The governing body of Gaol Naofa is An Chomairle Ghaol Naofa (The Gaol Naofa Council). This collective consists of seven members residing in the US, Scotland and Canada, along with an informal network of allies, elders, relatives and advisors from the Gaelic diaspora, the Gaeltacht and Gàidhealtachd,1 and Indigenous cultural workers who serve to keep Gaol Naofa grounded and headed in the right direction as we work to preserve, practice, and continue to develop our Gaelic Polytheist Lifeway.2
The offices of An Chomhairle Ghaol Naofa include:
Uachtarán (“President”) – Annie Loughlin. The Uachtarán was handed the reins of Gaol Naofa in January 2014, and currently heads the organisation from Scotland.
Comairligtheóir (“Advisor”) – Kathryn Price NicDhàna. The Comairligtheóir oversees the overall production and evaluation of publications, and the informational and educational materials produced by Gaol Naofa. As an elder in Celtic Reconstructionism, they also mentor the Council and help keep them on track with their vision to preserve and practice our Gaelic Polytheist Lifeway.
Brughaidhi (“Hospitallers”) – Pól MacAmhlaoibh, Sionnach Gorm, Breandán Mac Suibhne, and Marsaili Ros. The Brughaidhi are responsible for seeing that all aspects of hospitality are met within the organisation. They deal with member relations, aid in assisting members’ transition from provisory to full members, and act as ombudspersons and member’s advocates.
Bunaitheoir (“Founder”) – Tomás Flannabhra. The Bunaitheoir established Gaol Naofa in 2007 but stepped down in 2009 and is now only involved in a consultative capacity.
Comhaontas (“Alliance”) – The Comhaontas is an informal, international and multi-generational network of allies, elders, relatives and advisors from the Gaelic diaspora, the Gaeltacht and Gàidhealtachd, and traditional members of Native American and First Nations communities who share our vision for language and cultural preservation.
The Gaelic Polytheist Community As Seen Within Gaol Naofa
While Gaol Naofa is very much focused on community and family, we recognise that there are also members who, due to geographical isolation, lack of community, or lack of family interest, are forced into practicing alone. Some people’s families do not share their beliefs or ideals, or an individual may prefer to express their spirituality in an individual manner. While we do feel it is healthiest to embed oneself in the matrix of community to the extent one is able, we also want to reach out to all of our members. To this end, we do our best to provide and make available resources, practical guidance, and contacts with local members or groups as needed.
Gaelic Polytheists who observe the festivals and customs with the members of their family (or as a group of families and/or an extended family that includes close friends) may decide to form their own fellowships called kindreds, households, hearths, or their bilingual equivalents. A common name for such family-based groups is the líon-tí or fine. These groups tend to be more private in their affairs. Those who are not members of the family or are not close relations are usually invited to join rather than petitioning for membership. While these groups may be private, members may be very active in the public sphere and larger community. These finte will often have their own traditions, rites, and approaches that they share as a family. A house-head, usually the woman or man of the household or perhaps an Elder, leads or facilitates the family’s religious activities such as the household’s daily or weekly devotions and the observance of the seasonal celebrations.
Cuallacht/Cuideachd in Gaeilge and Gàidhlig means a religious body, community or fellowship. These are semi-autonomous, sometimes public, congregations where community members gather for worship, fellowship, and spiritual and secular support. For their members they provide refuge, resources, and guidance. Ultimately it is the members who decide cuallacht activities, though they will generally hold regular rituals and ceremonies for the holy days, feasts, benefits, sporting events, and other cultural activities. The foundation of the cuallacht is the extended family (of origin and/or choice), though individuals are also welcome to join, and there is a strong sense of kinship and familial affection amongst the members. Many types of cuallachtaí are possible, ranging from very specifically focused groups such as flametenders, warrior bands, and study groups, to more general cultural fellowships. Cuallachtaí may be chartered by Gaol Naofa or existing cuallachtaí can apply to be associated and in alliance with Gaol Naofa. The individual cuallacht establishes its own method of administration or government. Gaol Naofa is not yet lending charters for cuallachtaí, but this is a goal for the near future.
