In Conversation • Claudio Quintino Crow

Claudio Quintino Crow is a musician, writer, historian, and independent researcher of Celtic and Irish culture. Author of the book “O Livro da Mitologia Celta” (2002); he was formally instructed and initiated in Celtic Shamanism directly from John Matthews (2001) and in druidism from Emma Restall Orr (2002). For many years, he was the representative of the British Druid Order (B.D.O) and The Druid Network in Brazil, personally indicated by Emma Restall Orr. A former associate of ABEI (The Brazilian Association of Irish Studies) his work has been academically recognised, which led to his frequent participation on international workshops and symposiums, such as the “Symposium of Irish Studies in South America” and “Symposium of Celtic and Germanic Studies.”

“There is only life when there is a fusion between spirituality, faith, reason, and logic.”

When and how did your connection with Ireland and Celtic culture take place in your life?

This answer has a long and a short versions… the short one is that there was, without me realising it, a process of seduction that began when I was a teenager, when I fell in love with Irish and British landscapes; moved on to the discovery of Celtic culture and spirituality at the beginning of my youth, almost in tandem with my fascination for Traditional Irish Music.
I confess that it took me a while to realise that all those things were connected somehow – it was as if Ireland cunningly surrounded me and courted me… and the result was a passion that turned into love and, as I usually say, it was requited!
Ireland has offered me a lot personally, spiritually and culturally, so it is just natural for me to give something back to her through my art.

You take groups of Brazilians on tours around sacred and magical places in Ireland; what are these places, and on which of them do you feel the most profound magic?

The itinerary of each group is different, they are different from each other because Ireland has really so much to offer! It’s obvious that places like Brú na Bóinne usually take people’s breath away. The same is true for the Cliffs of Moher… These are some of the places that all the groups go to. But some of the most touching and poignant reactions I witnessed took place in lesser-known places, some of which do not even receive tourists regularly, so I included them based on my own research. Among these, I include some of the sacred wells (St. Brigid’s, Tobernalt) and some spots in the Aran Islands. Of the better-known places, Glendalough is perhaps where people feel touched the most, they feel more connected with the Sacred – in spite of the presence of other tourists, not always aware of the history and spirituality of that place.
“There is only life when there is a fusion between spirituality, faith, reason, and logic.”

“Every religion is true one way or another. It is true when understood metaphorically. But when it gets stuck in its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are in trouble.

Your work is guided by reason, faith, facts, and historicity, qualities aligned to scholars who you admire, such as Dr. Lawrence Jaffrey, an American psychologist who wrote: “The religious quest is something undeniable nowadays; however, what is new in our time is that people don’t want merely to have faith without reason, as much as they don’t want reason without faith.”
When we say that faith and reason need each other, are we taking for granted religious thoughts and convictions? How is faith born in a person?

These are deep questions, for which psychologists and sociologists dedicate their lives’ work and yet are unable to find some magic formula. In a simplified form, I think reason and spirituality are two sides of the same reality and do not exclude one another, but rather they complement each other. When we talk about religion, many people mix up a given denomination with its mythical corpus, the tenets that originate from it and the practices of its followers. However, these are not always aligned. In a more concrete example, we have Christianity as a denomination, the Gospels as their mythical corpus, the belief on the redemption as a tenet, the Christmas supper as an example of a religious practice. If we are not able to perceive where one begins and another ends and if we only analyse things rationally, the mystery of the spiritual experience will not reveal itself.
Paraphrasing the great North-American mythologist, Joseph Campbell, “Every religion is true one way or another. It is true when understood metaphorically. But when it gets stuck in its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are in trouble.”

Important thinkers also defined and spread the idea that the world has been disenchanted and they worked on its re-enchantment through language and literature, as Nietzsche, Tolkien, Joseph Campbell and Michel Maffesoli did. Based on your studies, is it possible to determine the exact point in history when this enchantment was lost? What was it and what are the consequences of the disenchantment of the “sacred” for humanity?

