Ancient Celtic Mythology: a Vision of Gods and Goddesses

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  • Topic: Celts, Celtic culture, Celtic polytheism
  • Pages : 6 (2139 words )
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  • Published : October 8, 1999
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Upon investigating the supernatural reality that the Celts endured, it is necessary to somewhat overlook the myths to see what lies behind them. It is essential to find when and from where the myths originated and how true the storytellers, or narrators, really are. The Celtic gods and goddesses, in such an early mythological time defined as " ‘a period when beings lived or events happened such as one no longer sees in our days' " (Sjoestedt 1994: 2), require much analysis. A diverse collection of documents, literature and archaeology pave the way to our understanding of the ancient mythology of the Celts. However, these traces lack a sense of closure, leaving the investigation into the nature of these gods and goddesses raw and incomplete. The evidence of the Celtic deities exists in various forms, but the information that we have collected leaves unanswered questions. For instance, in analysing the recorded documents left behind by the Greeks and Romans, we are called to cast some doubt on how closely the Celtic religious rites paralleled those of their classical neighbours. We survey recorded religious practices with apprehension, as we are not truly sure that the Celts too worshipped family gods and a mass of deities who covered all aspects of life.1 How do we know that we are not just reading materials reflecting the Graeco-Roman myths? Is it not plausible that these Greek and Roman writers installed some bias, leaning towards their mythological ideas, within their testimony? The speculation surrounding all of the varied pieces of evidence is just. From the abundance of evidence, though, we can be sure that the Celts believed in a multiplicity of deities. It is apparent that the existence of gods and goddesses in Celtic society was quite a serious affair and an everyday business. However, when focusing on the exact nature of such gods and goddesses, it seems only fair to attempt to construct an overview of the character of each deity. Reconstructing the evidence might be too hopeful because the conclusions would come from mere ignorance and be partially based on what we still do not know. From here we can only address the different types of evidence that piece together the very nature of the Celtic gods and goddesses, but the mixed and slightly unreliable evidence is certainly not easy to sort.

The literary evidence for the existence of deities in Celtic religion is one source that reveals the character of the individual gods and goddesses. There exist two main bodies of literature evidence. One major body is vernacular written sources in Irish and Welsh. The most acknowledged Irish piece contains a collection of prose tales, known as the Ulster Cycle.2 Within these epic stories, the heroes swear not by God but by the gods of their tribes. However, many early mythic stories, such as the Irish Ulster Cycle, were not compiled until the medieval age. As a result, "Opinion is divided as to whether these texts contain substantial material derived from oral tradition or whether they were a creation of the medieval monastic authors" (Green 1997: 24). Other Irish stories frequently refer to the three goddesses of battle and death.3 These stories detail the nature of the gods and offer some explanation concerning their roles in Celtic society. Many stories that come down through Irish tradition make numerous references to ‘Lugh', whose Irish meaning is ‘shining light'. This worldly god was worshipped by Celtic peoples in Ireland, Gaul and Spain.1 From its Irish translation, this god has been derived as a sun god, yet its precise nature is unknown. Other Irish references to Celtic deities include the ‘Book of Invasions' and the ‘History of Races'.3 Regarding the mythological world as a whole, one Irish piece of work even suggests that gods were neither worshipped or sacrificed but were simply supernatural beings with magical powers.4 Such a belief only adds to the difficulty of tracking the deity's true character; more...
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