Monday, May 11, 2009

Celtic Bits and Pieces

So, I’ve been digging (a lot) into Celtic information for the past few weeks. What I have found is this: There’s a lot of conflicting information on these people. However, this is the path I have chosen and I will continue to read and be enlightened and yes, sometimes even frustrated at the endless circles of information in which I find myself.

The Celts were probably a great mix people from Gaul (France, Switzerland, Belgium, Bohemia and Galicia in Spain), Britain (now Wales, Cornwall and Brittany in France), Scotland and Ireland. A group of Gaulish settlers also colonized Galatia in what is now Turkey. The Celts were closely related to the Germanic people Balts, Slavs, Romans, Oscans, Thracians, and Greeks, and were distantly related to the Aryans of Iran and India. All of these people were the descendents of tribes that inhabited Russia and the Ukraine nearly five-thousand years ago. The evidence from archaeology and linguistics demonstrates that these people had their own religions whose traditions were preserved orally down through the centuries. Celtic magic as transmitted down from the Druids to the Old Irish literature preserves much of these archaic traditions.

This is where I could go into the great debate as to whether the Celts were tall, fair-haired and light skinned or totally the opposite. But, I won’t.

In a Celtic society of the ancient world, the tribal communities were divided into various classes. Above the common people such as the peasants and the artisans, there were the warrior classes, and then the ruling classes, such as the kings or the chieftains, who were are above the rest. But there was another class of people that enjoyed a very high status. They were known as the Druids. The ancient Druids considered it profane to record their teachings in writing. All of their teachings were handed down by spoken word in verses or stories. People at different levels taught different categories of the ancient lore. The highest in rank of the learned men of each Celtic people was called the Druis, or "Druid." He was advisor to his chieftain or king. The Druid had to know all the local rituals, laws, customs and myths. He also had to be skilled in the verses and songs of his people. The mythology of the Celtic tribes was preserved by people like him. There were also female druids who specialized in cults of local goddesses. The female druid was called ueleda (we-leh-dah) or bendrui (byen-dree) in Old Irish. The ueleda or bendrui was often a priestess of a goddess such as Sulis, Brigindu or Brigantia, and lived apart from the tribe with other priestesses, guarding the goddess sacred round hearth fire. Certain other learned men were called "seers" or "prophets" in the ancient Celtic language.

If we wished to know about the Celtic deities, it would be best to investigate them from ancient Celts and not from writing preserved in the medieval manuscripts. Though the Irish and Welsh people found in literature were thought to be gods originally, they were not worshipped, but they did have special power that kept them young.

Some ancient Gallic deities such Belenus, Danu, Lugus, Ogmios and Epona survived the early spread christianity to be transmitted into Bel, Ana, Lug or Lugh, Ogma, and Macha – the Irish deities of the Tuatha De Danann. However, they were not "gods" in the usual sense of the word, but have been watered down as fairies, by the christian authors.

The Celts didn't build any temples to their gods. The druids practiced their worship in the open air, such as at sacred groves or near sacred lakes. However, small shrines and sanctuaries were found outdoor in sacred groves or near sacred lakes. Sacrifices, human and animal, took places at these sites. Icons, made of either of wood or stone, were stored in the shrines, along with sacred, precious artifacts. Hauls of silver and gold were deposited into the holy lakes and rivers.

According to the Roman historian Tactius, one sanctuary of the druids was at the sacred grove on the island of Anglesey. In AD 61, because of human sacrifices that took place, the Romans took action to eradicate these bloody practices. The druids were massacred and the groves were destroyed.

One of the problems when dealing with the Celtic people, particularly with druids, is that we don't know how much truth is found in the ancient and medieval writings. There are a lot of theories about the druids and druidism, and lot of it is either wrong, grossly exaggerated or misleading. Our inquiries often leave us with more questions to be asked. So, back to the books I go.


  1. The Roman historians' claim of human sacrifice by the Druids is disputed by many Celtic scholars. I myself choose to believe they did not perform human sacrifice. I have been studying the Celts myself but I did not know the name for a Druid priestess, so thanks for that and all your wealth of Celtic info.

    This is a lovely blog - I love your side "ribbons".