There is not only one point but many, in a continuous historical process. I think that determinant factors are; the polarization between body and soul, as a result of Eastern ascetic influence on Christianity, followed by the Enlightenment, in which the dichotomy between mind and soul arises, and that in turn begets modern materialism, generating equally misleading perceptions like the rampant consumerism of the market society and the, if you forgive me my wordplay, the demonization of the Spirit by the Marxist dialectic. In all of these events we see the rupture of a perception – ubiquitous in Celtic thought – according to which everything in the universe, including us, human beings, possesses a physical identity (material, corporeal), a mental one (intellectual, rational) and a spiritual one (religious, mythical-magic). The imbalance between these three identities can be seen as the foundation of basically all the unanswered questions in our modern lives. Just like all those authors you so well mentioned, I too think that the retrieval of myths not as mere narratives with a beginning, middle, and end, but rather as vehicles of transmission of knowledge for its symbolism, is one way of restoring this lost balance.

Claudio, you are also a musician, you played and sang with a band named “GLÓR”, a word that means “voice” in Irish, and you take part in Irish festivals that happen in Brazil and you have your band FIANNA Irish Music. Being involved with Irish music is an extension of your studies? Do you believe you are able to dive in deeper into the Irish/Celtic tradition and culture through music?

Surely! I come from a family of musicians – my grandfather was a conductor and my father was an amateur multi-instrumentalist – and from an early age, music has been part of my life. In my teens, I took two years of formal tuition in a conservatory, but my rebel soul didn’t want that much formality – so I threw myself into hard rock and heavy metal (it’s the 80s we are talking about!), where there is room for being self-taught, to improvise and be creative. When I came across Irish music some years later, I was deeply moved by the genre, and in it I also identified the same creativity and improvisation, so the transition was natural; thus I added my research of the “indomitable Irishry” as Yeats would put it to my musical work. In all the projects that I set up, such as the now defunct band Glór and the current one, Fianna, the thorough understanding of the themes of the songs and their historical-cultural background is just as important as knowing their chords and notes. I was very fortunate to meet many very talented musicians who understand this approach, which we take onstage on every performance of Fianna. For us, playing Irish Music is a form of priesthood, a form of connection with the living essence of Ireland.

How is this scene like for Irish people living in São Paulo? (Are there many?)

Unfortunately not. We have some traditional Irish pubs in Sao Paulo – like Finnegan’s and, especially, O’Malley’s – that showcase Irish music around here throughout the year, but most of them only remember us during the week of St. Patrick’s Day. [hehehehe].

The notion that, through their use of subconscious – and unconscious – symbolic language “myth and poetry are similar”, as presented by you and other researchers, requires a profound interpretation – otherwise, the reader can mistake reality with fiction; can misunderstanding and confusion damage history? What is the path to be followed in the search for this discernment?

It is like I said above, paraphrasing Campbell: “every religion is true one way or another. It is true when understood metaphorically. But when it gets stuck in its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are in trouble…” I am deeply weary of people who make an honest and valid spiritual breakthrough but then, even with good intentions, try to impose this discovery as “THE” truth, “THE” way. To quote the great poet Khalil Gibran: “Say not, “I have found the truth,” but rather, “I have found a truth.” Perfect.

“where there are no storms, where there isn’t a bush that won’t yield flowers nor tree that won’t bear fruits, and where the souls of our ancestors take the form of multi-colored birds”

The “Navigatio Sancti Brendani”

Ireland is a bilingual country, with a unique language and identity. To cite some writers who changed society and made us rethink the psychology of the words we can namet Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, and W.Butler Yeats. To understand writers like these, is it necessary to understand the history of Ireland first?

I am often invited to present talks in Irish literature academic symposia, and in them I see the importance of historical context in order to understand a certain author. But dare I say this context alone will not suffice: there is the need for a wider comprehension of something more subtle, less rational, something that I usually call “the Soul of Ireland”. This soul is portrayed in the works of Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, Kavanagh – but is also to be found at a pub bar,, in a music seisiún, in the wind blowing over the Hill of Tara, in a 99 [Flake ice-cream] in Howth by the seaside and in a rainshower that forces us to look for shelter in a petrol station by some road in the countryside… I would never say that I fully understand this Irish Soul – not even the wisest spirit born in Ireland could have this pretension – but I think that my understanding of this soul does help me in translating the wisdom of Ireland that can be found both in her Celtic myths and her rebel songs.

