[Today, we sit down for a quick interview with Nathaniel Robert Hunt. The author of the two volume The Shrine of the Irish Oak, and the founder of the Temple of the same name, Hunt here discusses the historical origins of Celto-Roman polytheism, the rituals performed within his tradition, and his next book, In the Mist of Aqua Sulis.]
ev0ke: What is Celto-Roman polytheism? Which historical and geographic locations and peoples does it draw upon?
NRH: Celto-Roman polytheism is the revival of the mix of religions that happened when the Romans invaded Celtic lands. The Romans introduced Gods from as far away as Egypt and Persia (Mithras), who were slowly incorporated into local Celtic worship. Isis, Serapis, and Anubis had two known temples during this time frame, and the Temple of Isis at Bourton grounds was one hundred percent in the “Celto-Roman style” with a square inner sanctum and a porch surrounding the whole temple.
While this time frame is normally called “Romano-Celtic/Romano-British” by historians, I coined the term “Celto-Roman” when working on creating our tradition years back (or I think I am the first to use it as a term for a tradition; the temple of Brigantia may have beat me to that). The tradition mainly focuses on the Bath, England area due to our central Goddess being Sulis Minerva. We tend to pull in the surrounding areas, though, be they Celtic/Roman or others, as we try to envision [how the tradition would have evolved] if polytheism had continued to exist as a world religion, rather than just try to create the tradition as it once was in the past.
ev0ke: Can you walk us through a basic ritual? What does it look like?
NRH: A basic ritual in our tradition is summed up as a symbolic sharing of food and drink with the Deities, and a direct devotional relationship. Normally, for weekly worship, this is cider and small wafers with or without cheese, or pre-packed food items people bring that are returned to them after the ritual. For bigger events, the offerings are the pot luck food that members bring for the occasion.
During the ritual, once an altar (be it a full room or a corner), is blessed and the are Deities invited, the area is consecrated; so there is no need to define the sacred area with a circle or such at the start of worship or prayer. We have an opening prayer in which the temple Deities are praised one by one and asked to hear our prayers. At this point, the altar candles are lit. Then there is a formal offering of incense (which was historically introduced by the Romans and became part of Celtic religion) and a libation of cider or water, followed by the food offering, such as crackers, snake cakes, or wafers. A praise is then repeated to each Deity, followed by the offerings and prayers of those present. A glass or horn of cider is passed around and the offerings of food, now blessed, are returned to the attendees or donated to a food drive. Money for the temple or another charity can also be offered, and after the service it is donated to aspecified cause in the name of the Deities.
We do hold to the Kemetic and modern environmental idea of not wasting food. Only a small symbolic portion of the offerings are set outside, e.g., the libations(in small cups) and a few wafers.
ev0ke: You are in the process of completing a priesthood course book for the Shrine of the Irish Oak, entitled In the Mist of Aqua Sulis. First, what led to the creation of this course book?
NRH: Well, the need popped up years back. As a legally-formed temple, we can ordain clergy. At first, we used a simple form of the new course to ordain priests. In our view, the first duty of a priest is to serve their chosen Deities, so our form was more along the lines of the person completely studying the history of their Deity, creating a space for them, writing rituals and prayers, and carrying out daily worship.
But as we grew we needed a more practical course that would both help train our clergy and hold up to the standards of clergy training often required by states.
ev0ke: What does the title mean? Does it allude to a place or event?
NRH: In the Mist of Aqua Sulis alludes to the sacred hot spring at Aqua Sulis, modern Bath in England, a town where the Celto-Roman fusion was most prevalent. The name sparked when I was watching a show on the spring. The winter mists and light snow flakes were shown swirling above the surface of the hot water. The scene was mystical and stuck in my mind, so I ran with the name.
ev0ke: What materials did you draw upon while drafting the course book? Did you use primary written texts? Archaeological information? Personal experience?
NRH: The course material was based on our original notes for rituals and the early research we did, which was archaeological information mixed with guesswork and some personal experiences, and a lot of comparative religious study to try to fill in the gaps. We also looked at how other groups trained their clergy. Nova Roma had a learning style like we did. And, as Celtic archaeological information is always changing, we read as many books and studied as much new data as we could. Thankfully, the Temple of Brigantia got a head start on information-finding and, while they sadly folded a few years back, they left their website up and openly posted their research and links to books that proved very useful
ev0ke: Who will be able to make use of the course book when it is complete? And where will curious readers be able to find it?
NRH: While it is intended as a crash course for ordination in our tradition, the coursework can help members of other Polytheistic religions. And if someone of another tradition does take the course for educational reasons and sends in all of the assignments, we will send them a certificate of completion in the study of our tradition.
ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?
NRH: The big one is setting aside money to find a building or small piece of land for the Temple. As of right now, it is housed in my home. We had a few setbacks on that goal due the the economy and life events.
ev0ke: Will you be attending any festivals, conventions, or other events in the foreseeable future?
NRH: Members were going to attend the local Arkansas Pagan Pride event this year, but due to family emergencies they had to cancel. Hopefully, we will make it next year.