I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Irish astrology over the last few weeks. It’s actually a topic I’ve been interested in for several years and one I’d hoped to incorporate into more of my writing. Unfortunately, time hasn’t allowed the development of my research and thinking to a point where I felt it’d be sufficiently accurate or authentic for inclusion.
From an Irish perspective (and from the perspective of other equivalent ancient cultures) native astrology was one of our main casualties with respect to the whole colonialism process. From the infrastructural remains still found all over the country, contemplation of the night sky was clearly a fundamental part of early domestic culture on the Island (and in other lands, of course). Like many ancient cultural concepts however, this is something contemporary societies struggle to understand. These days, our night sky is mostly rendered opaque because of light pollution (unless you’re lucky enough to live in some isolated rural location). Meanwhile, our dense population and other lifestyle distractions also mean we don’t spend much time outside, looking up at the night sky, pondering our interaction with it or reflecting on the scale of things.
In ancient Ireland, there’s no doubt that people’s regular consideration of the night sky would have influenced their belief systems and their societal norms and its importance to them is confirmed by the vast infrastructural structures they left behind. Over the centuries following their construction however, invasion and colonisation by competing societies and religions meant that not only was interaction with the sites actively discouraged and their importance undermined, all the associated knowledge and rituals associated with them, were banned, twisted or eventually eroded from history. With colonisation, the Gaelic-based knowledge and cultural interpretation of the stars (which evolved from the original ‘Celtic’ inhabitants), was supplanted by belief systems imposed by the colonising forces.
Fortunately, we do have a few scraps of knowledge that remain embedded in the language. ‘The Milky Way’, for example, is still known as Bealach na Bó Finne (the Path of the White Bull), Claí Mór na Réaltaí, (the Big Boundary of the Stars) etc. The ‘Leo’ constellation was known as ‘An Corran‘ (which indicates a separate and native Irish interpretation based on a reaping hook (which is what the Irish word means).
A lot of the Irish names, however, are just direct translations of Greek or Roman words as opposed to words derived from our own cultural concepts. The Irish for ‘Aries’, for example, is An Rea (The Ram) – a direct translation of the Roman word (which means ‘Ram’). What was it called before that? No-one knows because that knowledge was lost.
And that, unfortunately, is why, today, Irish people looking at the stars, consider them through the constructs of other peoples’ culture (usually Greek or Roman) rather than those of their own forebears. In essence, when dealing with astrology and its relevance to our lives, we’re still thinking with colonised minds.