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The rich abundance of animal imagery in Celto-Roman iconography, representing the deities in combinations of animal and human forms, finds frequent echoes in the insular literary tradition. Other animals that figure particularly prominently in association with the pantheon in Celto-Roman art as well as in insular literature are boars, dogs, bears, and horses. The horse, an instrument of Indo-European expansion, has always had a special place in the affections of the Celtic peoples.

Little is known about the religious beliefs of the Celts of Gaul. They believed in a life after death , for they buried food, weapons, and ornaments with the dead. The druids, the early Celtic priesthood, taught the doctrine of transmigration of souls and discussed the nature and power of the gods.

The Irish believed in an otherworld, imagined sometimes as underground and sometimes as islands in the sea. It was similar to the Elysium of the Greeks and may have belonged to ancient Indo-European tradition. In Celtic eschatology , as noted in Irish vision or voyage tales, a beautiful girl approaches the hero and sings to him of this happy land.

The Celtic gods

He follows her, and they sail away in a boat of glass and are seen no more; or else he returns after a short time to find that all his companions are dead, for he has really been away for hundreds of years. Sometimes the hero sets out on a quest, and a magic mist descends upon him. He finds himself before a palace and enters to find a warrior and a beautiful girl who make him welcome. These Irish tales, some of which date from the 8th century, are infused with the magic quality that is found years later in the Arthurian romances.


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Donn, god of the dead and ancestor of all the Irish, reigned over Tech Duinn, which was imagined as on or under Bull Island off the Beare Peninsula, and to him all men returned except the happy few. This threefold hierarchy had its reflex among the two main branches of Celts in Ireland and Wales but is best represented in early Irish tradition with its druids, filidh singular fili , and bards; the filidh evidently correspond to the Gaulish vates.

Caesar stated that the druids avoided manual labour and paid no taxes, so that many were attracted by these privileges to join the order. They learned great numbers of verses by heart, and some studied for as long as 20 years; they thought it wrong to commit their learning to writing but used the Greek alphabet for other purposes. As far as is known, the Celts had no temples before the Gallo-Roman period; their ceremonies took place in forest sanctuaries.

In the Gallo-Roman period temples were erected, and many of them have been discovered by archaeologists in Britain as well as in Gaul. Human sacrifice was practiced in Gaul: It was forbidden under Tiberius and Claudius. There is some evidence that human sacrifice was known in Ireland and was forbidden by St. Insular sources provide important information about Celtic religious festivals.

In Ireland the year was divided into two periods of six months by the feasts of Beltine May 1 and Samhain Samain; November 1 , and each of these periods was equally divided by the feasts of Imbolc February 1 , and Lughnasadh August 1. Imbolc has been compared by the French scholar Joseph Vendryes to the Roman lustrations and apparently was a feast of purification for the farmers. Lughnasadh was the feast of the god Lugh. The conversion to Christianity had inevitably a profound effect on this socio-religious system from the 5th century onward, though its character can only be extrapolated from documents of considerably later date.

By the early 7th century the church had succeeded in relegating the druids to ignominious irrelevancy, while the filidh , masters of traditional learning, operated in easy harmony with their clerical counterparts, contriving at the same time to retain a considerable part of their pre-Christian tradition, social status , and privilege. But virtually all the vast corpus of early vernacular literature that has survived was written down in monastic scriptoria, and it is part of the task of modern scholarship to identify the relative roles of traditional continuity and ecclesiastical innovation as reflected in the written texts.

Patrick banished those mantic rites of the filidh that involved offerings to demons, and it seems probable that the church took particular pains to stamp out animal sacrifice and other rituals grossly repugnant to Christian teaching. What survived of ancient ritual practice tended to be related to filidhecht, the traditional repertoire of the filidh, or to the central institution of sacral kingship. A good example is the pervasive and persistent concept of the hierogamy sacred marriage of the king with the goddess of sovereignty: We welcome suggested improvements to any of our articles.

Celtic mythology - Wikipedia

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Please note that our editors may make some formatting changes or correct spelling or grammatical errors, and may also contact you if any clarifications are needed. For these an area was marked out by a ditch or other form of marker to create a tememos and inside each was a simple wooden religious building. One can imagine a blend of religious, social, and political activities including elections and feasting. But again there are indications of such activities in the Neolithic era within henges etc.

The Celts held important ceremonies at key points in the farming year. These included Imbolc Feb.

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These however would be in line with similar ceremonies based around the early megalithic structures. They also inherited the traditions of their megalithic forbears in their fascination with the moon and its relationship in its movements with those of the sun. To the Celts the head was sacred.

This feature appears often in Celtic art. Warriors collected heads of distinguished foes. Other cultures throughout the world have done so until comparatively recent times. The number 3 was also sacred.

Celtic Religion

High importance was attached to water sites - bogs, lakes, rivers, springs - and to trees and plants. Animals too were sacred - such as stags, bulls, etc. What this tells us is that we are looking at a culture which had not yet become "urbanised" and where the wonder inspired by Nature in the early farmers was still present. There would also seem to have been a practice of making depositions of high quality weapons and other metalwork in specially excavated holes in the earth and in water sources as offerings to the gods.

This would seem to be the only logical reason for the finds which keep turning up. Such items appear to have been ritually broken - "killed" - before deposition. In Central America the Maya for example deposited such objects in sacred wells cenotes. Near early Christian churches in the British Isles - often in Ireland - such deposits of valuables are found. Ostensibly this was to protect them from the Vikings but the fact that so much was left unclaimed could give rise to the question of whether this was evidence of a dimly-remembered Celtic practice.

Arising from the Celtic interest in astronomy there arose a complex working calendar. There was a continuous chain of knowledge shared by the early farmers whether in megalithic Western Europe, Egypt, Mesopotamia etc. The Druids were heirs to this body of knowledge which crossed barriers of time and location. A part of Celtic religion was perhaps a preoccupation with the "dark side".

The "Otherworld" was very real to them - so much so that we have evidence of i. To the Celts there was a next world. On the death of the physical body the soul passed on into another body. Sacrifice played a big part in religious rites.

Celtic religion

All important activities were preceded by ceremonies and sacrifices. It was also essential to take the auspices before a planned event or activity. The appearance of the organs of a sacrifice, the flight of birds, were all regarded as omens. Caesar commented on the Celts being particularly superstitious - but perhaps he himself was, for a Roman, unusually lacking in "superstition" if the story of his disregard for the "Ides of March" is valid!

Classical writers give harrowing descriptions of "blood-drenched altars" in sacred groves. This would seem to be a fair comment on Greek and Roman altars also, one would imagine. The aspect of how much part was played by human sacrifice has been mentioned already. Basically it's a very vague overview of Celtic beliefs, with applauding this respectable researcher or critisizing that one. Almost nothing on the myths themselves, only speculations about which Celtic god corresponds with that Roman one, or what Druids did, or which real race the Fomorians represent, stuff like that. I liked it though, it felt very nostalgic, reminded me of my philological studies at the univerisity.

There had been so much books written the same wa Very scientific, very serious. There had been so much books written the same way. Aug 18, Colton Warner rated it really liked it.


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Slightly difficult to follow without a semi-advanced prior knowledge to Celtic mythology. It is a very advanced set of knowledge. Alexander MacBain's prestigious scholarly status was represented in his writing. Dec 10, Misty Kaiser added it.

Awesome if you're interested Celtic Mythos, probably pretty boring if you're not. Naoise rated it liked it Aug 01, Nora Unkel rated it liked it Jun 08, Mark Patterson rated it liked it Jan 03, Constance Lapsati rated it really liked it Aug 19, Kevin Johnson rated it really liked it Mar 06, Svetlana rated it liked it Feb 18, Pat rated it really liked it Feb 05, Neil rated it liked it Dec 10, Darcy Stewart rated it it was amazing Feb 12, Alexa Ann rated it really liked it Mar 06,