The Religion of the Ancient Celts
by J. A. MacCulloch
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The scientific study of ancient Celtic religion is a thing of recent growth. As a result of the paucity of materials for such a study, earlier writers indulged in the wildest speculative flights and connected the religion with the distant East, or saw in it the remains of a monotheistic faith or a series of esoteric doctrines veiled under polytheistic cults. With the works of MM. Gaidoz, Bertrand, and D'Arbois de Jubainville in France, as well as by the publication of Irish texts by such scholars as Drs. Windisch and Stokes, a new era may be said to have dawned, and a flood of light was poured upon the scanty remains of Celtic religion. In this country the place of honour among students of that religion belongs to Sir John Rhŷs, whose Hibbert Lectures On the Origin and Growth of Religion as illustrated by Celtic Heathendom (1886) was an epoch-making work. Every student of the subject since that time feels the immense debt which he owes to the indefatigable researches and the brilliant suggestions of Sir John Rhŷs, and I would be ungrateful if I did not record my indebtedness to him. In his Hibbert Lectures, and in his later masterly work on The Arthurian Legend, however, he took the standpoint of the "mythological" school, and tended to see in the old stories myths of the sun and dawn and the darkness, and in the divinities sun-gods and dawn-goddesses and a host of dark personages of supernatural character. The present writer, studying the subject rather from an anthropological point of view and in the light of modern folk survivals, has found himself in disagreement with Sir John Rhŷs on more than one occasion. But he is convinced that Sir John would be the last person to resent this, and that, in spite of his mythological interpretations, his Hibbert Lectures must remain as a source of inspiration to all Celtic students. More recently the studies of M. Salomon Reinach and of M. Dottin, and the valuable little book on Celtic Religion, by Professor Anwyl, have broken fresh ground.[1]

In this book I have made use of all the available sources, and have endeavoured to study the subject from the comparative point of view and in the light of the anthropological method. I have also interpreted the earlier cults by means of recent folk-survivals over the Celtic area wherever it has seemed legitimate to do so. The results are summarised in the introductory chapter of the work, and students of religion, and especially of Celtic religion, must judge how far they form a true interpretation of the earlier faith of our Celtic forefathers, much of which resembles primitive religion and folk-belief everywhere.

Unfortunately no Celt left an account of his own religion, and we are left to our own interpretations, more or less valid, of the existing materials, and to the light shed on them by the comparative study of religions. As this book was written during a long residence in the Isle of Skye, where the old language of the people still survives, and where the genius loci speaks everywhere of things remote and strange, it may have been easier to attempt to realise the ancient religion there than in a busier or more prosaic place. Yet at every point I have felt how much would have been gained could an old Celt or Druid have revisited his former haunts, and permitted me to question him on a hundred matters which must remain obscure. But this, alas, might not be!

I have to thank Miss Turner and Miss Annie Gilchrist for valuable help rendered in the work of research, and the London Library for obtaining for me several works not already in its possession. Its stores are an invaluable aid to all students working at a distance from libraries.




[1] See also my article "Celts" in Hastings' Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. iii.

[TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE: Throughout this book, some characters are used which are not part of the Latin-1 character set used in this e-book. The string "ŷ" is used to represent a lower-case "Y" with a circumflex mark on top of it, "ā" is used to represent a lower-case "A" with a line on top of it, and "[oe]" is used to represent the "oe"-ligature. Numbers in braces such as "{3}" are used to represent the superscription of numbers, which was used in the book to give edition numbers to books.]





(This list is not a Bibliography.)

BRAND: Rev. J. Brand, Observations on the Popular Antiquities of Great Britain. 3 vols. 1870.

BLANCHET: A. Blanchet, Traite des monnaies gauloises. 2 vols. Paris, 1905.

BERTRAND: A. Bertrand, Religion des gaulois. Paris, 1897.

CAMPBELL, WHT: J.F. Campbell, Popular Tales of the West Highlands. 4 vols. Edinburgh, 1890.

CAMPBELL LF: J.F. Campbell, Leabhar na Feinne. London, 1872.

CAMPBELL, Superstitions: J.G. Campbell, Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. 1900.

CAMPBELL, Witchcraft: J.G. Campbell, Witchcraft and Second Sight in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. 1902.

CORMAC: Cormac's Glossary. Tr. by J. O'Donovan. Ed. by W. Stokes. Calcutta, 1868.

COURCELLE—SENEUIL.: J.L. Courcelle-Seneuil, Les dieux gaulois d'apres les monuments figures. Paris, 1910.

CIL: Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum. Berlin, 1863 f.

CM: Celtic Magazine. Inverness, 1875 f.

CURTIN, HTI: J. Curtin, Hero Tales of Ireland. 1894.

CURTIN, Tales: J. Curtin, Tales of the Fairies and Ghost World. 1895.

DALZELL: Sir J.G. Dalzell, Darker Superstitions of Scotland. 1835.

D'ARBOIS: H. D'Arbois de Jubainville, Cours de litterature celtique. 12 vols. Paris, 1883-1902.

D'ARBOIS Les Celtes: H. D'Arbois de Jubainville, Les Celtes. Paris, 1904.

D'ARBOIS Les Druides: H. D'Arbois de Jubainville, Les Druides et les dieux celtiques a formes d'animaux. Paris, 1906.

D'ARBOIS PH: H. D'Arbois de Jubainville, Les premiers habitants de l'Europe. 2 vols. Paris, 1889-1894.

DOM MARTIN: Dom Martin, Le religion des gaulois. 2 vols. Paris, 1727.

DOTTIN: G. Dottin, Manuel pour servir a l'etude de l'antiquite celtique. Paris, 1906.

ELTON: C.I. Elton, Origins of English History. London, 1890.

FRAZER, GB{2}: J.G. Frazer, Golden Bough{2}. 3 vols. 1900.

GUEST: Lady Guest, The Mabinogion. 3 vols. Llandovery, 1849.

HAZLITT: W.C. Hazlitt, Faiths and Folk-lore: A Dictionary of National Beliefs, Superstitions, and Popular Customs. 2 vols. 1905.

HOLDER: A. Holder, Altceltischer Sprachschatz. 3 vols. Leipzig, 1891 f.

HULL: Miss E. Hull, The Cuchullin Saga. London, 1898.

IT: See Windisch-Stokes.

JAI: Journal of the Anthropological Institute. London, 1871 f.

JOYCE, OCR: P.W. Joyce, Old Celtic Romances{2}. London, 1894.

JOYCE, PN: P.W. Joyce, History of Irish Names of Places{4}. 2 vols. London, 1901.

JOYCE, SH: P.W. Joyce, Social History of Ancient Ireland. 2 vols. London, 1903.

JULLIAN: C. Jullian, Recherches sur la religion gauloise. Bordeaux, 1903.

KEATING: Keating, History of Ireland. Tr. O'Mahony. London, 1866.

KENNEDY: P. Kennedy, Legendary Fictions of the Irish Celts. 1866.

LARMINIE: W. Larminie, West Irish Folk-Tales and Romances. 1893.

LEAHY: Leahy, Heroic Romances of Ireland. 2 vols. London, 1905.

LE BRAZ: A. Le Braz, La Legende de la Mort chez les Bretons armoricains. 2 vols. Paris, 1902.

LL: Leabhar Laignech (Book of Leinster), facsimile reprint. London, 1880.

LOTH: Loth, Le Mabinogion. 2 vols. Paris, 1889.

LU: Leabhar na h-Uidhre (Book of the Dun Cow), facsimile reprint. London, 1870.

MACBAIN: A. MacBain, Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language. Inverness, 1896.

MACDOUGALL: Macdougall, Folk and Hero Tales. London, 1891.

MACKINLAY: J.M. Mackinlay, Folk-lore of Scottish Lochs and Springs. Glasgow, 1893.

MARTIN: M. Martin, Description of the Western Islands of Scotland{2}. London, 1716.

MAURY: A. Maury, Croyances et legendes du Moyen Age. Paris, 1896.

MONNIER: D. Monnier, Traditions populaires comparees. Paris, 1854.

MOORE: A.W. Moore, Folk-lore of the Isle of Man. 1891.

NUTT-MEYER: A. Nutt and K. Meyer, The Voyage of Bran. 2 vols. London, 1895-1897.

O'CURRY MC: E. O'Curry, Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish. 4 vols. London, 1873.

O'CURRY MS. Mat: E. O'Curry, MS. Materials of Ancient Irish History. Dublin, 1861.

O'GRADY: S.H. O'Grady, Silva Gadelica. 2 vols. 1892.

REES: Rev. W.J. Rees, Lives of Cambro-British Saints. Llandovery, 1853.

REINACH, BF: S. Reinach, Bronzes Figures de la Gaule romaine. Paris, 1900.

REINACH, BF Catal. Sommaire: S. Reinach, Catalogue Commaire du Musee des Antinquitee Nationales{4}. Paris.

REINACH, BF CMR: S. Reinach, Cultes, Mythes, et Religions. 2 vols. Paris, 1905.

RC: Revue Celtique. Paris, 1870 f.

