Sinnsreachd is a cultural and religious movement that revives the pre-Christian religion, including cultural elements, of the Gaelic peoples of Ireland and Scotland from which it and many of its practitioners are descended. Sinnsreachd is a Gàidhlig (Scots-Gaelic) word that means, in this context, "Customs of the Ancestors", and is a term that truly expresses what it is that we hold dear. Our faith, our culture, our way of life all fall within the bounds of that single word, yet no simple term can ever describe the vastness and complexity that is encompassed in the ways of our people. In simplest terms, Sinnsreachd is a polytheistic folk religion that bases its core cultural, social, and religious doctrine off of the extant customs and superstitions of rural Ireland and Scotland combined with modern restorations of society, culture, and customary law gleaned through research.
Sinnsreachd draws on the ancient elements of Gaelic culture and religion as they existed prior to Christianity, but does so in the modern day and age. While the history of the Gael from which Sinnsreachd draws is recorded and quite clear-cut, its direct roots as a modern movement are harder to pinpoint. Though the first vestiges of a resurgence of the faith of the pre-Christian Gael are found in writings from over a century ago, it is hard to determine exactly when academic postulation became faith.
Today Sinnsreachd is an overarching term, like Christianity or Buddhism, that encompasses many independent tribal or clan groups, organizations, families, and individuals, each united by an adherence to a particular way of life and belief. Though there are many variations from family to family, organization to organization, these differences are subtle and do not detract from the unified adherence to the core beliefs and traditions we call Sinnsreachd. These include the social structure and cultural forms found within the Féinechais, the Laws of the Freemen, also known as Brehon Law, which are the founding social and cultural doctrines of the Sinnsreachd faith. Much of the secular cultural aspects of Sinnsreachd, such as tribal structure, castes, and other social organization aspects, are derived from these ancient laws of the Gaelic people.
Other core elements of Sinnsreachd are the ethics, morals, and teachings of wisdom found in the Triads and the Teachings of the Kings. One of the most distinct elements of Sinnsreachd- one that sets it aside from many other Celtic or Gaelic polytheistic faiths- is the underlying practice of tribalism. All elements of Sinnsreachd and the personal identity of the Sinsearaithe are based, directly or indirectly, in the concept of the tuath, or tribe. Sinnsreachd is not a religion of the person, but of the people. While there are individual Sinsearaithe who are not part of a tuath, they are the rare exception, not the rule. Tribalism is Sinnsreachd's key defining characteristic.
Sinsearaithe believe that the indigenous culture and beliefs of the Gaelic people are sacral, taught to our ancestors by our Gods as the proper way of living. To us, the tuath represents the core of this sacred way of life, and it is paramount that it be followed. Our belief is that the foreign cultural and religious influences that have overwhelmed mainstream Gaelic culture are unacceptable to follow, and represent a breaking of the pact established between Éiriu and the Milesians, a pact we are beholden to uphold. We believe that to maintain our end of the pact we must adhere to and follow the core of our ancestral culture, society, traditions, and beliefs as a way of life. In exchange for this, should we succeed in rebuilding our people and proving our worth and dedication, we will be granted a union with the land and prosperity.
It is our belief that some day, many generations down the road after we have rebuilt our people and our way of life into a proper heir to that of our ancestors, we will again have a sovereign homeland in which the teachings of our Gods and Ancestors are honored. Our adherence to a belief that our ancestral way of life is sacral does not mean that we seek to return to primitive living conditions or Iron Age technology. In fact, we embrace modern technology and science, and we believe that our way of life is more needed today than ever before. Sinsearaithe believe that a modern incarnation of our ancient cultural values, society, laws, etc. are not only perfectly viable today, but are vastly more preferable to the evolving global monoculture that is rapidly spreading to every corner of the planet. It is the belief of our people that we have a sacred duty to build towards that future- rebuilding our population, our tuatha, and our pride, recovering what lore and tradition was lost, rebuilding our societal infrastructure now that our ancestral homelands no longer recognize any vestige of it and have freed it from their control, and preserving those traditions, customs, beliefs, and cultural paradigms that still exist. It is our duty to not only preserve and honor our culture, but to help guide it into the modern era so that it can be the foundation for the future. In a nutshell, our way of life is both our sacral duty to our Gods and Ancestors to follow as best we can, and is also seen by our people as a far better, safer, and more rewarding way of life compared to the mainstream Western societies we live among.
