit of place" (genius loci)—, particularly the Lake District, the north-country haunt the Romantic “Lake–Poets,” Wordsworth and Coleridge. The GS hopes that listeners will be able to relate to the music in their own memory-imagination ("memoria") of their favorite summer “spirit of place.”