How to Heal the World by Righting an Ancient Wrong
Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul (modern day France) firmly entrenched the Roman blueprint on the resident Celtic population, solidifying the destructive attitudes we have today towards nature and each other.
“The harmony that holds the stars on their courses and the flesh on our bones resonates through all creation. Every sound contains its echo. Before there was humankind, or even forest, there was sound. Sound spread from the source in great circles like those formed when a stone is dropped in a pool.
We follow waves of sound from life to life. A dying man’s ears will hear long after his eyes are blind. He hears the sound that leads him to his next life as the Source of All being plucks the harp of creation.” ― Morgan Llywelyn, Druids
Caesar ultimately prevailed and the noble chieftain was paraded through the streets of Rome like a circus animal and imprisoned for five years before getting ignominiously executed by strangulation.
Since most of what we know about the Celts of that time come from Roman sources (including Caesar himself), the campaign was deemed necessary for the history books to tame the barbarians and bring their people to (Roman) heel.
Caesar employed two strategies to defeat the Celts:
- Hunt down and murder the entire Druid class, and burn their sacred groves to the ground, and
- Entrance the rest of the population with trade in bright, shiny objects of all kinds from far away lands; merchants were the first wave of invasion from Rome, not the centurions.
This victory cast out the orphaned Celts from nature, and delivered them into the arms of the Roman construct — the frameworks of commerce, governance and religion that we still operate with today — intrinsically designed to tame, organize, occupy, control and harvest human capital.
The Druids nourished and guided Celtic society not only as the shaman-healer-priest class, but also they were the storytellers, intellectuals, poets and arbiters — indeed the brain trust — of their people. Yet their mythologies were an oral tradition only, so Caesar knew that their complete annihilation was an achievable goal and a necessary prerequisite to sustainable conquest.
By silencing and criminalizing the Druid class, Caesar was able to easily co-opt the rest of Celtic society and guide it towards complete integration with the Roman way of life; the foundational patterns at the heart of human civilization today.
The outer edges of those ripples set in motion are killing us now: rampant development-for-development’s sake, climate change, religious wars, species depredation on land and in the oceans — and these are just the broad strokes. We are on a freight train that has been racing downhill to oblivion without brakes, and picking up speed with each passing year. Or perhaps each passing day?
Celtic culture was almost completely eradicated within two hundred years of Caesar’s victories. However, Scotland and Ireland remained unconquered by Rome, and hence have acted somewhat as a Noah’s Ark for Celtic culture, enabling components of it to survive into modern times despite hundreds of years of oppression. That Celtic heartbeat is still pounding today.
The biggest clue we can take from what we know of the Celts is this: they were aligned in all aspects of life with nature. The mythic feminine played a significant role in their society. To begin healing ourselves and stave off our own extinction, humanity needs to re-embrace this connection.
Technology alone will not save us, for that is a double-edged sword. We can counter the effects of our activities such as climate change with solar, batteries and artificial intelligence, but the polluters, species harvesters and, indeed, the terrorists use tech to significant advantage. The core assumptions of our civilization must be shifted back into balance, or we’ll be finished before this century is out.
It’s up to us whether we and our children head into a Mad Max future or a Star Trek one.
Fall From Grace
Adam and Eve aside, the real fall from grace in this story was the tragic loss of the Celts’ integration with nature, substituted with the lure of commerce to assuage their collective pain.
Since the patterns upon which much of the modern world has derived its modus operandi stem from these conquered peoples — the Northern European countries of France, Germany, England, Netherlands, for example— we can see how far the ripples in the pond have extended since Caesar.
Caesar’s contempt for the “barbarians” mirrors precisely the mindset carried throughout the world by the “great” explorers many centuries later. South America became a massive blood bath in the quest for the brightest, shiniest thing of all — gold — while the history of North American and Central American indigenous peoples from the 15th century until today bear eerie resemblance to Caesar’s war records. The fate of the buffalo in North America springs to mind.
These conquests had a dual agenda: obtain as much gold as possible, and kill or convert to Christianity the indigenous people standing in the way. It was a profitable partnership, the merchant/explorers and the Church, and it still goes on today. What’s left of indigenous people around the world are not being directly murdered (at least not usually), but their livelihood is being destroyed in the name of commerce just the same through development-fueled deforestation, species depredation/poaching, drug & alcohol abuse, and, where possible, extinguishing their traditional rituals.
Women Then and Now
Abandoning our connection to nature two thousand years ago — at its core a rejection of the feminine archetype — has been manifested in spades with the gender roles for women.
Phenomena such as the Gamergate controversy have exposed the inherent misogyny in modern culture, along with chronic violence (domestic and otherwise), gender pay equity, pre-teen sexualization of young women by mass media, gender stereotyping and so on. And this is just in the developed world — the list is much larger in other countries with less openness and freedom.
Then there’s sexual behaviour and preferences. Until very recently, a single man with many “conquests” (there’s another Roman word) was respected as an eligible bachelor for his “prowess”, but a woman who does the same is considered a slut. And now, gay marriage is finally legal across the United States, but just this past week police used water cannons and tear gas on a pride parade in Turkey, while gays in Russia are openly attacked. The war is just beginning.
Compare to Celtic times. One clear indication of women’s drastically different sexual status in Celtic Britain is provided by the writings of Cassius Dio:
… a very witty remark is reported to have been made by the wife of Argentocoxus, a Caledonian, to Julia Augusta (wife of Emperor Augustus, circa 1st century AD). When the empress was jesting with her, after the treaty, about the free intercourse of her sex with men in Britain, she replied: “We fulfill the demands of nature in a much better way than do you Roman women; for we consort openly with the best men, whereas you let yourselves be debauched in secret by the vilest.” Such was the retort of the British woman.
While the Celts were not considered a matriarchal society, women certainly participated in a more equitable way. For instance, they could own property, divorce their husbands, act as ambassadors between tribes, join the warrior class and lead them into battle, and, as indicated above, they appear to have had sovereign license within their society.
Meanwhile, Celtic men seem to have openly preferred male lovers:
Roman Greek rhetorician and grammarian Athenaeus, repeating assertions made by Diodorus Siculus in the 1st century BC (Bibliotheca historica 5:32),wrote that Celtic women were beautiful but that the men preferred to sleep together. Diodorus went further, stating that “the young men will offer themselves to strangers and are insulted if the offer is refused” — from Wikipedia
No doubt those with the Roman mindset still firmly in place would point to these examples of “abhorrent behaviour” as good enough reason alone for extinguishing the Celts. Such are the manifestations of the Roman “operating system” we have been running on for the past two thousand years. But the fact that these issues are being talked about at all, and in fact acted upon, is a clear sign of revolution in the wind, and possibly eventual dissolution of the old OS.
Although many challenges lie ahead, the quest for women’s sovereignty appears to be taking hold, at least in the developed world, along with gay/lesbian rights, the freedom to choose (e.g., the marijuana movement), and many other loosening of established moral tenets.
One of the largest chasms occupying our collective psyche today is the split between those favouring economic development over sustainable stewardship of our resources. The River Caesar winding its way at the bottom of this chasm has been carving out environmental suffering for two thousand years. So let’s examine that word: resources.
A society that values nature and humans only as “resources” — or production inputs — to feed the new, risen Consumer-king embodied in all of us, is a society on the wrong side of the future. Consumerism — like any ‘ism’ — now has the status of a world religion or a body of philosophical work. But it’s all just…people buying things. Consumerism is a stimulus-reward function deeply established in our collective psyche, somewhat akin to a severe addiction. It’s understandable. Since leaving the garden, we have little left but our dysfunctional role models with each other — and accumulating “stuff”. But it’s eating our world.
In this Roman worldview, nature is reduced to the value of “recoverable” resources (recoverable? that would imply that we owned it all at one time in the past!), with no regard as to what happens to the other members in nature’s choir who depend on those resources to be left in the ground or in the water.
This is not to say we need to turn back the clock to Celtic times or that the last two thousand years shouldn’t have happened. We perhaps wouldn’t have the advancements in technology, art, philosophy, music and all creative endeavours that we have today without the trajectory we’ve been on.
And Capitalism in and of itself is not evil. In fact, it has proven to be one of the greatest ways to harness human ingenuity. Yet, although strides have been made in the area of Corporate Social Responsibility, the vast majority of companies in the world are accountable to their shareholders only — a one-dimensional master — not to the descendants of humanity. Perhaps, for example, if a critical mass of companies shift over to Benefit Corporation certification, we can begin to turn the tide.
In the end, we must recognize that our global mindset focused on the traditional model of capitalism above all else is an ancient Roman one — and it will absolutely destroy our world and us along with it until we can shake loose and re-imagine our future.
What can each of us do to begin contemplating our return to the garden?
Here are some example suggestions:
- Take a yoga class to begin experiencing what it’s like to feel the connected whole of your body, mind and spirit.
- Do as Joseph Campbell said and contemplate the writings of the world’s great religions as metaphor — not historical fact. They were meant to be like poetry, painting the connotations of god in our minds and hearts, not to be taken literally and used against one another. And one other piece of advice he would exhort you to do: follow your bliss.
- If you have young children, play with them as much as you can, and try to keep them from absorbing the Roman vectors still built into our school systems.
- Begin to think about shopping differently — are you an impulsive shopper, and if so, how do you feel a few days later or a week later from the spending binge? Sometimes just realizing what you’re doing can be the epiphany you need to shift.