Two years ago we Frosts attended the Festival Interceltique* in l’Orient, Bretagne, France. Among the marchers in the traditional parade of Sunday morning, a woman who was clearly the village Witch and Wise Woman walked tall and proud between the Avocat (the lawyer) and Monsieur le Maire. She was a handsome young woman clad in the traditional hooded cloak.
One thing that we have always noticed at the several annual Festivals we have attended in Brittany is the pride of the people, whether marchers, dancers, pipers and drummers–or the cheering attendees who line the sidewalks eight and ten deep and hang from every window. Everyone has an important role to play in the honoring of their Breton/Celtic heritage. The elders checking on the costumes distinctive to their village and on the produce or artifact that is their signature product; the participating marchers; others helping tune the pipes (bagadou); and in the parade itself the gentlemen heads of households in their black waistcoats, on their arm their ladies in their long skirts of heavy black wool with gold embroideries. Again, each village has distinctive coifs (a white cap or bonnet, starched into something that could serve as a weapon). Many of the woman marching in such family clusters bear small children in their arms; others carry the wicker basket in which prudent homemakers bear homeward the items they buy on market day. Whatever their age, the women wear gloves or mitts of ecru lace that they have themselves knitted or tatted.
It doesn’t matter whether the group is from an upscale city or from the smallest farm village; all have that same pride and knowledge of their place in the scheme of things. In other words, no matter what their job or status, they all have tremendous self-esteem.
Recently we watched as our daughter offered a presentation on self-esteem and faith. As a math teacher, she talked about the self-esteem the kids required if they were ever to become able to complete the math problems successfully. She felt that one of her primary jobs as a teacher was building self-esteem : a genuine sense of self, not something candy-coated and spread all around whether earned or not. She was asking the questions : Does faith–any faith–increase self-esteem? How much do certain faiths tear down the self-esteem of their adherents?
When we attend pagan/Wiccan festivals in the States, we don’t find that pride and self-esteem that we saw in Brittany. It seems to us that the community had it in the past; but today it seems to have gotten lost.
How can we get it back? We think it is time for more serious competitions, perhaps for costumes, perhaps for dance, perhaps for drumming or story-telling … you name it. It’s all very well to enjoy party time; but surely we might as individuals or small groups invest some effort and set new–higher–standards.
During one Festival Interceltique we watched the dance-off. Michael Flatley’s Irish Riverdance didn’t place! The group that won had documented their dance back to 1270 CE. They grew the flax and wove the linen for their costumes. They made their own musical instruments and their sabots (the wooden shoes traditionally worn by workers in fields).
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* Now nearing its 30th anniversary, the Festival is held during the first two full weeks of each August in l’Orient on the Gulf of Morbihan and (we can vouch) is a life-changing experience. See celtic-world.com. If the site comes up in French, look across the top of the screen and click on the tiny Union Jack. That will put you into the English-language pages.