Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Celtic Gods

One of the interesting things about research is that it throws up new ideas to follow through. Books that have not been read for a long time get picked off the shelf and thumbed through and so it is with my latest thinking on religion.
Firstly I had gone back to Miranda Green (The Gods of the Celts) for an overview on fertility goddesses. One of the interesting things about this area round Bath is the Romano-celtic overlap that is fairly strong. Before I have always put it down to the fact that 'Celtic' (the term should always be used loosely for it means several different tribes) soldiers in the Roman army often brought their own gods with them.
So for instance at Cirencester we have the Roman'three matres' icongraphy, a more homely version of hag, woman and maiden. The Roman intermingling of gods is well attested in the romano-celtic temples around here. We also have in Bath a schematised version of this trio, an abstract representation of the three mothers, abstract artwork is a major Celtic feature.
Cernunnos is also to be found in Cirencester, the horned god accompanied by his animals. Cernunnos was a major god in the Celtic pantheon, and it has been argued that he, like Shiva, was 'Lord of the Animals'. Shiva was also called Pasupati which had the same meaning.
Now this Indus-Europeanc strong connection is argued very strongly by Peter Berrisford Ellis in The Celts, firstly we have the figure of three, so important in the celtic tradition, he gives as examples the Hindu belief of the Trimurti consisting of Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva the Destroyer, and there is even a triple image of Cernunnos in Gaul as well, though to be quite honest he normally appears as a single god. Anne Ross gives two good examples of Cernunnos/celtic god in two stories, which will be attached later, which finds him calling all the animals to him, we may even see him in the later figure of Pan. Cernunnos sits in the same lotus pose as many of the Hindu gods, though he wears the antlers of an earlier European age, he takes the posture of his eastern counterpart.
Irish history is served by three territorial goddessess - Eire, Banba, and Fotla, three craft gods Goibhniu, Luchta and Credhne and of course the three terrible Morrigan creatures, who personnified death and war - Macha, Badb and Nemain.
Ellis goes on to describe how Celtic philosopy developed and here I must quote for it is important to understand how the Celts saw the relationship between this middle earth and the 'otherworld'. Of how souls through reincarnation could move from one world to another, back and forth, an endless recycling; and it is important also to note that the concept of the patriachal Holy Trinity of the christian church was defined by a Celtic Gaulish bishop in his work De Trinitate...
but to quote;.
"This philosopy can also go deeper for the Celts saw Homo Sapiens as body, soul and spirit, the world was divided into earth, sea and air, the divisions if nature were animal, vegetable and mineral, and the cardinal colours were red, yellow and blue"

The language of the Celts, which can still be found in Irish or Welsh etymology had many names for the world around them, we only have one name for the sun or moon, but they would have had several, similar in fact to the eskimos who have many names for snow and its textures.
Amongst Irish mythology, the naming of the Otherworld's various geographical landscapes is like a fairytale telling; Tir na nOg (Land of Youth); Tir Taienigiri (Land of Promise); Tir na tSamhraidh (Land of Summer); Magh Mell(Plain of Happiness) Tir na mBeo (Land of the Living); (Magh Da Cheo (Plain of Two Mists) Tir fo Thuinn (Land Under the Wave); Dun Scaith (Fortress of Shadows).... Tolkein would have had a rich etymology here for the telling of his fabled The Ring.
But where is all this leading, this telling of tales, of course where it leads to is that basis on which our Celtic saints took with them ideas of the old celtic gods and transcribed them into the first native christian belief. ...............

This first story is from Ann Ross - Celtic Britain and concerns Finn and the Man in the Tree, the man is Dercc Corra Mac Hui Daighre (The Peaked Red One)which is of course a reminder of the peaked hoods, the cucullati wear
The story is simply told Finn whilst out in the woods spies a man in a tree, a blackbird on his right shoulder, he holds a bronze vessel in which a trout swims, and at the bottom of the tree is a stage. The man would take an acorn, crack it, give half to the blackbird and eat half himself. He would then take an apple, split it in half and give half to the stag. Then he would drink from the bronze vessel, and by so doing he, the blackbird, stag and fish drank together.
Though Cernunnos wears antlers, the 'peak' is fairly significant but it can sometimes be a mistake to match the icongraphy found in the celtic list to a descriptive passage found at a later date.


  1. Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy and look forward to your posts~ I too love English history ~ all periods, but especially very early periods up to Jacobean. Your blog is a delight. Thank you for sharing so much and hope you will continue to be inspired to do so.

  2. Thank you for that;) I have a tendency to witter to myself, churches, religion and celtic gods tend to get mixed up.......

  3. Back later to catch up (I'm in the middle of making a cake!) If you go to my blog Thelma, there's an award for you there.

  4. Jennie thank you for my award, I'm not sure that I know 5 blogs, but as you have made a cake I shall put on my cheesecake recipe which I'm making today.

  5. I found this post absolutely fascinating, I hope you will be exploring this Celtic theme further. I came here via Codlins and cream by the way and intend to go back and read all your archives, it looks as though I have a lot of interesting material waiting for me.