Culture and Laws
Sinnsreachd is a religion that involves secular cultural elements, though it is often stated to be a culture with religious elements entwined in it instead. In objective review, it appears to be a roughly 60% culture, 40% religion split. There is no central body that oversees or dictates Sinnsreachd customs, culture, or religious beliefs, but the practitioners of Sinnsreachd recognize each other based on their adherence to cultural and religious doctrines that are along the same general lines. The origins of the culture and customs of the Sinnsreachd faith come from a variety of sources. These include family customs and superstitions, traditions still found in the Gaelic communities of Ireland and Scotland, customs and traditions recorded in the 19th and early 20th century in these countries, as well as the Gaelic-speaking Diaspora populations in the Americas and Australia. Many of these cultural traits and customary laws are found within the Fénechas (a.k.a. "Brehon Law"), and from religious history and recorded lore found in the manuscripts of the Leabhar na Núachongbála (The Book of Leinster), Leabhar na nUidre (The Book of the Dun Cow), Leabhar Baile an Mhota (The Book of Ballymote), Leabhar Mór Mhic Fhir Bhisigh (The Great Book of Lecan), Leabhar Buidhe Lecain (The Yellow Book of Lecan), and the Leabhar Feirmoithe (The Book of Fermoy).
Socially, Sinnsreachd is a tribal faith, grouping into small to medium tribe-like family-based groups. The smallest of these groups is the household, called a teaghlach, teaghlaigh plural, comprised of a family of persons living under one roof or in one general household such as a farmstead. The next largest of these groups is the kin-group, or fine, finte plural (fineachan plural in Gàidhlig), which is comprised of everyone in a particular family group related by blood or marriage from a common ancestor. Different varieties of these kin-groups exist, but the most commonly seen version is the dearbhfine, dearbhfhinte plural (dearbhfineachan plural in Gàidhlig), which is all persons descended from a common ancestor out four generations. The largest organizational body of the Sinnsreachd faith is called a tuath, tuatha plural, or clann, clanna plural. The tuath has been roughly equated to mean "tribe", and is considered to be all members of the Sinnsreachd faith in a cohesive body living in a particular geographical area. It could be considered to be the Sinnsreachd equivalent to a diocese, but with closer ties due to familial relations and the cultural and political unifying structure.
Sinnsreachd is comprised of loose hierarchal classes of persons, often referred to as castes. These castes are based around occupation and position within the tribe. Examples of such castes would include ceardaithe (craftsmen), laochra (warriors), filí (poets), draoithe (religious functionaries), seanchaithe (lore-keepers), etc. Leadership is comprised of a chieftain, called either a taoiseach or rí, and the ceanna fine, a form of tribal parliament made up of the heads of each kin group.
One of the more common questions that is asked in regards to the caste system of the Gael is whether or not it is viable in the modern age. Critics claim that the caste system is an archaic remnant of a bygone time in which modern freedoms did not exist. This is not only incorrect, but a view espoused by those who refuse to do proper research into the reality behind both the castes and ranks of our ancestors and our people today. We all live in castes and hierarchies, even if such are not named nor organized. Whether one works in a corporation with overt castes (IT, billing, secretarial, maintenance, etc.) and ranks (cube-gopher, middle-management, CEO, etc.), or whether the castes and ranks one lives in are unconscious expressions of their social life based on occupation, income level, and social standing among one?s cliques and friends, everyone lives in some form of caste and rank system. The difference with the traditional Gaelic caste system is that it is upfront and honest, not hidden, and has openly-declared codified rules governing it. There are critics, to be sure, as the very idea of a caste system or rank system is anathema to self-indulgent and forced-equality systems such as hedonistic anarchy or socialism. However, such systems are anathema to our way of life, and criticisms from that angle are generally ignored.
What value is the caste and rank system of the ancient Gael in modern society, especially when so many of our people live within Host Nations and have no sovereign homeland? Most Sinsearaithe would say invaluable, something that is important not only to the preservation of our traditions but for the strength and survival of our people. Codified and organized castes and ranks give one a sense of their place in the world, and lay out the easy-to-understand steps and goals through which one must pass in order to better their place. They help to take a people defined by their tendency towards individualism and stubborn traits and guide them into a situation where they work together for the common good of the tribe in an organized fashion, making the tribe a coherent and well-oiled machine.