RENEL: C. Renel, Religions de la Gaule. Paris 1906.

RHŶS, AL: Sir John Rhŷs, The Arthurian Legend. Oxford, 1891.

RHŶS, CB{4}: Sir John Rhŷs, Celtic Britain{4}. London, 1908.

RHŶS, CFL: Sir John Rhŷs, Celtic Folk-Lore. 2 vols. Oxford, 1901.

RHŶS, HL: Sir John Rhŷs, Hibbert Lectures on Celtic Heathendom. London, 1888.

SEBILLOT: P. Sebillot, La Folk-lore de la France. 4 vols. Paris, 1904 f.

SKENE: W.F. Skene, Four Ancient Books of Wales. 2 vols. Edinburgh, 1868.

STOKES, TIG: Whitley Stokes, Three Irish Glossaries. London, 1862.

STOKES, Trip. Life: Whitley Stokes, The Tripartite Life of Patrick. London 1887.

STOKES, US: Whitley Stokes, Urkeltischer Sprachschatz. Goettingen, 1894 (in Fick's Vergleichende Woerterbuch{4}).

TAYLOR: I. Taylor, Origin of the Aryans. London, n.d.

TSC: Transactions of Society of Cymmrodor.

TOS: Transactions of the Ossianic Society. Dublin 1854-1861.

Trip. Life: See Stokes.

WILDE: Lady Wilde, Ancient Legends and Superstitions of Ireland. 2 vols. 1887.

WINDISCH, Tain: E. Windisch, Die altirische Heldensage Tain Bo Cualgne. Leipzig, 1905.

WINDISCH-STOKES, IT: E. Windisch and W. Stokes, Irische Texte. Leipzig, 1880 f.

WOOD-MARTIN: Wood-Martin, Elder Faiths of Ireland. 2 vols. London, 1903.

ZCP: Zeitschrift fuer Celtische Philologie. Halle, 1897 f.



To summon a dead religion from its forgotten grave and to make it tell its story, would require an enchanter's wand. Other old faiths, of Egypt, Babylon, Greece, Rome, are known to us. But in their case liturgies, myths, theogonies, theologies, and the accessories of cult, remain to yield their report of the outward form of human belief and aspiration. How scanty, on the other hand, are the records of Celtic religion! The bygone faith of a people who have inspired the world with noble dreams must be constructed painfully, and often in fear and trembling, out of fragmentary and, in many cases, transformed remains.

We have the surface observations of classical observers, dedications in the Romano-Celtic area to gods mostly assimilated to the gods of the conquerors, figured monuments mainly of the same period, coins, symbols, place and personal names. For the Irish Celts there is a mass of written material found mainly in eleventh and twelfth century MSS. Much of this, in spite of alteration and excision, is based on divine and heroic myths, and it also contains occasional notices of ritual. From Wales come documents like the Mabinogion, and strange poems the personages of which are ancient gods transformed, but which tell nothing of rite or cult.[2] Valuable hints are furnished by early ecclesiastical documents, but more important is existing folk-custom, which preserves so much of the old cult, though it has lost its meaning to those who now use it. Folk-tales may also be inquired of, if we discriminate between what in them is Celtic and what is universal. Lastly, Celtic burial-mounds and other remains yield their testimony to ancient belief and custom.

From these sources we try to rebuild Celtic paganism and to guess at its inner spirit, though we are working in the twilight on a heap of fragments. No Celt has left us a record of his faith and practice, and the unwritten poems of the Druids died with them. Yet from these fragments we see the Celt as the seeker after God, linking himself by strong ties to the unseen, and eager to conquer the unknown by religious rite or magic art. For the things of the spirit have never appealed in vain to the Celtic soul, and long ago classical observers were struck with the religiosity of the Celts. They neither forgot nor transgressed the law of the gods, and they thought that no good befell men apart from their will.[3] The submission of the Celts to the Druids shows how they welcomed authority in matters of religion, and all Celtic regions have been characterised by religious devotion, easily passing over to superstition, and by loyalty to ideals and lost causes. The Celts were born dreamers, as their exquisite Elysium belief will show, and much that is spiritual and romantic in more than one European literature is due to them.

The analogy of religious evolution in other faiths helps us in reconstructing that of the Celts. Though no historic Celtic group was racially pure, the profound influence of the Celtic temperament soon "Celticised" the religious contributions of the non-Celtic element which may already have had many Celtic parallels. Because a given Celtic rite or belief seems to be "un-Aryan," it need not necessarily be borrowed. The Celts had a savage past, and, conservative as they were, they kept much of it alive. Our business, therefore, lies with Celtic religion as a whole. These primitive elements were there before the Celts migrated from the old "Aryan" home; yet since they appear in Celtic religion to the end, we speak of them as Celtic. The earliest aspect of that religion, before the Celts became a separate people, was a cult of nature spirits, or of the life manifested in nature. But men and women probably had separate cults, and, of the two, perhaps that of the latter is more important. As hunters, men worshipped the animals they slew, apologising to them for the slaughter. This apologetic attitude, found with all primitive hunters, is of the nature of a cult. Other animals, too sacred to be slain, would be preserved and worshipped, the cult giving rise to domestication and pastoral life, with totemism as a probable factor. Earth, producing vegetation, was the fruitful mother; but since the origin of agriculture is mainly due to women, the Earth cult would be practised by them, as well as, later, that of vegetation and corn spirits, all regarded as female. As men began to interest themselves in agriculture, they would join in the female cults, probably with the result of changing the sex of the spirits worshipped. An Earth-god would take the place of the Earth-mother, or stand as her consort or son. Vegetation and corn spirits would often become male, though many spirits, even when they were exalted into divinities, remained female.

With the growth of religion the vaguer spirits tended to become gods and goddesses, and worshipful animals to become anthropomorphic divinities, with the animals as their symbols, attendants, or victims. And as the cult of vegetation spirits centred in the ritual of planting and sowing, so the cult of the divinities of growth centred in great seasonal and agricultural festivals, in which the key to the growth of Celtic religion is to be found. But the migrating Celts, conquering new lands, evolved divinities of war; and here the old female influence is still at work, since many of these are female. In spite of possessing so many local war-gods, the Celts were not merely men of war. Even the equites engaged in war only when occasion arose, and agriculture as well as pastoral industry was constantly practised, both in Gaul and Britain, before the conquest.[4] In Ireland, the belief in the dependence of fruitfulness upon the king, shows to what extent agriculture flourished there.[5] Music, poetry, crafts, and trade gave rise to culture divinities, perhaps evolved from gods of growth, since later myths attributed to them both the origin of arts and crafts, and the introduction of domestic animals among men. Possibly some culture gods had been worshipful animals, now worshipped as gods, who had given these animals to man. Culture-goddesses still held their place among culture-gods, and were regarded as their mothers. The prominence of these divinities shows that the Celts were more than a race of warriors.

The pantheon was thus a large one, but on the whole the divinities of growth were more generally important. The older nature spirits and divine animals were never quite forgotten, especially by the folk, who also preserved the old rituals of vegetation spirits, while the gods of growth were worshipped at the great festivals. Yet in essence the lower and the higher cults were one and the same, and, save where Roman influence destroyed Celtic religion, the older primitive strands are everywhere apparent. The temperament of the Celt kept him close to nature, and he never quite dropped the primitive elements of his religion. Moreover, the early influence of female cults of female spirits and goddesses remained to the end as another predominant factor.

Most of the Celtic divinities were local in character, each tribe possessing its own group, each god having functions similar to those of other groups. Some, however, had or gained a more universal character, absorbing divinities with similar functions. Still this local character must be borne in mind. The numerous divinities of Gaul, with differing names—but, judging by their assimilation to the same Roman divinity, similar functions, are best understood as gods of local groups. This is probably true also of Britain and Ireland. But those gods worshipped far and wide over the Celtic area may be gods of the undivided Celts, or gods of some dominant Celtic group extending their influence on all sides, or, in some cases, popular gods whose cult passed beyond the tribal bounds. If it seem precarious to see such close similarity in the local gods of a people extending right across Europe, appeal can be made to the influence of the Celtic temperament, producing everywhere the same results, and to the homogeneity of Celtic civilisation, save in local areas, e.g. the South of Gaul. Moreover, the comparison of the various testimonies of onlookers points to a general similarity, while the permanence of the primitive elements in Celtic religion must have tended to keep it everywhere the same. Though in Gaul we have only inscriptions and in Ireland only distorted myths, yet those testimonies, as well as the evidence of folk-survivals in both regions, point to the similarity of religious phenomena. The Druids, as a more or less organised priesthood, would assist in preserving the general likeness.

Thus the primitive nature-spirits gave place to greater or lesser gods, each with his separate department and functions. Though growing civilisation tended to separate them from the soil, they never quite lost touch with it. In return for man's worship and sacrifices, they gave life and increase, victory, strength, and skill. But these sacrifices, had been and still often were rites in which the representative of a god was slain. Some divinities were worshipped over a wide area, most were gods of local groups, and there were spirits of every place, hill, wood, and stream. Magic rites mingled with the cult, but both were guided by an organised priesthood. And as the Celts believed in unseen gods, so they believed in an unseen region whither they passed after death.

