Celtic Music for a "New World Paradigm"
By Mairéid Sullivan, May 1997

Music has the means to offer a major contribution to the shifting paradigm of our new era.

We are in the midst of the rising popularity of Celtic influenced music, which dares to express a new unfolding of inner feeling as an antidote for our unbalanced world. This feeling is contributing to a change in emphasis in current music industry trends.

Though the "ball got rolling" in the Sixties, it's been said that what happened then is insignificant when compared to the magnitude of the cultural movement which is happening before our eyes in the late 1990's as we approach the turn of the millennium.

Global communication technology is the leading facilitator. High technology has been necessary to the growth and expansion of intelligence. That's because communication multiplies the effect of cultural movements.

Peter Russell, in his book Global Brain Awakens,  shows that biological evolution alone could not have given us the capacity for communication that we have available to us today.

When you think about it, you realize that from the very beginning "The New World" was populated by people who were forced by varying circumstances to immigrate. The Africans came to North America as slaves. The Celts came first to North America and then to Australia as indentured slaves and refugees from English oppression. The well documented continuing westward movement of the Celtic people over the past few hundred years is an excellent illustration of the making of history. While it is hard to imagine what life might have been like in ancient times, we can trace the impact of history's making on the Celtic people through the excellent research sources available today.

We know that England's first expansion as an empire began with plantations in Ireland and Scotland. In Ireland the natives were sent west to the most barren parts of their island when their forests were felled and their rich agricultural lands were confiscated by the English. Millions starved during the two most destructive 17 and 18 century famines while agricultural produce was being exported to England and the continent by English landlords.

As England expanded into Ireland thousands of native Irish men, women and children were the first to be transported to a life of indentured slavery throughout the eastern United States, and the West Indies -- the Virgin Islands, Jamaica and Montserrat -- from the 17th century. The Morman Church has collected extensive records of people who were transported from Scotland and Ireland. The numbers of refugees were so high that eventually the port towns would not let them land and they were forced to sail on to seek refuge throughout Latin America where they worked off their passage, etc., as indentured slave workers on coffee plantations and as tradesmen. With the development of larger sugar plantations came the need to import thousands of African slaves who initially worked alongside the Celts in the fields.

We also know that several hundred Irish soldiers in the US Army defected to Mexico and formed the San Patricio Battalion to fight with the Mexicans against the US "Manifest Destiny War" in the late 1840's -- during the time of the Irish potato famine. The Mexican government offered these men money, land and hospitality in return for their support. There are annual celabrations in both Ireland and Mexico to commemorate their service to the cause of Mexican freedom.

July 4th, 1776 marked US independence from England. The English needed to find a new destination for the evacuation of the native populations of Ireland and Scotland. Australia was founded as a penal colony on January 26th 1778 -- less than two years later. Forty percent of Australians are of Celtic origin.

During this century others sought refuge in America and they too, brought their music. Their poverty and loneliness was voiced and felt in new musical styles evolved in a kind or resonant harmony -- gospel, bluegrass, country, folk, blues, jazz, and rock music.

Most of us make big changes in our lives only when forced by circumstances, these immigrants left their homelands only because they had to, but behold the wonders they have created in new cultural forms. Refugees have contributed immeasurably to advancements in science, technology and global communication. Cross-cultural pollination is an asset!

National borders will not define communities of the future world. For the most part, these people didn't arrive in tribal groups, but as individuals and small families. Longing for connection to the old country, they preserved their customs. Links to ethnic roots are intact in every one of those cultural groups. And we have a multi-layered, multi-cultural global network of connections -- a Global Village.

As boundaries crumble we may venture into many fields of traditional music and encounter local masters. Recent decades have seen musical form move through experiments and collaborations fused stylistically. We have been seeking and discovering the unfamiliar, integrating it and going the long way around to appreciate the familiar in ancient traditions.

A new world view is still being defined. The scientific concept of a new "paradigm" has come into everyday use over the last fifteen years. A new point of view expands understanding of human potential.

A visionary world view is the wand that makes dream real. This new sensibility is reflected in the way we live, our circle of friends and the work we choose to do.

Contemporary trends in music are a direct reflection this growth. Musicians and songwriters are sounding out the harmonics of a full life.

Music entrances and thrills. The soul reveals itself through emotional gestures in music and experiences another means of expression and celebration.

New music technology makes it possible, as never before, to capture a sense of "the music of the spheres": Music is a kind of truth our bodies know, rhythms and reflections of what we feel, until we hear the voice of the muse, even in silence, and we hear our heart's original song.

While creative impulses assert originality, musicians must know the cultural ethos of the music. It must be firmly implanted so that understanding can be used to create a new idea without losing or contradicting the character of the music. The roots must be there but we should not be bound to those roots.

The aim is to carefully find the mode that has survived in a traditional form while retaining its identity and improvising a new idea in the moment of play. Thus expressing a feeling to play in a certain way that liberates the music; a contemporary idea so subtle that it enhances the vitality of the music.

Great artists are not easily categorized. This may be the time to quit labeling. Fashion in music is as obsolete (or diverse) as fashion in apparel.

Imperfect as they are, the new concepts of World Music and New Age Music have helped to free up the restrictive forms of older musical styles. Artists can experiment within a broader frame of reference to convey new feelings and messages to meet the needs of people who have travelled the world, read widely, tuned in to good radio and TV programming and learned to blend old and new.

Newly re-emerging Celtic culture is a natural model for this new sensibility. It is a freedom movement which is buoyant and mystical. It's music entrances. (e.g. as in the music of jigs and reels and the slow airs.) Beat comes from the song: It can be a sound -- a motif every now and then -- contributing to the musical form or it can be silence. Celtic music is spirited. It's vibrancy is improvised.

Sean O'Riada came to public notice during the 1960's in Ireland as a pioneer in the conscious revival of ancient Celtic musical traditions. He was the first to take the traditional melodies anf give thenm harmonic structure. The Chieftans were his experimental group. Many other musicians began to explore the melding of traditional forms with classical and popular styles. But, today, more than any other of the many musicians working with the traditional music, O'Riada's student, Micheal O'Suilleabhain carries on the intelligent and sensitive focus on the music traditions capacity for improvisation and allignment with 20th century music. Micheal's partner, Noirin Ni Riain, has become a leader in the restoration of the Sean Nos (old style) singing tradition bringing new life in a variety of traditional and contemporary settings.

Since becoming a republic in 1948, Ireland has seen tremendous progress in the reclamation of the Irish Celtic culture through its language, literature and music. A celebration of freedom is evident in the diversity of musical styles embraced as popular culture. For example, the annual Jazz festival in Cork is considered to be an important part of the European circuit for Jazz lovers. Billboard's top ten includes Irish musicians from Rock, World and New Age music genres. There has been an explosion of Celtic compilation albums on mainstream labels in the US. I see these as samplers of the culture designed for people of Celtic heritage who are just beginning to notice the great value their cultural heritage can bring to their lives. Thirty percent of Americans have Celtic roots.

Celtic culture is now front and center on the world stage. The voice of Celtic culture has reached the diaspora. Celts as farflung as Latin America, Australia and the US are awakening to their ethnic heritage. (Forty percent of Australians have Celtic roots.) Musicians in the all these places have been performing traditional Celtic music for years. Most of the Australian folk songs were written to Irish or Scottish melodies. I know hundreds of musicians, personally, who play jazz, blues ond classical music and who also know and play the traditional Celtic repertoir. I have had discussions with many of these friends about the value of playing Bach and Celtic music as part of their skill development.

The US, Canada, Australia as well as England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Spain, Brittany hostCeltic Music Festivals which have become important gathering places for thousands of music lovers, offering a heightened sense of community for organisers, local and visiting artists anf their audiences. The larger festivals have been carrying on the tradition for more than 25 years and there are new Celtic Festivals starting every year, for example, The Sebastopol Celtic Festival in northern California was launched to an audience of over 5,000 people in September 1995 and the Portland Celtic Festival (Oregon) was launched in September 1996. Well established festivals book over 300 performers for their programs and there are at least an equal number of artists who apply, unsuccessfully, to perform. Some of these large festivals actually ration the number of appearances allowed to the most popular groups, e.g. three years in a row then at least a year break.

The spread of these festivals and the growing mainstream appeal of popular Celtic influenced music is finally reaching the larger population it belongs to and it brings with it riches beyuond imagination.

The music is a conduit to the ancient Celtic myths and philosophies which are coming to life again to feed starved imaginations.

"There is nothing more tenacious than tradition, nothing more firmly rooted than the ancient beliefs and systems of thought when they are concealed within new forms." said Jean Markle - Professor of Celtic Studies at the Sorbonne, (Women of the Celts).  "...the myths never die, they are constantly being revived in new and varied shapes, and sometimes surprise us in unexpected places."

"May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be at your back" say the Irish. The Celts have been on the road for six thousand years, give or take a few miles. Celtic culture was egalitarian and highly developed. Men and women were equal. Personal Sovereignty and Free Will (as opposed to the concept or Original Sin) were the foundations of Celtic Law. The individual was important and was expected to unfold the possibility of godhood on earth. For them, the veil between the worlds was penetrable by the sensitive spirit.

We should note these social parallels with egalitarian practices today. In my view, western people today are the first to take freedom and equality of the sexes for granted as a social right. Ancient Celtic society parallels these freedoms -- it gives us an ancient precedent.

While Romulus and Remus were still pups and the seven hills of Rome were outside the city limits, the Celts were Kings of Europe. For hundreds of years before the Roman Empire, the Celts dominated Europe and the British Isles -- through their trade, technologies and travels -- until the spread of the Roman Empire (from 742 BC).

Somehow, throughout eleven centuries of Empire the Romans never went to Ireland. They built Hadrian's Wall across the middle of England around 120AD as a shield against the unconquerable Celts (Picts) of Scotland.

In Ireland, Celtic tradition remained intact until the Viking raids (795 to 1000AD). While the Roman Empire was in decline on the continent, Irish scribes were busy copying Europe's great literature, sacred and secular, thus saving it from extinction during the dark ages of transition from classical to medieval Europe.

Then, from the 13th century, England and the Roman Catholic Church began their incursions. Celtic culture was eventually suppressed, but not destroyed, by the expanding patriarchal religious movements.

From that time until now, women in the west joined the majority of the world's women in taking a subservient position to men. But, today men and women can be friends and colleagues! For the first time in nearly a thousand years women of the western world are openly involved in the definition of culture.

Feminine sensibility is now recovering from being the lost soul of western society. For such a long time the feminine gift of unfolding the poetry of beauty had not been allowed to flow. Today Jungian psychologists like Robert A. Johnson, author of We, Ecstasy, The Fisher King and The Handless Maiden ,  etc., talk about the historical oppression of the feminine in our nature (male and female) and the growth of rational science and technology out of our dominant masculine energy. Now we must consciously make an effort to recreate reverence for truly feminine sensitivity in both men and women.

The key to remember delicate feelings of love and wonder -- to remember our capacity for feeling. Nurtured and nurturing, we develop strength and confidence. This will be the antidote to the alienation of modern society. With compassion and intelligence we can understand each other, forgive our adversarial ways and bridge gaps created by the philosophy of dualism which sees everything in terms of "good-vs-evil" and which result in political strategies based on fear. If women and men take a healing approach to the affairs of the world we can turn the tide around. The various movements can commit the awesome strength they've recently reclaimed, especially the strength that comes from the spirit of gratitude.

The arts have the power to touch the heart, cut through claustrophobic dogmas, abstract ideologies and social stratas of age and class. More and more artists are taking control of their creativity so that they may serve more effectively. And scientists are studying the effects of music on tachyonic and quantum consciousness as well as on the electromagnetic fields of our bodies subtle levels.

More people are creating a shrine to inner stillness and beauty in their homes and music is a very important part of that experience.

Confidence can be gained from sharing new levels of understanding revealed by the creations of artists and the research of scientists. Women and men can now celebrate the liberation of their great capacity for feeling and compassion -- a new Renaissance.


To understand the currents of our changing times we need to understand our history.

When we look back at European history we see the expansion of patriarchal society directly related to the destruction of old feminine/Goddess focused cultures.

Western history has been disgraced by its practice of cruelty to helpless individuals all over the world in the name of Christ. Having been brought up in Catholic Ireland, I have always been astonished by the contradiction between the history of the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church (and the later Protestant Churches) and the tenets of Christianity. True Christian spirituality has always been congruent with women's values. Early Celtic Christians debated, long and hard, their traditional Celtic concept of 'Free Will' as apposed to partriarchal Roman Christianity's concept of 'Original Sin'. (See Peter Berresford Ellis The Druids. )

I ask the questions: Why did feminine energy need to be suppressed so that masculine energy could thrive? Was it the necessary means to achieve 'growth' and progress? Do we really want to live in a world where a military style of discipline and exploitation of the "public" represent the pinnacle of professional success where the ultimate goal is material wealth and efficiency?

Long ago, when the echoes of the old Celtic culture could still be heard in flourishing "courtly love" and the Troubadour's song of love, all across western Europe "the Feminine" was destroyed, and whole cultures were converted by the sword, (or they were simply slaughtered) to the dominant brand of patriarchal Christianity, the Roman Catholic Church. e.g. In the 13th century, Pope Innocent II ordered the slaughter of the Cathars and Albaginsians of southern France. When asked how the soldiers could tell the faithful from the heretics he reportedly said "Kill them all - God will know his own". Over a million people were killed in a twenty year scourge. These people, who were highly advanced intellectually and culturally, were annihilated because they didn't agree with Church doctrine. (They believed the Church was hopelessly materialistic!)