The Gaelic concepts of rank and caste also serve as a form of identification, not only of one?s place in our society and their occupation, but of their level of accomplishment. One is judged based on their position within our society, with the lowest ranks receiving general levels of respect, but those who have climbed higher have earned even more so. Heroes and role-models earn their accolades, they are not simply given to make one feel special. In the deoraithe world, one identifies themselves generally based on their job and level of income. Among the Sinsearaithe, when one speaks of their identity, it is based on their caste and rank. This may seem to be the same general concept at some levels, but the Sinnsreachd ideology holds that identifying oneself based on their income level in a society based on personal acquisition of wealth above all else simply shows that person?s position in the game of make-as-much-money-as-you-can. In a tribal society such as that held by the Sinsearaithe, one?s identity being based on caste and rank shows not only what they do, but how well they do it and what level of dedication to their family and tuath they possess.
In the modern world, the need for self-identity- not only at a cultural or religious level, but at a personal level- is sorely needed in order to have a sense of stability and a sense of one?s place. This is true within our society if it existed in a vacuum, and even more so when we are forced to deal with the pressures and chaos of being surrounded by the deoraithe of the Host Nations in which we dwell for the time being. Eventually, within a few generations, our people will have a homeland where our society, laws, culture, and political structure are the norm, but even then there will be a need to know where one stands in relation to the greater society of one?s tribe and our people as a whole. In the time between now and then, there is the additional need to understand the organizational hierarchy that helps keep our people together and allows us to function and prosper in spite of the crushing pressures of the deoraithe world to cast off our culture and assimilate into their way of life.
The religious beliefs of Sinnsreachd are inseparable from the culture, but they deserve a good, solid look on their own merits as well. While descended, directly and indirectly in varying ways, from the original pre-Christian faith of the Gael, it is not the result of secret family traditions of hidden ?druid cults? or other such nonsense. Neither is it an attempt to reconstruct the faith of our ancestors as they followed, for such would be virtually impossible without the aid of a time machine. We simply do not know every last detail of our ancestors? faith and thus have to work from the core parts that survive in recorded lore and customary traditions. Much survived, enough to build from and reclaim our faith, but it is in a modern incarnation and not a direct continuation of that of our ancestors. It could be likened to the differences between ancient and modern Judaism- the same faith, praying to the same god, with most of the same core cultural and social elements, but also changed by time, loss and recovery or replacement of knowledge, and an expansion of scientific and celestial knowledge.
Because it is a modern incarnation of a pre-Christian religion, and not an unbroken linear tradition, some external observers label Sinnsreachd a "neopagan" religion. However, that term is highly inaccurate due to its associations with purely modern syncretic religions such as Wicca, which have nothing in common with Sinnsreachd ideology or theology. We simply prefer to be called Sinsearaithe (Sinsearaí sing.), and our faith Sinnsreachd. Nor are we fully a Reconstructionist religion, either. Our faith is a living, breathing entity in the modern world, not a well-intentioned, yet anachronistic, attempt to recreate the ancient beliefs of our ancestors as they were two millennia ago. Sinnsreachd is for today, for our people now, and embraces modern scientific and cosmological understandings of existence. We understand and accept that the Sun is a burning ball of plasma fed by a hydrogen-to-helium reaction, and not the giant flaming chariot wheel of a deity. However, the core ethics, morals, doctrine, and customs of our people are by and large timeless, and neither require us to live in an Iron-Age mindset nor to shirk an expanded and enlightened understanding of the cosmos. In fact, quantum physics and our expanded understanding of things such as non-corporeal intelligence, the multiverse, string theory, etc. are all complimentary to our beliefs in many ways. We do not need to cast aside science and modernity in order to practice our faith, but instead mold our understanding and practice of such things through the filter of what we believe.
The basics of the Sinnsreachd faith are universal, but many of the minor details may differ from tuath to tuath. These basics include veneration of the Gods of the Tuatha de Dannan- particularly the core deities Nuada, Lugh, an Mórríghan, Dana/Danú, Goibhniu, Manannan Mac Lír, Dian Cecht, an Dagda, Bríd (a.k.a. Brighid), Macha, and Bóann. Other universal aspects of the Sinnsreachd faith are the celebration of the four fire festivals- Samhain (the celebration of the end of one year and beginning of the next, and the beginning of the dark or winter half of the year) at the beginning of November, Imbolc (the festival of Bríd and the celebration of the coming spring) at the beginning of February, Bealtaine (the celebration of the summer and the beginning of the light half of the year), and Lughnasadh (the festival of Lugh and the celebration of the harvest). These festivals involve feasts and tribal celebrations, and different religious practices depending on the festival. Sinnsreachd also has a fairly universal a code of ethics and morals spelled out in various poems called Triads, primarily focused on honor, integrity and hospitality in both religious and cultural practices.