Our knowledge of the higher side of Celtic religion is practically a blank, since no description of the inner spiritual life has come down to us. How far the Celts cultivated religion in our sense of the term, or had glimpses of Monotheism, or were troubled by a deep sense of sin, is unknown. But a people whose spiritual influence has later been so great, must have had glimpses of these things. Some of them must have known the thirst of the soul for God, or sought a higher ethical standard than that of their time. The enthusiastic reception of Christianity, the devotion of the early Celtic saints, and the character of the old Celtic church, all suggest this.

The relation of the Celtic church to paganism was mainly intolerant, though not wholly so. It often adopted the less harmful customs of the past, merging pagan festivals in its own, founding churches on the sites of the old cult, dedicating sacred wells to a saint. A saint would visit the tomb of a pagan to hear an old epic rehearsed, or would call up pagan heroes from hell and give them a place in paradise. Other saints recall dead heroes from the Land of the Blessed, and learn the nature of that wonderland and the heroic deeds

"Of the old days, which seem to be Much older than any history That is written in any book."

Reading such narratives, we gain a lesson in the fine spirit of Christian tolerance and Christian sympathy.


[2] Some writers saw in the bardic poetry a Druidic-esoteric system and traces of a cult practised secretly by the bards—the "Neo-Druidic heresy"; see Davies, Myth. of the Brit. Druids, 1809; Herbert, The Neo-Druidic Heresy, 1838. Several French writers saw in "Druidism" a monotheistic faith, veiled under polytheism.

[3] Livy, v. 46; Caesar, vi. 16; Dion. Hal. vii. 70; Arrian, Cyneg. xxxv. 1.

[4] Caesar, vi. 15, cf. v. 12, "having waged war, remained there and cultivated the lands."

[5] Cf. Pliny, HN xvii. 7, xviii. 18 on the wheeled ploughs and agricultural methods of Gauls and Britons. Cf. also Strabo, iv. 1. 2, iv. 5. 5; Girald. Camb. Top. Hib. i. 4, Descr. Camb. i. 8; Joyce, SH ii. 264.



Scrutiny reveals the fact that Celtic-speaking peoples are of differing types—short and dark as well as tall and fairer Highlanders or Welshmen, short, broad-headed Bretons, various types of Irishmen. Men with Norse names and Norse aspect "have the Gaelic." But all alike have the same character and temperament, a striking witness to the influence which the character as well as the language of the Celts, whoever they were, made on all with whom they mingled. Ethnologically there may not be a Celtic race, but something was handed down from the days of comparative Celtic purity which welded different social elements into a common type, found often where no Celtic tongue is now spoken. It emerges where we least expect it, and the stolid Anglo-Saxon may suddenly awaken to something in himself due to a forgotten Celtic strain in his ancestry.

Two main theories of Celtic origins now hold the field:

(1) The Celts are identified with the progenitors of the short, brachycephalic "Alpine race" of Central Europe, existing there in Neolithic times, after their migrations from Africa and Asia. The type is found among the Slavs, in parts of Germany and Scandinavia, and in modern France in the region of Caesar's "Celtae," among the Auvergnats, the Bretons, and in Lozere and Jura. Representatives of the type have been found in Belgian and French Neolithic graves.[6] Professor Sergi calls this the "Eurasiatic race," and, contrary to general opinion, identifies it with the Aryans, a savage people, inferior to the dolichocephalic Mediterranean race, whose language they Aryanised.[7] Professor Keane thinks that they were themselves an Aryanised folk before reaching Europe, who in turn gave their acquired Celtic and Slavic speech to the preceding masses. Later came the Belgae, Aryans, who acquired the Celtic speech of the people they conquered.[8]

Broca assumed that the dark, brachycephalic people whom he identified with Caesar's "Celtae," differed from the Belgae, were conquered by them, and acquired the language of their conquerors, hence wrongly called Celtic by philologists. The Belgae were tall and fair, and overran Gaul, except Aquitaine, mixing generally with the Celtae, who in Caesar's time had thus an infusion of Belgic blood.[9] But before this conquest, the Celtae had already mingled with the aboriginal dolichocephalic folk of Gaul, Iberians, or Mediterraneans of Professor Sergi. The latter had apparently remained comparatively pure from admixture in Aquitaine, and are probably the Aquitani of Caesar.[10]

But were the short, brachycephalic folk Celts? Caesar says the people who call themselves "Celtae" were called Gauls by the Romans, and Gauls, according to classical writers, were tall and fair.[11] Hence the Celtae were not a short, dark race, and Caesar himself says that Gauls (including Celtae) looked with contempt on the short Romans.[12] Strabo also says that Celtae and Belgae had the same Gaulish appearance, i.e. tall and fair. Caesar's statement that Aquitani, Galli, and Belgae differ in language, institutions, and laws is vague and unsupported by evidence, and may mean as to language no more than a difference in dialects. This is also suggested by Strabo's words, Celtae and Belgae "differ a little" in language.[13] No classical writer describes the Celts as short and dark, but the reverse. Short, dark people would have been called Iberians, without respect to skulls. Classical observers were not craniologists. The short, brachycephalic type is now prominent in France, because it has always been so, eliminating the tall, fair Celtic type. Conquering Celts, fewer in number than the broad and narrow-headed aborigines, intermarried or made less lasting alliances with them. In course of time the type of the more numerous race was bound to prevail. Even in Caesar's day the latter probably outnumbered the tall and fair Celts, who had, however, Celticised them. But classical writers, who knew the true Celt as tall and fair, saw that type only, just as every one, on first visiting France or Germany, sees his generalised type of Frenchman or German everywhere. Later, he modifies his opinion, but this the classical observers did not do. Caesar's campaigns must have drained Gaul of many tall and fair Celts. This, with the tendency of dark types to out-number fair types in South and Central Europe, may help to explain the growing prominence of the dark type, though the tall, fair type is far from uncommon.[14]

(2) The second theory, already anticipated, sees in Gauls and Belgae a tall, fair Celtic folk, speaking a Celtic language, and belonging to the race which stretched from Ireland to Asia Minor, from North Germany to the Po, and were masters of Teutonic tribes till they were driven by them from the region between Elbe and Rhine.[15] Some Belgic tribes claimed a Germanic ancestry,[16] but "German" was a word seldom used with precision, and in this case may not mean Teutonic. The fair hair of this people has made many suppose that they were akin to the Teutons. But fairness is relative, and the dark Romans may have called brown hair fair, while they occasionally distinguished between the "fair" Gauls and fairer Germans. Their institutions and their religions (pace Professor Rhŷs) differed, and though they were so long in contact the names of their gods and priests are unlike.[17] Their languages, again, though of "Aryan" stock, differ more from each other than does Celtic from Italic, pointing to a long period of Italo-Celtic unity, before Italiotes and Celts separated, and Celts came in contact with Teutons.[18] The typical German differs in mental and moral qualities from the typical Celt. Contrast an east country Scot, descendant of Teutonic stock, with a West Highlander, and the difference leaps to the eyes. Celts and Germans of history differ, then, in relative fairness, character, religion, and language.

The tall, blonde Teutonic type of the Row graves is dolichocephalic. Was the Celtic type (assuming that Broca's "Celts" were not true Celts) dolicho or brachy? Broca thinks the Belgae or "Kymri" were dolichocephalic, but all must agree with him that the skulls are too few to generalise from. Celtic iron-age skulls in Britain are dolichocephalic, perhaps a recrudescence of the aboriginal type. Broca's "Kymric" skulls are mesocephalic; this he attributes to crossing with the short round-heads. The evidence is too scanty for generalisation, while the Walloons, perhaps descendants of the Belgae, have a high index, and some Gauls of classical art are broad-headed.[19]

Skulls of the British round barrows (early Celtic Bronze Age) are mainly broad, the best specimens showing affinity to Neolithic brachycephalic skulls from Grenelle (though their owners were 5 inches shorter), Selaigneaux, and Borreby.[20] Dr. Beddoe thinks that the narrow-skulled Belgae on the whole reinforced the meso- or brachycephalic round barrow folk in Britain. Dr. Thurnam identifies the latter with the Belgae (Broca's Kymri), and thinks that Gaulish skulls were round, with beetling brows.[21] Professors Ripley and Sergi, disregarding their difference in stature and higher cephalic index, identify them with the short Alpine race (Broca's Celts). This is negatived by Mr. Keane.[22] Might not both, however, have originally sprung from a common stock and reached Europe at different times?[23]

But do a few hundred skulls justify these far-reaching conclusions regarding races enduring for thousands of years? At some very remote period there may have been a Celtic type, as at some further period there may have been an Aryan type. But the Celts, as we know them, must have mingled with the aborigines of Europe and become a mixed race, though preserving and endowing others with their racial and mental characteristics. Some Gauls or Belgae were dolichocephalic, to judge by their skulls, others were brachycephalic, while their fairness was a relative term. Classical observers probably generalised from the higher classes, of a purer type; they tell us nothing of the people. But the higher classes may have had varying skulls, as well as stature and colour of hair,[24] and Irish texts tell of a tall, fair, blue-eyed stock, and a short, dark, dark-eyed stock, in Ireland. Even in those distant ages we must consider the people on whom the Celts impressed their characteristics, as well as the Celts themselves. What happened on the Eurasian steppe, the hypothetical cradle of the "Aryans," whence the Celts came "stepping westwards," seems clear to some, but in truth is a book sealed with seven seals. The men whose Aryan speech was to dominate far and wide may already have possessed different types of skull, and that age was far from "the very beginning."

Thus the Celts before setting out on their Wanderjahre may already have been a mixed race, even if their leaders were of purer stock. But they had the bond of common speech, institutions, and religion, and they formed a common Celtic type in Central and Western Europe. Intermarriage with the already mixed Neolithic folk of Central Europe produced further removal from the unmixed Celtic racial type; but though both reacted on each other as far as language, custom, and belief were concerned, on the whole the Celtic elements predominated in these respects. The Celtic migration into Gaul produced further racial mingling with descendants of the old palaeolithic stock, dolichocephalic Iberians and Ligurians, and brachycephalic swarthy folk (Broca's Celts). Thus even the first Celtic arrivals in Britain, the Goidels, were a people of mixed race, though probably relatively purer than the late coming Brythons, the latest of whom had probably mingled with the Teutons. Hence among Celtic-speaking folk or their descendants—short, dark, broad-beaded Bretons, tall, fair or rufous Highlanders, tall chestnut-haired Welshmen or Irishmen, Highlanders of Norse descent, short, dark, narrow-headed Highlanders, Irishmen, and Welshmen—there is a common Celtic facies, the result of old Celtic characteristics powerful enough so to impress themselves on such varied peoples in spite of what they gave to the Celtic incomers. These peoples became Celtic, and Celtic in speech and character they have remained, even where ancestral physical types are reasserting themselves. The folk of a Celtic type, whether pre-Celtic, Celtic, or Norse, have all spoken a Celtic language and exhibit the same old Celtic characteristics—vanity, loquacity, excitability, fickleness, imagination, love of the romantic, fidelity, attachment to family ties, sentimental love of their country, religiosity passing over easily to superstition, and a comparatively high degree of sexual morality. Some of these traits were already noted by classical observers.

Celtic speech had early lost the initial p of old Indo-European speech, except in words beginning with pt and, perhaps, ps. Celtic pare (Lat. prae) became are, met with in Aremorici, "the dwellers by the sea," Arecluta, "by the Clyde," the region watered by the Clyde. Irish athair, Manx ayr, and Irish iasg, represent respectively Latin pater and piscis. P occurring between vowels was also lost, e.g. Irish caora, "sheep," is from kaperax; for, "upon" (Lat. super), from uper. This change took place before the Goidelic Celts broke away and invaded Britain in the tenth century B.C., but while Celts and Teutons were still in contact, since Teutons borrowed words with initial p, e.g. Gothic fairguni, "mountain," from Celtic percunion, later Ercunio, the Hercynian forest. The loss must have occurred before 1000 B.C. But after the separation of the Goidelic group a further change took place. Goidels preserved the sound represented by qu, or more simply by c or ch, but this was changed into p by the remaining continental Celts, who carried with them into Gaul, Spain, Italy, and Britain (the Brythons) words in which q became p. The British Epidii is from Gaulish epos, "horse," which is in Old Irish ech (Lat. equus). The Parisii take their name from Qarisii, the Pictones or Pictavi of Poictiers from Pictos (which in the plural Pidi gives us "Picts"), derived from quicto. This change took place after the Goidelic invasion of Britain in the tenth century B.C. On the other hand, some continental Celts may later have regained the power of pronouncing q. In Gaul the q of Sequana (Seine) was not changed to p, and a tribe dwelling on its banks was called the Sequani. This assumes that Sequana was a pre-Celtic word, possibly Ligurian.[25] Professor Rhŷs thinks, however, that Goidelic tribes, identified by him with Caesar's Celtae, existed in Gaul and Spain before the coming of the Galli, and had preserved q in their speech. To them we owe Sequana, as well as certain names with q in Spain.[26] This at least is certain, that Goidelic Celts of the q group occupied Gaul and Spain before reaching Britain and Ireland. Irish tradition and archaeological data confirm this.[27] But whether their descendants were represented by Caesar's "Celtae" must be uncertain. Celtae and Galli, according to Caesar, were one and the same,[28] and must have had the same general form of speech.

The dialects of Goidelic speech—Irish, Manx, Gaelic, and that of the continental Goidels—preserved the q sound; those of Gallo-Brythonic speech—Gaulish, Breton, Welsh, Cornish—changed q into p. The speech of the Picts, perhaps connected with the Pictones of Gaul, also had this p sound. Who, then, were the Picts? According to Professor Rhŷs they were pre-Aryans,[29] but they must have been under the influence of Brythonic Celts. Dr. Skene regarded them as Goidels speaking a Goidelic dialect with Brythonic forms.[30] Mr. Nicholson thinks they were Goidels who had preserved the Indo-European p.[31] But might they not be descendants of a Brythonic group, arriving early in Britain and driven northwards by newcomers? Professor Windisch and Dr. Stokes regard them as Celts, allied to the Brythons rather than to the Goidels, the phonetics of their speech resembling those of Welsh rather than Irish.[32]

The theory of an early Goidelic occupation of Britain has been contested by Professor Meyer,[33] who holds that the first Goidels reached Britain from Ireland in the second century, while Dr. MacBain[34] was of the opinion that England, apart from Wales and Cornwall, knew no Goidels, the place-names being Brythonic. But unless all Goidels reached Ireland from Gaul or Spain, as some did, Britain was more easily reached than Ireland by migrating Goidels from the Continent. Prominent Goidelic place-names would become Brythonic, but insignificant places would retain their Goidelic form, and to these we must look for decisive evidence.[35] A Goidelic occupation by the ninth century B.C. is suggested by the name "Cassiterides" (a word of the q group) applied to Britain. If the Goidels occupied Britain first, they may have called their land Qretanis or Qritanis, which Pictish invaders would change to Pretanis, found in Welsh "Ynys Pridain," Pridain's Isle, or Isle of the Picts, "pointing to the original underlying the Greek [Greek: Pretanikai Nesoi] or Pictish Isles,"[36] though the change may be due to continental p Celts trading with q Celts in Britain. With the Pictish occupation would agree the fact that Irish Goidels called the Picts who came to Ireland Cruithne=Qritani=Pre-tani. In Ireland they almost certainly adopted Goidelic speech.

Whether or not all the Pictish invaders of Britain were called "Pictavi," this word or Picti, perhaps from quicto (Irish cicht, "engraver"),[37] became a general name for this people. Q had been changed into p on the Continent; hence "Pictavi" or "Pictones," "the tattooed men," those who "engraved" figures on their bodies, as the Picts certainly did. Dispossessed and driven north by incoming Brythons and Belgae, they later became the virulent enemies of Rome. In 306 Eumenius describes all the northern tribes as "Caledonii and other Picts," while some of the tribes mentioned by Ptolemy have Brythonic names or names with Gaulish cognates. Place-names in the Pictish area, personal names in the Pictish chronicle, and Pictish names like "Peanfahel,"[38] have Brythonic affinities. If the Picts spoke a Brythonic dialect, S. Columba's need of an interpreter when preaching to them would be explained.[39] Later the Picts were conquered by Irish Goidels, the Scotti. The Picts, however, must already have mingled with aboriginal peoples and with Goidels, if these were already in Britain, and they may have adopted their supposed non-Aryan customs from the aborigines. On the other hand, the matriarchate seems at one time to have been Celtic, and it may have been no more than a conservative survival in the Pictish royal house, as it was elsewhere.[40] Britons, as well as Caledonii, had wives in common.[41] As to tattooing, it was practised by the Scotti ("the scarred and painted men"?), and the Britons dyed themselves with woad, while what seem to be tattoo marks appear on faces on Gaulish coins.[42] Tattooing, painting, and scarifying the body are varieties of one general custom, and little stress can be laid on Pictish tattooing as indicating a racial difference. Its purpose may have been ornamental, or possibly to impart an aspect of fierceness, or the figures may have been totem marks, as they are elsewhere. Finally, the description of the Caledonii, a Pictish people, possessing flaming hair and mighty limbs, shows that they differed from the short, dark pre-Celtic folk.[43]

The Pictish problem must remain obscure, a welcome puzzle to antiquaries, philologists, and ethnologists. Our knowledge of Pictish religion is too scanty for the interpretation of Celtic religion to be affected by it. But we know that the Picts offered sacrifice before war—a Celtic custom, and had Druids, as also had the Celts.

The earliest Celtic "kingdom" was in the region between the upper waters of the Rhine, the Elbe, and the Danube, where probably in Neolithic times the formation of their Celtic speech as a distinctive language began. Here they first became known to the Greeks, probably as a semi-mythical people, the Hyperboreans—the folk dwelling beyond the Ripoean mountains whence Boreas blew—with whom Hecataeus in the fourth century identifies them. But they were now known as Celts, and their territory as Celtica, while "Galatas" was used as a synonym of "Celtae," in the third century B.C.[44] The name generally applied by the Romans to the Celts was "Galli" a term finally confined by them to the people of Gaul.[45] Successive bands of Celts went forth from this comparatively restricted territory, until the Celtic "empire" for some centuries before 300 B.C. included the British Isles, parts of the Iberian peninsula, Gaul, North Italy, Belgium, Holland, great part of Germany, and Austria. When the German tribes revolted, Celtic bands appeared in Asia Minor, and remained there as the Galatian Celts. Archaeological discoveries with a Celtic facies have been made in most of these lands but even more striking is the witness of place-names. Celtic dunon, a fort or castle (the Gaelic dun), is found in compound names from Ireland to Southern Russia. Magos, "a field," is met with in Britain, France, Switzerland, Prussia, Italy, and Austria. River and mountain names familiar in Britain occur on the Continent. The Pennine range of Cumberland has the same name as the Appenines. Rivers named for their inherent divinity, devos, are found in Britain and on the Continent—Dee, Deva, etc.

Besides this linguistic, had the Celts also a political unity over their great "empire," under one head? Such a unity certainly did not prevail from Ireland to the Balkan peninsula, but it prevailed over a large part of the Celtic area. Livy, following Timagenes, who perhaps cited a lost Celtic epos, speaks of king Ambicatus ruling over the Celts from Spain to Germany, and sending his sister's sons, Bellovesus and Segovesus, with many followers, to found new colonies in Italy and the Hercynian forest.[46] Mythical as this may be, it suggests the hegemony of one tribe or one chief over other tribes and chiefs, for Livy says that the sovereign power rested with the Bituriges who appointed the king of Celticum, viz. Ambicatus. Some such unity is necessary to explain Celtic power in the ancient world, and it was made possible by unity of race or at least of the congeries of Celticised peoples, by religious solidarity, and probably by regular gatherings of all the kings or chiefs. If the Druids were a Celtic priesthood at this time, or already formed a corporation as they did later in Gaul, they must have endeavoured to form and preserve such a unity. And if it was never so compact as Livy's words suggest, it must have been regarded as an ideal by the Celts or by their poets, Ambicatus serving as a central figure round which the ideas of empire crystallised. The hegemony existed in Gaul, where the Arverni and their king claimed power over the other tribes, and where the Romans tried to weaken the Celtic unity by opposing to them the Aedni.[47] In Belgium the hegemony was in the hands of the Suessiones, to whose king Belgic tribes in Britain submitted.[48] In Ireland the "high king" was supreme over other smaller kings, and in Galatia the unity of the tribes was preserved by a council with regular assemblies.[49]

The diffusion of the Ambicatus legend would help to preserve unity by recalling the mythic greatness of the past. The Boii and Insubri appealed to transalpine Gauls for aid by reminding them of the deeds of their ancestors.[50] Nor would the Druids omit to infuse into their pupils' minds the sentiment of national greatness. For this and for other reasons, the Romans, to whom "the sovereignty of all Gaul" was an obnoxious watch-word, endeavoured to suppress them.[51] But the Celts were too widely scattered ever to form a compact empire.[52] The Roman empire extended itself gradually in the consciousness of its power; the cohesion of the Celts in an empire or under one king was made impossible by their migrations and diffusion. Their unity, such as it was, was broken by the revolt of the Teutonic tribes, and their subjugation was completed by Rome. The dreams of wide empire remained dreams. For the Celts, in spite of their vigour, have been a race of dreamers, their conquests in later times, those of the spirit rather than of the mailed fist. Their superiority has consisted in imparting to others their characteristics; organised unity and a vast empire could never be theirs.


[6] Ripley, Races of Europe; Wilser, L'Anthropologie, xiv. 494; Collignon, ibid. 1-20; Broca, Rev. d'Anthrop. ii. 589 ff.

[7] Sergi, The Mediterranean Race, 241 ff., 263 ff.

[8] Keane, Man, Past and Present, 511 ff., 521, 528.

[9] Broca, Mem. d'Anthrop. i. 370 ff. Hovelacque thinks, with Keane, that the Gauls learned Celtic from the dark round-heads. But Galatian and British Celts, who had never been in contact with the latter, spoke Celtic. See Holmes, Caesar's Conquest of Gaul, 311-312.

[10] Caesar, i. 1; Collignon, Mem. Soc. d'Anthrop. de Paris, 3{me} ser. i. 67.

[11] Caesar, i. 1.

[12] Caesar, ii. 30.

[13] Caesar, i. 1; Strabo, iv. 1. 1.

[14] Cf. Holmes, 295; Beddoe, Scottish Review, xix. 416.

[15] D'Arbois, Les Celtes, 175.

[16] Caesar, ii. 4; Strabo, vii. 1. 2. Germans are taller and fairer than Gauls; Tacitus, Agric. ii. Cf. Beddoe, JAI xx. 354-355.

[17] D'Arbois, PH ii. 374. Welsh Gwydion and Teutonic Wuotan may have the same root, see p. 105. Celtic Taranis has been compared to Donar, but there is no connection, and Taranis was not certainly a thunder-god. Much of the folk-religion was alike, but this applies to folk-religion everywhere.

[18] D'Arbois, ii. 251.

[19] Beddoe, L'Anthropologie, v. 516. Tall, fair, and highly brachycephalic types are still found in France, ibid. i. 213; Bortrand-Reinach, Les Celtes, 39.

[20] Beddoe, 516; L'Anthrop., v. 63; Taylor, 81; Greenwell, British Barrows, 680.

[21] Fort. Rev. xvi. 328; Mem. of London Anthr. Soc., 1865.

[22] Ripley, 309; Sergi, 243; Keane, 529; Taylor, 112.

[23] Taylor, 122, 295.

[24] The Walloons are both dark and fair.

[25] D'Arbois, PH ii. 132.

[26] Rhŷs, Proc. Phil. Soc. 1891; "Celtae and Galli," Proc. Brit. Acad. ii. D'Arbois points out that we do not know that these words are Celtic (RC xii, 478).

[27] See pp. 51, 376.

[28] Caesar, i. 1.

[29] CB{4} 160.

[30] Skene, i. ch. 8; see p. 135.

[31] ZCP iii. 308; Keltic Researches.

[32] Windisch, "Kelt. Sprachen," Ersch-Gruber's Encylopaedie; Stokes, Linguistic Value of the Irish Annals.

[33] THSC 1895-1896, 55 f.

[34] CM xii. 434.

[35] In the Isle of Skye, where, looking at names of prominent places alone, Norse derivatives are to Gaelic as 3 to 2, they are as 1 to 5 when names of insignificant places, untouched by Norse influence, are included.

[36] Rhŷs, CB{4} 241.

[37] D'Arbois, Les Celtes, 22.

[38] Bede, Eccl. Hist. i. 12.

[39] Adamnan, Vita S. Col.

[40] See p. 222.

[41] Dio Cass. lxxvi. 12; Caesar, v. 14. See p. 223.

[42] Isidore, Etymol. ix. 2, 103; Rhŷs, CB 242-243; Caesar, v. 14; Nicholson, ZCP in. 332.

[43] Tacitus, Agric. ii.

[44] If Celtae is from qelo, "to raise," it may mean "the lofty," just as many savages call themselves "the men," par excellence. Rhŷs derives it from qel, "to slay," and gives it the sense of "warriors." See Holder, s.v.; Stokes, US 83. Galatae is from gala (Irish gal), "bravery." Hence perhaps "warriors."

[45] "Galli" may be connected with "Galatae," but D'Arbois denies this. For all these titles see his PH ii. 396 ff.

[46] Livy, v. 31 f.; D'Arbois, PH ii. 304, 391.

[47] Strabo, iv. 10. 3; Caesar, i. 31, vii. 4; Frag. Hist. Graec. i. 437.

[48] Caesar, ii. 4.

[49] Strabo, xii. 5. 1.

[50] Polybius, ii. 22.

[51] Caesar, i. 2, 1-3.

[52] On the subject of Celtic unity see Jullian, "Du patriotisme gaulois," RC xxiii. 373.



The passage in which Caesar sums up the Gaulish pantheon runs: "They worship chiefly the god Mercury; of him there are many symbols, and they regard him as the inventor of all the arts, as the guide of travellers, and as possessing great influence over bargains and commerce. After him they worship Apollo and Mars, Juppiter and Minerva. About these they hold much the same beliefs as other nations. Apollo heals diseases, Minerva teaches the elements of industry and the arts, Juppiter rules over the heavens, Mars directs war.... All the Gauls assert that they are descended from Dispater, their progenitor."[53]

As will be seen in this chapter, the Gauls had many other gods than these, while the Roman gods, by whose names Caesar calls the Celtic divinities, probably only approximately corresponded to them in functions. As the Greeks called by the names of their own gods those of Egypt, Persia, and Babylonia, so the Romans identified Greek, Teutonic, and Celtic gods with theirs. The identification was seldom complete, and often extended only to one particular function or attribute. But, as in Gaul, it was often part of a state policy, and there the fusion of cults was intended to break the power of the Druids. The Gauls seem to have adopted Roman civilisation easily, and to have acquiesced in the process of assimilation of their divinities to those of their conquerors. Hence we have thousands of inscriptions in which a god is called by the name of the Roman deity to whom he was assimilated and by his own Celtic name—Jupiter Taranis, Apollo Grannus, etc. Or sometimes to the name of the Roman god is added a descriptive Celtic epithet or a word derived from a Celtic place-name. Again, since Augustus reinstated the cult of the Lares, with himself as chief Lar, the epithet Augustus was given to all gods to whom the character of the Lares could be ascribed, e.g. Belenos Augustus. Cults of local gods became cults of the genius of the place, coupled with the genius of the emperor. In some cases, however, the native name stands alone. The process was aided by art. Celtic gods are represented after Greco-Roman or Greco-Egyptian models. Sometimes these carry a native divine symbol, or, in a few cases, the type is purely native, e.g. that of Cernunnos. Thus the native paganism was largely transformed before Christianity appeared in Gaul. Many Roman gods were worshipped as such, not only by the Romans in Gaul, but by the Gauls, and we find there also traces of the Oriental cults affected by the Romans.[54]

There were probably in Gaul many local gods, tribal or otherwise, of roads and commerce, of the arts, of healing, etc., who, bearing different names, might easily be identified with each other or with Roman gods. Caesar's Mercury, Mars, Minerva, etc., probably include many local Minervas, Mars, and Mercuries. There may, however, have been a few great gods common to all Gaul, universally worshipped, besides the numerous local gods, some of whom may have been adopted from the aborigines. An examination of the divine names in Holder's Altceltischer Sprachschatz will show how numerous the local gods of the continental Celts must have been. Professor Anwyl reckons that 270 gods are mentioned once on inscriptions, 24 twice, 11 thrice, 10 four times, 3 five times, 2 seven times, 4 fifteen times, 1 nineteen times (Grannos), and 1 thirty-nine times (Belenos).[55]

The god or gods identified with Mercury were very popular in Gaul, as Caesar's words and the witness of place-names derived from the Roman name of the god show. These had probably supplanted earlier names derived from those of the corresponding native gods. Many temples of the god existed, especially in the region of the Allobrogi, and bronze statuettes of him have been found in abundance. Pliny also describes a colossal statue designed for the Arverni who had a great temple of the god on the Puy de Dome.[56] Mercury was not necessarily the chief god, and at times, e.g. in war, the native war-gods would be prominent. The native names of the gods assimilated to Mercury are many in number; in some cases they are epithets, derived from the names of places where a local "Mercury" was worshipped, in others they are derived from some function of the gods.[57] One of these titles is Artaios, perhaps cognate with Irish art, "god," or connected with artos, "bear." Professor Rhŷs, however, finds its cognate in Welsh ar, "ploughed land," as if one of the god's functions connected him with agriculture.[58] This is supported by another inscription to Mercurius Cultor at Wurtemberg. Local gods of agriculture must thus have been assimilated to Mercury. A god Moccus, "swine," was also identified with Mercury, and the swine was a frequent representative of the corn-spirit or of vegetation divinities in Europe. The flesh of the animal was often mixed with the seed corn or buried in the fields to promote fertility. The swine had been a sacred animal among the Celts, but had apparently become an anthropomorphic god of fertility, Moccus, assimilated to Mercury, perhaps because the Greek Hermes caused fertility in flocks and herds. Such a god was one of a class whose importance was great among the Celts as an agricultural people.

Commerce, much developed among the settled Gauls, gave rise to a god or gods who guarded roads over which merchants travelled, and boundaries where their transactions took place. Hence we have an inscription from Yorkshire, "To the god who invented roads and paths," while another local god of roads, equated with Mercury, was Cimiacinus.[59]

Another god, Ogmios, a native god of speech, who draws men by chains fastened to the tip of his tongue, is identified in Lucian with Heracles, and is identical with the Goidelic Ogma.[60] Eloquence and speech are important matters among primitive peoples, and this god has more likeness to Mercury as a culture-god than to Heracles, Greek writers speaking of eloquence as binding men with the chains of Hermes.

Several local gods, of agriculture, commerce, and culture, were thus identified with Mercury, and the Celtic Mercury was sometimes worshipped on hilltops, one of the epithets of the god, Dumias, being connected with the Celtic word for hill or mound. Irish gods were also associated with mounds.

Many local gods were identified with Apollo both in his capacity of god of healing and also that of god of light.[61] The two functions are not incompatible, and this is suggested by the name Grannos, god of thermal springs both in Britain and on the Continent. The name is connected with a root which gives words meaning "burning," "shining," etc., and from which comes also Irish grian, "sun." The god is still remembered in a chant sung round bonfires in Auvergne. A sheaf of corn is set on fire, and called "Granno mio," while the people sing, "Granno, my friend; Granno, my father; Granno, my mother."[62] Another god of thermal springs was Borvo, Bormo, or Bormanus, whose name is derived from borvo, whence Welsh berw, "boiling," and is evidently connected with the bubbling of the springs.[63] Votive tablets inscribed Grannos or Borvo show that the offerers desired healing for themselves or others.

The name Belenos found over a wide area, but mainly in Aquileia, comes from belo-s, bright, and probably means "the shining one." It is thus the name of a Celtic sun-god, equated with Apollo in that character. If he is the Belinus referred to by Geoffrey of Monmouth,[64] his cult must have extended into Britain from the Continent, and he is often mentioned by classical writers, while much later Ausonius speaks of his priest in Gaul.[65] Many place and personal names point to the popularity of his cult, and inscriptions show that he, too, was a god of health and of healing-springs. The plant Belinuntia was called after him and venerated for its healing powers.[66] The sun-god's functions of light and fertility easily passed over into those of health-giving, as our study of Celtic festivals will show.

A god with the name Maponos, connected with words denoting "youthfulness," is found in England and Gaul, equated with Apollo, who himself is called Bonus Puer in a Dacian inscription. Another god Mogons or Mogounos, whose name is derived from Mago, "to increase," and suggests the idea of youthful strength, may be a form of the sun-god, though some evidence points to his having been a sky-god.[67]

The Celtic Apollo is referred to by classical writers. Diodorus speaks of his circular temple in an island of the Hyperboreans, adorned with votive offerings. The kings of the city where the temple stood, and its overseers, were called "Boreads," and every nineteenth year the god appeared dancing in the sky at the spring equinox.[68] The identifications of the temple with Stonehenge and of the Boreads with the Bards are quite hypothetical. Apollonius says that the Celts regarded the waters of Eridanus as due to the tears of Apollo—probably a native myth attributing the creation of springs and rivers to the tears of a god, equated by the Greeks with Apollo.[69] The Celtic sun-god, as has been seen, was a god of healing springs.

Some sixty names or titles of Celtic war-gods are known, generally equated with Mars.[70] These were probably local tribal divinities regarded as leading their worshippers to battle. Some of the names show that these gods were thought of as mighty warriors, e.g. Caturix, "battle-king," Belatu-Cadros—a common name in Britain—perhaps meaning "comely in slaughter,"[71] and Albiorix, "world-king."[72] Another name, Rigisamus, from rix and samus, "like to," gives the idea of "king-like."[73]

Toutatis, Totatis, and Tutatis are found in inscriptions from Seckau, York, and Old Carlisle, and may be identified with Lucan's Teutates, who with Taranis and Esus mentioned by him, is regarded as one of three pan-Celtic gods.[74] Had this been the case we should have expected to find many more inscriptions to them. The scholiast on Lucan identifies Teutates now with Mars, now with Mercury. His name is connected with teuta, "tribe," and he is thus a tribal war-god, regarded as the embodiment of the tribe in its warlike capacity.

Neton, a war-god of the Accetani, has a name connected with Irish nia, "warrior," and may be equated with the Irish war-god Net. Another god, Camulos, known from British and continental inscriptions, and figured on British coins with warlike emblems, has perhaps some connection with Cumal, father of Fionn, though it is uncertain whether Cumal was an Irish divinity.[75]

Another god equated with Mars is the Gaulish Braciaca, god of malt. According to classical writers, the Celts were drunken race, and besides importing quantities of wine, they made their own native drinks, e.g. [Greek: chourmi], the Irish cuirm, and braccat, both made from malt (braich).[76] These words, with the Gaulish brace, "spelt,"[77] are connected with the name of this god, who was a divine personification of the substance from which the drink was made which produced, according to primitive ideas, the divine frenzy of intoxication. It is not clear why Mars should have been equated with this god.

Caesar says that the Celtic Juppiter governed heaven. A god who carries a wheel, probably a sun-god, and another, a god of thunder, called Taranis, seem to have been equated with Juppiter. The sun-god with the wheel was not equated with Apollo, who seems to have represented Celtic sun-gods only in so far as they were also gods of healing. In some cases the god with the wheel carries also a thunderbolt, and on some altars, dedicated to Juppiter, both a wheel and a thunderbolt are figured. Many races have symbolised the sun as a circle or wheel, and an old Roman god, Summanus, probably a sun-god, later assimilated to Juppiter, had as his emblem a wheel. The Celts had the same symbolism, and used the wheel symbol as an amulet,[78] while at the midsummer festivals blazing wheels, symbolising the sun, were rolled down a slope. Possibly the god carries a thunderbolt because the Celts, like other races, believed that lightning was a spark from the sun.

Three divinities have claims to be the god whom Caesar calls Dispater—a god with a hammer, a crouching god called Cernunnos, and a god called Esus or Silvanus. Possibly the native Dispater was differently envisaged in different districts, so that these would be local forms of one god.

1. The god Taranis mentioned by Lucan is probably the Taranoos and Taranucnos of inscriptions, sometimes equated with Juppiter.[79] These names are connected with Celtic words for "thunder"; hence Taranis is a thunder-god. The scholiasts on Lucan identify him now with Juppiter, now with Dispater. This latter identification is supported by many who regard the god with the hammer as at once Taranis and Dispater, though it cannot be proved that the god with the hammer is Taranis. On one inscription the hammer-god is called Sucellos; hence we may regard Taranis as a distinct deity, a thunder-god, equated with Juppiter, and possibly represented by the Taran of the Welsh tale of Kulhwych.[80]

Primitive men, whose only weapon and tool was a stone axe or hammer, must have regarded it as a symbol of force, then of supernatural force, hence of divinity. It is represented on remains of the Stone Age, and the axe was a divine symbol to the Mycenaeans, a hieroglyph of Neter to the Egyptians, and a worshipful object to Polynesians and Chaldeans. The cult of axe or hammer may have been widespread, and to the Celts, as to many other peoples, it was a divine symbol. Thus it does not necessarily denote a thunderbolt, but rather power and might, and possibly, as the tool which shaped things, creative might. The Celts made ex voto hammers of lead, or used axe-heads as amulets, or figured them on altars and coins, and they also placed the hammer in the hand of a god.[81]

The god with the hammer is a gracious bearded figure, clad in Gaulish dress, and he carries also a cup. His plastic type is derived from that of the Alexandrian Serapis, ruler of the underworld, and that of Hades-Pluto.[82] His emblems, especially that of the hammer, are also those of the Pluto of the Etruscans, with whom the Celts had been in contact.[83] He is thus a Celtic Dispater, an underworld god, possibly at one time an Earth-god and certainly a god of fertility, and ancestor of the Celtic folk. In some cases, like Serapis, he carries a modius on his head, and this, like the cup, is an emblem of chthonian gods, and a symbol of the fertility of the soil. The god being benevolent, his hammer, like the tool with which man forms so many things, could only be a symbol of creative force.[84] As an ancestor of the Celts, the god is naturally represented in Celtic dress. In one bas-relief he is called Sucellos, and has a consort, Nantosvelta.[85] Various meanings have been assigned to "Sucellos," but it probably denotes the god's power of striking with the hammer. M. D'Arbois hence regards him as a god of blight and death, like Balor.[86] But though this Celtic Dispater was a god of the dead who lived on in the underworld, he was not necessarily a destructive god. The underworld god was the god from whom or from whose kingdom men came forth, and he was also a god of fertility. To this we shall return.

2. A bearded god, probably squatting, with horns from each of which hangs a torque, is represented on an altar found at Paris.[87] He is called Cernunnos, perhaps "the horned," from cerna, "horn," and a whole group of nameless gods, with similar or additional attributes, have affinities with him.

(a) A bronze statuette from Autun represents a similar figure, probably horned, who presents a torque to two ram's-headed serpents. Fixed above his ears are two small heads.[88] On a monument from Vandoeuvres is a squatting horned god, pressing a sack. Two genii stand beside him on a serpent, while one of them holds a torque.[89]

(b) Another squatting horned figure with a torque occurs on an altar from Reims. He presses a bag, from which grain escapes, and on it an ox and stag are feeding. A rat is represented on the pediment above, and on either side stand Apollo and Mercury.[90] On the altar of Saintes is a squatting but headless god with torque and purse. Beside him is a goddess with a cornucopia, and a smaller divinity with a cornucopia and an apple. A similar squatting figure, supported by male and female deities, is represented on the other side of the altar.[91] On the altar of Beaune are three figures, one horned with a cornucopia, another three-headed, holding a basket.[92] Three figures, one female and two male, are found on the Dennevy altar. One god is three-faced, the other has a cornucopia, which he offers to a serpent.[93]

(c) Another image represents a three-faced god, holding a serpent with a ram's head.[94]

(d) Above a seated god and goddess on an altar from Malmaison is a block carved to represent three faces. To be compared with these are seven steles from Reims, each with a triple face but only one pair of eyes. Above some of these is a ram's head. On an eighth stele the heads are separated.[95]

Cernunnos may thus have been regarded as a three-headed, horned, squatting god, with a torque and ram's-headed serpent. But a horned god is sometimes a member of a triad, perhaps representing myths in which Cernunnos was associated with other gods. The three-headed god may be the same as the horned god, though on the Beaune altar they are distinct. The various representations are linked together, but it is not certain that all are varying types of one god. Horns, torque, horned snake, or even the triple head may have been symbols pertaining to more than one god, though generally associated with Cernunnos.

The squatting attitude of the god has been differently explained, and its affinities regarded now as Buddhist, now as Greco-Egyptian.[96] But if the god is a Dispater, and the ancestral god of the Celts, it is natural, as M. Mowat points out, to represent him in the typical attitude of the Gauls when sitting, since they did not use seats.[97] While the horns were probably symbols of power and worn also by chiefs on their helmets,[98] they may also show that the god was an anthropomorphic form of an earlier animal god, like the wolf-skin of other gods. Hence also horned animals would be regarded as symbols of the god, and this may account for their presence on the Reims monument. Animals are sometimes represented beside the divinities who were their anthropomorphic forms.[99] Similarly the ram's-headed serpent points to animal worship. But its presence with three-headed and horned gods is enigmatic, though, as will be seen later, it may have been connected with a cult of the dead, while the serpent was a chthonian animal.[100] These gods were gods of fertility and of the underworld of the dead. While the bag or purse (interchangeable with the cornucopia) was a symbol of Mercury, it was also a symbol of Pluto, and this may point to the fact that the gods who bear it had the same character as Pluto. The significance of the torque is also doubtful, but the Gauls offered torques to the gods, and they may have been regarded as vehicles of the warrior's strength which passed from him to the god to whom the victor presented it.

Though many attempts have been made to prove the non-Celtic origin of the three-headed divinities or of their images,[101] there is no reason why the conception should not be Celtic, based on some myth now lost to us. The Celts had a cult of human heads, and fixed them up on their houses in order to obtain the protection of the ghost. Bodies or heads of dead warriors had a protective influence on their land or tribe, and myth told how the head of the god Bran saved his country from invasion. In other myths human heads speak after being cut off.[102] It might thus easily have been believed that the representation of a god's head had a still more powerful protective influence, especially when it was triplicated, thus looking in all directions, like Janus.

The significance of the triad on these monuments is uncertain but since the supporting divinities are now male, now female, now male and female, it probably represents myths of which the horned or three-headed god was the central figure. Perhaps we shall not be far wrong in regarding such gods, on the whole, as Cernunnos, a god of abundance to judge by his emblems, and by the cornucopia held by his companions, probably divinities of fertility. In certain cases figures of squatting and horned goddesses with cornucopia occur.[103] These may be consorts of Cernunnos, and perhaps preceded him in origin. We may also go further and see in this god of abundance and fertility at once an Earth and an Under-earth god, since earth and under-earth are much the same to primitive thought, and fertility springs from below the earth's surface. Thus Cernunnos would be another form of the Celtic Dispater. Generally speaking, the images of Cernunnos are not found where those of the god with the hammer (Dispater) are most numerous. These two types may thus be different local forms of Dispater. The squatting attitude of Cernunnos is natural in the image of the ancestor of a people who squatted. As to the symbols of plenty, we know that Pluto was confounded with Plutus, the god of riches, because corn and minerals came out of the earth, and were thus the gifts of an Earth or Under-earth god. Celtic myth may have had the same confusion.

On a Paris altar and on certain steles a god attacks a serpent with a club. The serpent is a chthonian animal, and the god, called Smertullos, may be a Dispater.[104] Gods who are anthropomorphic forms of earlier animal divinities, sometimes have the animals as symbols or attendants, or are regarded as hostile to them. In some cases Dispater may have outgrown the serpent symbolism, the serpent being regarded locally as his foe; this assumes that the god with the club is the same as the god with the hammer. But in the case of Cernunnos the animal remained as his symbol.

Dispater was a god of growth and fertility, and besides being lord of the underworld of the dead, not necessarily a dark region or the abode of "dark" gods as is so often assumed by writers on Celtic religion, he was ancestor of the living. This may merely have meant that, as in other mythologies, men came to the surface of the earth from an underground region, like all things whose roots struck deep down into the earth. The lord of the underworld would then easily be regarded as their ancestor.[105]

3. The hammer and the cup are also the symbols of a god called Silvanus, identified by M. Mowat with Esus,[106] a god represented cutting down a tree with an axe. Axe and hammer, however, are not necessarily identical, and the symbols are those of Dispater, as has been seen. A purely superficial connection between the Roman Silvanus and the Celtic Dispater may have been found by Gallo-Roman artists in the fact that both wear a wolf-skin, while there may once have been a Celtic wolf totem-god of the dead.[107] The Roman god was also associated with the wolf. This might be regarded as one out of many examples of a mere superficial assimilation of Roman and Celtic divinities, but in this case they still kept certain symbols of the native Dispater—the cup and hammer. Of course, since the latter was also a god of fertility, there was here another link with Silvanus, a god of woods and vegetation. The cult of the god was widespread—in Spain, S. Gaul, the Rhine provinces, Cisalpine Gaul, Central Europe and Britain. But one inscription gives the name Selvanos, and it is not impossible that there was a native god Selvanus. If so, his name may have been derived from selva, "possession," Irish sealbh, "possession," "cattle," and he may have been a chthonian god of riches, which in primitive communities consisted of cattle.[108] Domestic animals, in Celtic mythology, were believed to have come from the god's land. Selvanus would thus be easily identified with Silvanus, a god of flocks.

Thus the Celtic Dispater had various names and forms in different regions, and could be assimilated to different foreign gods. Since Earth and Under-earth are so nearly connected, this divinity may once have been an Earth-god, and as such perhaps took the place of an earlier Earth-mother, who now became his consort or his mother. On a monument from Salzbach, Dispater is accompanied by a goddess called Aeracura, holding a basket of fruit, and on another monument from Ober-Seebach, the companion of Dispater holds a cornucopia. In the latter instance Dispater holds a hammer and cup, and the goddess may be Aeracura. Aeracura is also associated with Dispater in several inscriptions.[109] It is not yet certain that she is a Celtic goddess, but her presence with this evidently Celtic god is almost sufficient proof of the fact. She may thus represent the old Earth-goddess, whose place the native Dispater gradually usurped.

Lucan mentions a god Esus, who is represented on a Paris altar as a woodman cutting down a tree, the branches of which are carried round to the next side of the altar, on which is represented a bull with three cranes—Tarvos Trigaranos. The same figure, unnamed, occurs on another altar at Treves, but in this case the bull's head appears in the branches, and on them sit the birds. M. Reinach applies one formula to the subjects of these altars—"The divine Woodman hews the Tree of the Bull with Three Cranes."[110] The whole represents some myth unknown to us, but M. D'Arbois finds in it some allusion to events in the Cuchulainn saga. To this we shall return.[111] Bull and tree are perhaps both divine, and if the animal, like the images of the divine bull, is three-horned, then the three cranes (garanus, "crane") may be a rebus for three-horned (trikeras), or more probably three-headed (trikarenos).[112] In this case woodman, tree, and bull might all be representatives of a god of vegetation. In early ritual, human, animal, or arboreal representatives of the god were periodically destroyed to ensure fertility, but when the god became separated from these representatives, the destruction or slaying was regarded as a sacrifice to the god, and myths arose telling how he had once slain the animal. In this case, tree and bull, really identical, would be mythically regarded as destroyed by the god whom they had once represented. If Esus was a god of vegetation, once represented by a tree, this would explain why, as the scholiast on Lucan relates, human sacrifices to Esus were suspended from a tree. Esus was worshipped at Paris and at Treves; a coin with the name AEsus was found in England; and personal names like Esugenos, "son of Esus," and Esunertus, "he who has the strength of Esus," occur in England, France, and Switzerland.[113] Thus the cult of this god may have been comparatively widespread. But there is no evidence that he was a Celtic Jehovah or a member, with Teutates and Taranis, of a pan-Celtic triad, or that this triad, introduced by Gauls, was not accepted by the Druids.[114] Had such a great triad existed, some instance of the occurrence of the three names on one inscription would certainly have been found. Lucan does not refer to the gods as a triad, nor as gods of all the Celts, or even of one tribe. He lays stress merely on the fact that they were worshipped with human sacrifice, and they were apparently more or less well-known local gods.[115]

The insular Celts believed that some of their gods lived on or in hills. We do not know whether such a belief was entertained by the Gauls, though some of their deities were worshipped on hills, like the Puy de Dome. There is also evidence of mountain worship among them. One inscription runs, "To the Mountains"; a god of the Pennine Alps, Poeninus, was equated with Juppiter; and the god of the Vosges mountains was called Vosegus, perhaps still surviving in the giant supposed to haunt them.[116]

Certain grouped gods, Dii Casses, were worshipped by Celts on the right bank of the Rhine, but nothing is known regarding their functions, unless they were road gods. The name means "beautiful" or "pleasant," and Cassi appears in personal and tribal names, and also in Cassiterides, an early name of Britain, perhaps signifying that the new lands were "more beautiful" than those the Celts had left. When tin was discovered in Britain, the Mediterranean traders called it [Greek: chassiteros], after the name of the place where it was found, as cupreus, "copper," was so called from Cyprus.[117]

Many local tutelar divinities were also worshipped. When a new settlement was founded, it was placed under the protection of a tribal god, or the name of some divinised river on whose banks the village was placed, passed to the village itself, and the divinity became its protector. Thus Dea Bibracte, Nemausus, and Vasio were tutelar divinities of Bibracte, Nimes, and Vaison. Other places were called after Belenos, or a group of divinities, usually the Matres with a local epithet, watched over a certain district.[118] The founding of a town was celebrated in an annual festival, with sacrifices and libations to the protecting deity, a practice combated by S. Eloi in the eighth century. But the custom of associating a divinity with a town or region was a great help to patriotism. Those who fought for their homes felt that they were fighting for their gods, who also fought on their side. Several inscriptions, "To the genius of the place," occur in Britain, and there are a few traces of tutelar gods in Irish texts, but generally local saints had taken their place.

The Celtic cult of goddesses took two forms, that of individual and that of grouped goddesses, the latter much more numerous than the grouped gods. Individual goddesses were worshipped as consorts of gods, or as separate personalities, and in the latter case the cult was sometimes far extended. Still more popular was the cult of grouped goddesses. Of these the Matres, like some individual goddesses, were probably early Earth-mothers, and since the primitive fertility-cults included all that might then be summed up as "civilisation," such goddesses had already many functions, and might the more readily become divinities of special crafts or even of war. Many individual goddesses are known only by their names, and were of a purely local character.[119] Some local goddesses with different names but similar functions are equated with the same Roman goddess; others were never so equated.

The Celtic Minerva, or the goddesses equated with her, "taught the elements of industry and the arts,"[120] and is thus the equivalent of the Irish Brigit. Her functions are in keeping with the position of woman as the first civiliser—discovering agriculture, spinning, the art of pottery, etc. During this period goddesses were chiefly worshipped, and though the Celts had long outgrown this primitive stage, such culture-goddesses still retained their importance. A goddess equated with Minerva in Southern France and Britain is Belisama, perhaps from qval, "to burn" or "shine."[121] Hence she may have been associated with a cult of fire, like Brigit and like another goddess Sul, equated with Minerva at Bath and in Hesse, and in whose temple perpetual fires burned.[122] She was also a goddess of hot springs. Belisama gave her name to the Mersey,[123] and many goddesses in Celtic myth are associated with rivers.

Some war-goddesses are associated with Mars—Nemetona (in Britain and Germany), perhaps the same as the Irish Nemon, and Cathubodua, identical with the Irish war-goddess Badb-catha, "battle-crow," who tore the bodies of the slain.[124] Another goddess Andrasta, "invincible," perhaps the same as the Andarta of the Voconces, was worshipped by the people of Boudicca with human sacrifices, like the native Bellona of the Scordisci.[125]

A goddess of the chase was identified with Artemis in Galatia, where she had a priestess Camma, and also in the west. At the feast of the Galatian goddess dogs were crowned with flowers, her worshippers feasted and a sacrifice was made to her, feast and sacrifice being provided out of money laid aside for every animal taken in the chase.[126] Other goddesses were equated with Diana, and one of her statues was destroyed in Christian times at Treves.[127] These goddesses may have been thought of as rushing through the forest with an attendant train, since in later times Diana, with whom they were completely assimilated, became, like Holda, the leader of the "furious host" and also of witches' revels.[128] The Life of Caesarius of Arles speaks of a "demon" called Diana by the rustics. A bronze statuette represents the goddess riding a wild boar,[129] her symbol and, like herself, a creature of the forest, but at an earlier time itself a divinity of whom the goddess became the anthropomorphic form.

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