Tuath in Gaeilge3 and clann in Gàidhlig are words used to describe a small nation of people, or a very large community of many extended families, who share a common, distant ancestor.4 In ancient Irish terms, a household usually consisted of about thirty people per dwelling. A trícha cét (“thirty hundreds”), was an area comprising a hundred dwellings or, roughly, three thousand people. A túath consisted of a number of allied trícha céta, and therefore referred to no fewer than than nine thousand people.5 In Old Irish, “túath” referred to both the people who lived in a sizable territory, and the territory they controlled.6
Today, the modern equivalent of an ancient Gaelic túath would be an entire Highland Clan organization (with perhaps hundreds of thousands of members), or a whole town in the Gaeltacht. While it is easy for those in the diaspora who were raised without a traditional lifeway to have a romantic attachment to a word that is often translated as “tribe”, it is more important to us to respect the traditional definitions of this word.7 At present, there are simply not enough Gaelic Polytheists to make up a traditional túath, by either the Old Irish or modern Gaeilge definitions.
If one day there are enough of us to have a large number of sizeable, established, stable cuallachtaí in a shared geographical region, and these groups come together to form a united and stable body, maybe at that point we will be in a position to revisit the question of whether túath would be the best term to use for a modern alliance of in-person, land-based, Gaelic Polytheist communities, or whether another name would be more appropriate.8 But even with the requisite number of people, we will have to again discuss what this means when a large group of united Gaelic Polytheist communities are not a sovereign nation. As there are already sovereign Gaelic nations, and sovereign Indigenous nations in the regions where Gaelic Polytheists in the diaspora now live, this question may not become easier with time.
As Gaol Naofa is not yet lending charters to any cuallachtaí, and with the reasons stated above, we do not currently have any groups within Gaol Naofa that we recognise as túatha. Additionally, many of us already belong to Highland Clan organisations, or other cultural groups and communities that are closer to a traditional definition of túatha or clanna, and we do not seek to replace these groups with something less suited to such terminology.
- The Gaelic-speaking areas of Ireland and Scotland.
- We in Gaol Naofa refer to our tradition as our Gaelic Polytheist Lifeway (GPL); in Gàidhlig, Ar Dòigh-Beatha Ioma-Dhiadhach Ghàidhealach, and Gaeilge, Ár nDóigh Bheatha Ildiach is Gaelach. Gaol Naofa has coined this term to better describe our specific tradition and beliefs, as practiced by the members of Gaol Naofa. This is partly in order to distinguish ourselves from other Gaelic Polytheist groups, but also to emphasise our commitment to our spirituality as a way of life. Although admittedly a bit of a mouthful, we feel the phrase speaks to the heart of Gaol Naofa’s philosophy and community.
- In Old Irish, túath.
- As seen in the Highland Clans, or the Irish tuatha who trace their lineage back to an ancestral deity.
- Dillon, Early Irish Literature, 1994, p.xiv
- The Royal Irish Academy, Dictionary of the Irish Language, 1990, p612.
- Both the traditional meaning to our ancestors, and the traditional meaning in the living cultures. And as the Gaol Naofa Council holds our Indigenous friends, relatives and allies in high esteem, we are also very aware of what “tribe” means to them – a Nation made up of thousands of people (often hundreds of thousands), with not only a shared culture but also a sovereign government and landbase. People who come from a real, sovereign tribe find it rather silly for a small handful of unrelated acquaintances, or a nuclear or extended family, to declare themselves a “tribe”, based on pop culture and radical re-interpretations of the word that seriously diverge from the traditional meaning. We of the Gaol Naofa council also find that silly and, depending on intention, kind of offensive. To quote from “Tribalism as Pop Culture Phenomenon and the Perpetuation of Offensive American Indian Stereotypes” by Ruth Hopkins (August 19, 2012, Indian Country Today), “‘Tribalism,’ a mainstream trend largely based on false, stereotypical notions of who indigenous people are, has become a pop culture phenomenon. … I sympathize with the lost westerner who is searching for the sacred, who only wants a Tribe to call their own. However, these individuals need to recognize that stolen images based on inaccurate, offensive stereotypes of ancient cultures that they have made no effort to understand will not give them the fulfillment they seek.” Whether one is talking about the ancient Gaelic or Native American ancestors, or members of our living communities today, we feel that we must truly understand and respect our ancestors and relatives, and therefore reject degradations in meaning or romanticised misrepresentations.
- And whether this land-based community, by whatever name, should establish its own system of internal government with, say, an elected taoiseach or chieftain along with a council of representatives from each cuallacht.