Theologically, Sinsearaithe have strong beliefs in both an afterlife- called Tír na nÓg- and reincarnation, as well as veneration of ancestor-spirits, and recognition of the spirits of the three realms considered sacred by Sinnsreachd- land, sea, and sky. Probably one of the strongest unifying theological beliefs of the Sinsearaithe is that of a pact or covenant between our ancestors and our Gods. The Sinsearaithe believe that the indigenous culture and beliefs of the Gaelic people are sacral, taught to our ancestors by our Gods as the proper way of living. To us, the tuath represents the core of this sacred way of life, and it is paramount that it be followed. Our belief is that the foreign cultural and religious influences that have overwhelmed mainstream Gaelic culture are unacceptable to follow, and represent a breaking of the pact established between Éiriu and the Milesians, a pact we are beholden to uphold. We believe that to maintain our end of the pact we must adhere to and follow the core of our ancestral culture, society, traditions, and beliefs as a way of life. In exchange for this, should we succeed in rebuilding our people and proving our worth and dedication, we will be granted a union with the land and prosperity. It is our belief that some day, many generations down the road after we have rebuilt our people and our way of life into a proper heir to that of our ancestors, we will again have a sovereign homeland in which the teachings of our Gods and Ancestors are honored.
Research (to be edited later)
Our way of life is based on the indigenous cultural ways of the Gaelic people before the heavy influence of foreign customs and cultural institutions, and our faith is based largely off of the faith of our ancestors prior to the coming of Christianity. While ours is a living way of life, it is rooted in a mixture of folklore, customs, superstitions, etc. combined with a great deal of research. This research into our legends, lore and the archeological information and studies are important in filling the gaps of cultural knowledge created by those aspects that were lost over the years. Such research is also critical in the recovery of native Gaelic beliefs, as such beliefs have been relegated to folklore and superstition for over a thousand years. In order to counter the massive volume of misinformation that has cropped up over the years, it is important to have solid academic research to back up arguments. In addition, for the independent folk who have no tuath or family lore from which to learn, there is only the research they can do on their own from which to rebuild their culture.
The following are just a fraction of a percent of the resources available for research, but these articles and sites, as well as the reference books listed below, are a good starting point. More articles will be added as they are written, and older articles are being updated and re-posted as the authors get to them.
Legends and Tales
Much of our lore and cultural traditions are preserved in the many tales and legends that were recorded by early Irish monks. These manuscripts, combined with other resources such as anthropological evidence and archeology, provide a window into the lives and beliefs of our ancestors. It is from these tales and legends that we extrapolate many of the foundations of our religious beliefs and some elements of our moral code, so in a way, they are to us what the Gospels are to the Christians (though not as fanatically enforced). In these tales, we see the great heroes- CuChullain, Fion Mac Cumhail, Fergus Mac Roith, and many more, and they inspire us to meet the standards they set.
Táin Bó Cúalnge, Translated by Joseph Dunn and Ernst Windisch
Scél Mucci Mic Dathó, Translated by Nora Chadwick
Cath Mag Tuired, Translated by Elizabeth A. Gray
Táin Bó Cúalnge, Translated by Joseph Dunn
The Destruction of Dá Derga's Hostel, Translated by Whitely Stokes, D.C.L.
Heroic Romances of Ireland, Translated and Compiled by A. H. Leahy
Cuchulain of Muirthemne, By Lady Augusta Gregory
Gods and Fighting Men: The Story of the Tuatha De Danaan and of the Fianna of Ireland, By Lady Augusta Gregory
Táin Bó Cúalnge (from the Book of Leinster), Translated by Elizabeth A. Gray, edited by Cecile O'Rahilly
Buile Suibhne (The Frenzy of Suibhne), Translated by J. G. Ó Keeffe
Much of our lore comes from a variety of manuscripts that are generally only available to scholars. By a stroke of great luck, many have been translated and large parts put online. These manuscripts represent the core of our research, and are vital in helping us learn about our ancestors. Though written by Christian monks, and being very Christocentric in many ways, a smart scholar can remove the veneer and see the older tales beneath.
Lebar na Núachongbála, The Book of Leinster
Lebor na nUidre, The Book of the Dun Cow
Leabhar Baile an Mhota, The Book of Ballymote
Leabhar Mór Mhic Fhir Bhisigh, The Great Book of Lecan
Leabhar Buidhe Lecain, The Yellow Book of Lecan
Leabhar Feirmoithe, The Book of Fermoy
Some of the tales above are found on the following sites, as are various items of wisdom and information. These sites are among some of the best on the net, some featuring exact translations of the original manuscripts, and others having a great deal of information on language and law.