By the 14th century, after the heretics were exterminated, (heathen   means hidden and pagan   means traditional country dweller) the Church's Inquisition turned its full attention to traditional women's roles in midwifery and the healing arts and escalated its condemnation of women as the practitioners of evil witchcraft. Who can say whether this was politically contrived or simply greed gone mad.

Witch hunting became a major industry. Reports reveal that hundreds of thousands to millions of women were burned at the stake over a period of five long centuries. (This time span includes two hundred and fifty years of concentrated effort in exploitation, extortion, blackmail, ritual persecution, murder and property confiscation.)

It should be noted that from the beginning women had no place in Church hierarchy (see the Epistles of Paul.) The Church claimed authority over marriage and family matters and this had been the dominion of women. (see George Dooby's The Knight, the Lady and The Priest - a history of marriage in western Europe. )

Western European women who, from ancient Celtic times, enjoyed positions of leadership on every level in traditional cultures, were singled out by the Church's patriarchal, imperial laws. The eastern partriarchal origin of the Church clashed with the freedom and power of western women.

The Inquisition (in order to maintain its corporate obligations with a new source of income and after completing its task in confiscating the property of the heretics) invented the crime of witchcraft and relied on the most outrageous practices of torture as a means of proving it. One report describes women hanging by their hands, which were tied behind them, until their shoulders were dislocated -- then their feet were basted in oil and lowered over a fire until they confessed to the charges. There are many more shocking examples of cruelty. (Most torture instruments were inscribed with the motto: Soli Deo Gloria - Glory be only to God.)

The Church took away women's political power and called them witches in order to dispose of them and confiscate their property. (For further information and extensive bibliographic listings see The Women's Encyclopedia of Myths & Secrets  by Barbara Walker.)

The whole of the western world has suffered trauma to the collective consciousness as a result of this setback to civilized society, especially Celtic culture, which had attained an unprecedented balance between men and women.

No wonder we have a lot of healing and correction to do! I hear a great chorus of people waking up to this reality with faith in human capacity to survive and improve their lot! These are very exciting times for those who will not let fear of failure block their creativity. I can think of no better time to be alive than the present!

My own journey as an independent artist is a testament to personal healing, and learning to follow intuition about my purpose. These notes reflect my growing understanding of the significance of world history's shaping of our lives and how we, in turn, can shape the history of our future world. We have the tools at our finger tips! Why not take action to show the love and gratitude we all keep hidden - in abundance - even from ourselves?

I am one person and one person can make a difference! This is my motto. I have retained my sense of independence by working hard every day to make my music and my message live in the world. Every learning experience is a treasure. To paraphrase a Sufi saying, there are as many ways to reunite with the spiritual source as there are breaths of individuals.

The first person in the USA to show faith in my music and my purpose was Kevin Maxwell, music manager at the legendary Bodhi Tree Bookstore . Now my album, "Dancer", has complete mainstream and alternative record store distribution in the USA, Asia and Australia and parts of Europe and is receiving growing radio play. Narada Records' compilation recording of four female singers, "Celtic Voices - Women of Song", includes three songs from "Dancer." It has been on Billboard's World Music Top 10 since September '95. ("Dancer" was its inspiration.) Hearts of Space Records' Celtic Twilight 3,Lullabies,' includes a traditional Irish lullaby from "Dancer".

I am being given opportunities to perform at Festivals and in concert around the world where I can personally share the evocative feeling and beauty of ancient melodies along with my own expressions of poetry and song.

Because I see myself as an artist and communicator, the themes in my songs muse over contemporary issues. Music gives me the opportunity to have meaningful relationships.

Every day I see magic happen. I no longer experience time as linear but as a weaving, moving web of relationships. This is my personal "new world paradigm shift".


Mairéid; Sullivan is a singer/songwriter, poet and student of history. She was born in County Cork, Ireland. She has lived in the US, Europe, Asia and Australia and now resides in Los Angeles. Her work has been dedicated to researching and interpreting the gifts of Celtic culture, to pouring her wisdom and humor into songs about contemporary life and to blending the evocative feeling and beauty of ancient Celtic melodies with new expressions of poetry and music.

Mairéid;'s album, "Dancer", produced by Donal Lunny, is available in mainstream and alternative music stores under Celtic/Irish in World Music, New Age or International sections. Mairéid; is also a featured artist on Narada Record's "Celtic Voices - Women of Song" and Hearts Of Space Record's "Celtic Twilight 3 Lullabies". For further information see Maireid's internet page or contact Lyrebird Music.

reprinted from Mairéid's website http://www.maireid.com with kind permission.

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