The Old Culdees – Culdian Roots

It was thought that because of its obviously ancient roots the word ‘Culdian’ was derived from ‘Chaldean’ through ‘Culdee’. This is not so; ‘Culdian’ is derived from ‘Kailedy’ through ‘Culdee’. The word ‘Kailedy’ (or Kailedi) originated with the early Christians who came to Britain in 37AD led by Joseph of Arimathea and means ‘wise strangers’. However, it should be noted that the Keltic word ‘Culdee’ could also be translated as ‘Servant of God’.

The basic difference between Culdifaith and Christianity is that Culdians see Christ’s teachings as a way of life, which orthodox Christians have tended to interpret as a creed of dogmatic doctrines. Culdians do not believe in the vicarious atonement, being unable to conceive that a loving and benevolent Being who is at the same time omnipotent, would require a primitive blood sacrifice of His son in order to forgive the sins of His other children. This idea stems from the ancient propitiatory blood sacrifices of primitive peoples and also relates to the Levitical scapegoat.

Another point where Culdians diverge from the mainstream of orthodox Christian thought is that they do not accept the teaching that new born babies come into the world corrupted and tainted with the sins of a primitive Adam. Nor do Culdians believe that human beings, made in the spiritual image of God, should adopt the attitudes of mendicants in their approach to Him, or that He simply requires worship and praise from them. Culdians believe that the Supreme Spirit, like any fond father, wants to be proud of His children, His heirs to immortality and deputies on Earth. Therefore in their approach to the Heavenly Father, Culdians believe they should adopt attitudes that would make Him proud of His creation.

Furthermore, Culdians differ from Christians insofar as they do not believe that religious adherence and material progress are mutually antagonistic. Throughout the ages orthodox thinking has been opposed to material progress as well as to spiritual enlightenment, basing this largely on the doctrine that the end of the world, being imminent, makes it futile to struggle towards progress. This is why so many scientific and technological discoveries have been opposed by the main line churches.

Culdians are at issue with others over the definition of Evil. They do not believe that this is wholly devil- inspired or that sin is the transgression of priestly prohibitions. Culdians take a much wider view, seeing Evil as all that which hinders or inhibits human progress and wellbeing and the elevating spiritualising processes. Culdians believe that as part of his higher attributes man has certain metaphysical or super sensory potentials which should be unfolded, but recognise too, that in doing so certain dangers which could adversely affect an inadequate personality have to be safeguarded against. Culdians have never been against material progress but believe that spiritual progress must keep pace with this if the stresses and ills of our modern society are to be alleviated.

These doctrinal divergences from the mainstream of fossilised established theological dogma constitute the main inheritance of the modern Culdians from the Ancient Culdees. The elaborate ceremonial and old rituals are not now practised, though; some vestiges do remain in what are now termed ‘Attunement Rituals’. However, within the main body of Culdians there are those who would like to see more of the ancient rituals revived and greater attention paid to the teachings of the first Christian Church to be established in Europe.

Culdians are at a disadvantage in relation to the orthodox churches, for these have a strong appeal for many because they offer salvation without too much individual effort. This appeal to the apathetic tendency of the masses has, through past centuries, led them through a labyrinth of dogmatic doctrines which nowadays more enlightened people find difficult to accept. However, it has to be recognised that efforts are being made in certain Christian quarters to rectify the situation.

There is no conflict between Culdifaith and the authentic teachings of Christ. The rebuffs and rejections have come from the Christian establishment. The main stumbling block seems to be between the Culdian’s refusal to subordinate reason to blind faith and the inability of others to accept that there is no spiritual ‘free lunch’ and it is through our own efforts alone and through the right exercise of our God-given gifts, that we attain any rights to Godhood.

Some baulk at the mention of Godhood, for they have been conditioned to the concept of their own unworthiness. However, Culdians, believing that we are made in the spiritual image of our Creator, that we are all His sons and daughters, His spiritual heirs, find no difficulty in such a concept. A future of uselessness and unproductivity in some heavenly paradise where gratification comes through hymn singing, adoration and praise (the promise of some denominations) is unacceptable to Culdians.

The old Culdians, or Culdees as they were first known, were part of the British or Keltic Christian community, prior to its Romanisation under Augustine, after which it suffered severely through persecution and suppression. However, it survived to a greater or lesser degree until the great persecutions of the late Middle Ages, when the flame was finally extinguished, only a few sparks surviving to kindle the present revival.

The victory of narrow, intolerant orthodoxy, superstition, religious fear and bigotry seemed complete and many men of high principles and moral integrity suffered awful deaths for their belief in the goodness of God and the integrity and worthiness of man. One of the great tragedies of the persecutions was the irrevocable spiritual loss, for so many who were in the intellectual and spiritual vanguard but who would not toe the line of narrow unprogressive orthodoxy, were persecuted and the door leading to higher spiritual development, progress and enlightenment was slammed shut. Then the people of the “Blessed Island” became captive within the narrow confines of spiritually sterile dogma and doctrine. Those who precariously safeguarded the old traditions were neither rich nor influential, being mainly itinerant craftsmen for whom life was always a grim, precarious struggle.

The Old Culdians were never numerous after the original persecutions and were loosely organised. The fact that they were itinerant craftsmen helped considerably as they could maintain a considerable degree of individual freedom. However, during the latter part of the thirteenth century a John Culdy of Bardsea founded a more settled community in Scotland. It has been assumed that this John Culdy founded the Culdians and that they derived their name for him. But the fact is that John Culdy was an assumed name, derived from ‘Culdee’, and was a name used by his successors as well.

The Old Culdians were certainly less hypocritical than more orthodox religionists, for they refused to compromise by formulating various shades of belief adapted to suit their convenience. They were rigid in their loyal adherence to and uncompromising acceptance of, the original teachings of Christ and the Druidic traditions which preceded and proclaimed him, a fact probably contributing to their downfall. It is interesting to note that it was not only the Jewish tradition, now embodied in the Old Testament that proclaimed the coming of Christ. The Druidic tradition of Britain also proclaimed the coming of ‘Yesus’, the ‘Sun’ or evolving humanity and scion of God.

The last head of the Old Culdians was Nathaniel Smith, martyred at the beginning of the seventeenth century and with his death the Old Culdians ceased to exist in a cohesive form, though steps were taken to preserve the secret spiritual lore known as Culdicraft. Now the old persecutions and antagonisms are behind us, and let them remain respectfully buried, for their resurrection could only be at the expense of Good. However, what Culdians have to keep in mind is that the same intolerant mentality, the same narrow and bigoted attitudes towards those who do not toe the orthodox line are still alive in our society. The only safeguard is that it is kept chained by the law and by an enlightened majority, but it is there nevertheless, smouldering, and it could easily be fanned into flame.

The Culdians were revived in New Zealand following a metaphysical revelatory experience by a group of people near Thames on the Coromandel Peninsula. It was made clear to them that while the revived Culdians would carry on the basic tenets of the Culdee Church there was no true continuity between the ancient Culdees and the modern Culdians. However, here is naturally an affinity between the latter and what may be termed ‘the lost lore’ which is being gradually bought to life. Culdians can be regarded as the successors of the ancient Culdees, but not as heirs of their rituals and doctrines. Nevertheless there is a strong Keltic flavour to the work and symbology of the Culdians.