CELT, the Corpus of Electronic Texts, Featuring the many Annals, several of the tales, and a wealth of Irish literarature.
Law, Literature, and Legend, Featuring an overview of the Brehon Laws and the Fenechas, as well as postulations on integrating them into modern life.
Dalriada Celtic Heritage Trust, Featuring multiple resources, some free, some pay, used to educate the public in all aspects of Celtic languages, culture and tradions.
Sacred Texts: Celtic Folklore, Featuring many of the tales above, plus other information and tales from the extant Celtic nations written or compiled by multiple authors.
The Gaelic Homepage, Featuring information on Gaelic and other Celtic languages.
Medieval Irish Poetry, Featuring translations of Irish poetry and information on the poetic forms used.
A (much) Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland , Featuring brief overviews of the ancient government, military, law, religion, art, and customs of the ancient Irish people. Abridged form of the larger book.
Celtic Literature Collection: Irish Texts, Featuring manuscripts and tales from throughout the surviving lore of the Gael Éireannach.
Language Resources, Online
To truly understand the Gaelic people and their worldview, one must know the basics of our language at the very least. Our mindset is explicit in the wondrous and complex languages we speak. The following are websites that help teach the basics of the Irish language and assist in learning.
Irish Lessons Online- 125 lessons on basic Gaeilge by the Irish People.
Eo Feasa- Irish lessons starting at Level 1, basic level for beginners.
Fearghal Mag Uiginn- An Irish lesson course that provides you with the basics of the lrish language in a fifteen week course.
Cáemgen's Irish Lesson Videos- An online video series of Cáemgen's Irish lessons that will increase as more video's are posted. Cáemgen is the first Sinsearaí to put together videos of language lessons, so bravo to him!
Daltaí na Gaeilge- Daltaí's pages forIrish Grammar and Vocabulary
Interactive Irish Lessons- Online lessons and other resources as well as sound files.
Foclóir Gaeilge/Béarla I- Irish/English Dictionary I. May or may not register fadas properly due to poor coding in HTML.
Foclóir Gaeilge/Béarla II- Irish/English Dictionary II by An Chrannóg.
Foclóir Gaeilge/Béarla III- Irish/English Dictionary III, including technical and advanced terms.
Gaeilge Word Lookup- In Gaeilge, enter a Gaeilge word into the text box and it will present the singular and plural, genitive and vocative forms of that word. Handy for more advanced students.
Irish Gaelic Translator- Due to the complexity of the Irish language, no computer translator exists to do online translations. IGT is a forum of volunteer Gaeilge-speakers and students who assist in basic translations.
Foghlaim na Gaeilge ar an Idirlíon- Irish Gaelic learners' material on the Internet, multiple links to further pages.
Gàidhlig Word Translator- Set for beurla (English) words to be entered into the box and translated to Gàidhlig (Scottish).
Faclair Gàidhlig/Beurla- Scottish/English Dictionary.
Language Resources, Books and Audio
To further the study of the Gaelic languages, many books and audio resources are available, as are CD ROM programs. The following are sources for written, audio, and multimedia materials that help teach the basics of the Irish language and assist in learning.
Fios Feasa- Manufacturer of Gaeilge lessons for children and adults alike. Many products available.
Cló Iar-Chonnachta- Another company selling Irish language resource material and books in Irish.
Teach Me Irish- A multimedia program that teaches basic Irish fluency and comprehension.
Teach Me Celtic- For the REAL dedicated, a package of multimedia programs that teach basic fluency and comprehension in all of the Celtic languages- Gaeilge, Gàidhlig, Welsh, Cornish, and Breton.
Litriocht.com- The largest Irish-language bookshop on the World Wide Web, including textbooks and many many Irish-language sourcebooks.
Irish Language Media
Reading Irish books and studying Gaeilge lessons help a great deal, but they need to be backed by use and exposure to native speakers. This is best accomplished by a direct hands-on approach in the Gaeltacht, but when this is not possible, Irish audio and video media is of great value. The following are Irish media links to various radio and television resources.
Raidió na Gaeltachta- The famous national Irish language public broadcasting radio station.
Live Ireland Radio- Featuring Gaeilge and Bearla (English) programming, music, and live streaming television.
Raidió na Life- 106.4 FM in Dublin, catering to the Irish-speaking communities in Éire and around the world through streaming audio.
TG4-Irish-language television, including streaming video (subscription service, not free), catering to the Irish-speaking communities in Éire and around the world.