Ancient Celtic Mythology: A Vision Of Gods And God Essay

This essay has a total of 2100 words and 8 pages.

Ancient Celtic Mythology: A Vision Of Gods And Goddesses

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
possibilities cause a greater chance of mistaken identity. Welsh material on the whole has
been less abundant. Much of the Welsh literary materials have been recorded in the form of
oral tales, so they are poorly documented. Overall, the Irish and Welsh material evidence
that has been recorded as Celtic literature merely names certain gods. Descriptions of
gods are often vague and need more elaboration. Thus, an evaluation of their precise
nature would entail assumptions and mixed interpretations as there is but little tangible
evidence to consume.


Furthermore, we need to take caution when asserting the time frame in which the works were
recorded. When looking at the context of the evidence, some disturbing factors are
noticeable. First, the works lack any connection to La Tene, which was a significant
ritual burial that laid a foundation for many of the Celtic beliefs in religion and
mythology. Second, there is "proof that the background to these tales was earlier than the
introduction of Christianity in the fifth century AD" (Green 1993: 15). This statement
implies that the period in which the literature was written was pre-Celtic mythology and
so is likely to be out of its realm. Likewise, other Irish and Welsh materials appear to
have been compiled too late, such as the Ulster Cycle. This era of post-Celtic mythology
would inevitably challenge any beliefs that came before its time. Thus the Celtic
literature could be ignorant of the actual beliefs of the people about whom they wrote.
The descriptions from the pre and post mythological era would most likely compare and
contrast, leading to more confusion about the true nature of the Celtic deities. Finally,
it is important to take note that the Irish materials focused mostly on the Irish society,
leaving out religious beliefs coming from the Celts in Britain and Gaul.5 In a sense, the
Irish materials cannot be comprehensive because they could leave out vital information
pertaining to gods and goddesses in other areas. Although these sacred tales may be
misleading or vague, the Irish and Welsh did have one advantage: the work was composed by
a Celtic heritage - those of Irish and Welsh decent. Therefore, this category of evidence
can be considered more ‘direct' compared with other resources that are completely
second-hand.


The other major body of literature that falls under the category of second-hand evidence
is contemporary literature written by Graeco-Romans. The Celt's Mediterranean neighbours
passed on many sources of evidence in writing.6 These classical authors were very explicit
in their descriptions of gods and goddesses. Some major Graeco-Roman authors include
Caesar, Strabo, Pomporius Mela, Pliny, Athenaeus, Tacitus, Dio Cassius, Diodorus Siculus,
Ammianus Marcellinus and Lucan.7 Although this evidence carries more weight with its
detailed inscriptions and manuscripts, these classical writers could have held biases
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