In some of your videos, you compare Yeats and the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. Where and how exactly do you think their works of literature are similar?

I think that both are bards (in the modern sense of the word, meaning the poets that give voice to their respective cultures. Both have their feet firmly planted in the mythical and historical roots of their nations, while also looking ahead to the future. Both have a strong identification with their place of origin, but also transcended the limits of this identity; they both dealt deeply with the magical-spiritual realms then described as ‘occultism’, so both of them left us such a symbolic legacy in their work that only truly dedicated researchers – and no, I am not one of them! – are able to catch a glimpse of.

Where and when Brazil and Ireland meet each other in literature, philosophy, and mythology? And where do they blend?

This is an excellent question. I think that this spiritual communication is first registered in St. Brendan’s mythical journey, the Irish mystic who in the V Century arrived by sea at The Land of Eternal Summer, “where there are no storms, where there isn’t a bush that won’t yield flowers nor tree that won’t bear fruits, and where the souls of our ancestors take the form of multi-colored birds…The “Navigatio Sancti Brendani,” an Irish medieval text that narrates Brendan’s odyssey, was very popular in the continent, when Ireland was a center of pilgrimage as important as Compostela. Just like the great Brazilian historian Gustavo Cardoso and Irish British diplomat Roger Casement, I think it is no coincidence that one of the Irish names to this Celtic paradise – “Blessed Isles”, literary Hi-Breasil in Old Irish – did influence Portuguese navigators in the discovery of our Brazilian land…

You got a dedication from Angus Mitchell in your copy of his book “Roger Casement in Brazil”: “Claudio, at the hub of all things Irish-Brazilian – Hy-Brasil!” Do you have an Irish origin? What is to be a Hiberno-Brazilian and what is the importance of keeping this ancestry alive?

From my mother’s side I am a proud descendant of the Portuguese lands of Trás-os-Montes and that typically Brazilian “mongrel cocktail” from my father’s side – thus, not one drop of Irish blood in my veins! I usually say that Portugal is my mother, Ireland is my lover and I love both equally, each one in its own way… The identification I have with Irish culture and history put me in contact with Irish diplomats and some relevant Irish people, both in Brazil and in Ireland. This led me to accept an invitation to join ABEI (Brazilian Association of Irish Studies) at USP (University of Sao Paulo), where I presented my work several times, and also to be called to represent Ireland – go figure! – in cultural events here in Brazil. I always did this with an open heart and it made me very, very proud – for me it is a way of somehow reciprocating all the love and inspiration I get from Ireland.

In your work, Celtic Spirituality, or Druidism, subjects that you study, are presented step by step to your viewers, readers, and listeners, so that every aspect of the grandiosity of the subjects and themes, can be disseminated in depth. In a succinct way here, could you indicate to us material/books that are fundamental for those who want to start a journey in Celtic Spirituality?

This is certainly one of the most difficult questions to answer, simply because there is no set formula for this. Take Celtic Spirituality for instance: most people who search it today are drawn to the ritualistic and/or magical aspects of it, so the bulk of the available literature on the topic deals specifically with these aspects. But what about the philosophical aspect of Celtic thought? It is as previously discussed: if the religion in question is Celtic Spiritually, what attention has been given to the mythical aspects and the tenets that spring from them? Most literature jumps from the definition to the supposed practices, without much attention to the process. This, of course, without mentioning the many distortions that – out of ignorance or sheer malice – are applied to what is now generically referred to as ‘Celtic spirituality’. To get to the point you mentioned in the question, it took me many, many years of research in the dark – before the advent of the internet, there was no way in Brazil to learn about something as unusual as Celtic Spirituality if not through importing books without the slightest knowledge of whether their content was relevant or how serious their authors were… from that point, I travelled to Ireland and Great Britain, had the privilege of being instructed by notable people like renowned British authors Emma Restall-Orr and John Matthews – always supporting this spiritual research with a profound attention to the new – and increasingly more frequent – archaeological discoveries about Celtic and medieval Ireland … I am sorry if this is disappointing, but there is no set formula…

Read our conversation with Mariana Bolfarine, specialised on Irish Studies in Brazil: