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´╗┐Title: Celtic Religion - in Pre-Christian Times
Author: Anwyl, Edward, 1866-1914
Language: English
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*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Celtic Religion - in Pre-Christian Times" ***

Transcribed from the 1906 Archibald Constable & Co. Ltd. edition by David





Edinburgh: T. and A. CONSTABLE, Printers to His Majesty


It is only as prehistoric archaeology has come to throw more and more
light on the early civilisations of Celtic lands that it has become
possible to interpret Celtic religion from a thoroughly modern viewpoint.
The author cordially acknowledges his indebtedness to numerous writers on
this subject, but his researches into some portions of the field
especially have suggested to him the possibility of giving a new
presentation to certain facts and groups of facts, which the existing
evidence disclosed.  It is to be hoped that a new interest in the
religion of the Celts may thereby be aroused.


_February_ 15, 1906.


In dealing with the subject of 'Celtic Religion' the first duty of the
writer is to explain the sense in which the term 'Celtic' will be used in
this work.  It will be used in reference to those countries and districts
which, in historic times, have been at one time or other mainly of Celtic
speech.  It does not follow that all the races which spoke a form of the
Celtic tongue, a tongue of the Indo-European family, were all of the same
stock.  Indeed, ethnological and archaeological evidence tends to
establish clearly that, in Gaul and Britain, for example, man had lived
for ages before the introduction of any variety of Aryan or Indo-European
speech, and this was probably the case throughout the whole of Western
and Southern Europe.  Further, in the light of comparative philology, it
has now become abundantly clear that the forms of Indo-European speech
which we call Celtic are most closely related to those of the Italic
family, of which family Latin is the best known representative.  From
this it follows that we are to look for the centre of dissemination of
Aryan Celtic speech in some district of Europe that could have been the
natural centre of dissemination also for the Italic languages.  From this
common centre, through conquest and the commercial intercourse which
followed it, the tribes which spoke the various forms of Celtic and
Italic speech spread into the districts occupied by them in historic
times.  The common centre of radiation for Celtic and Italic speech was
probably in the districts of Noricum and Pannonia, the modern Carniola,
Carinthia, etc., and the neighbouring parts of the Danube valley.  The
conquering Aryan-speaking Celts and Italians formed a military
aristocracy, and their success in extending the range of their languages
was largely due to their skill in arms, combined, in all probability,
with a talent for administration.  This military aristocracy was of
kindred type to that which carried Aryan speech into India and Persia,
Armenia and Greece, not to speak of the original speakers of the Teutonic
and Slavonic tongues.  In view of the necessity of discovering a centre,
whence the Indo-European or Aryan languages in general could have
radiated Eastwards, as well as Westwards, the tendency to-day is to
regard these tongues as having been spoken originally in some district
between the Carpathians and the Steppes, in the form of kindred dialects
of a common speech.  Some branches of the tribes which spoke these
dialects penetrated into Central Europe, doubtless along the Danube, and,
from the Danube valley, extended their conquests together with their
various forms of Aryan speech into Southern and Western Europe.  The
proportion of conquerors to conquered was not uniform in all the
countries where they held sway, so that the amount of Aryan blood in
their resultant population varied greatly.  In most cases, the families
of the original conquerors, by their skill in the art of war and a
certain instinct of government, succeeded in making their own tongues the
dominant media of communication in the lands where they ruled, with the
result that most of the languages of Europe to-day are of the Aryan or
Indo-European type.  It does not, however, follow necessarily from this
that the early religious ideas or the artistic civilisation of countries
now Aryan in speech, came necessarily from the conquerors rather than the
conquered.  In the last century it was long held that in countries of
Aryan speech the essential features of their civilisation, their
religious ideas, their social institutions, nay, more, their inhabitants
themselves, were of Aryan origin.

A more critical investigation has, however, enabled us to distinguish
clearly between the development of various factors of human life which in
their evolution can follow and often have followed more or less
independent lines.  The physical history of race, for instance, forms a
problem by itself and must be studied by anthropological and ethnological
methods.  Language, again, has often spread along lines other than those
of race, and its investigation appertains to the sphere of the
philologist.  Material civilisation, too, has not of necessity followed
the lines either of racial or of linguistic development, and the search
for its ancient trade-routes may be safely left to the archaeologist.
Similarly the spread of ideas in religion and thought is one which has
advanced on lines of its own, and its investigation must be conducted by
the methods and along the lines of the comparative study of religions.

In the wide sense, then, in which the word 'Celtic religion' will be used
in this work, it will cover the modes of religious thought prevalent in
the countries and districts, which, in course of time, were mainly
characterised by their Celtic speech.  To the sum-total of these
religious ideas contributions have been made from many sources.  It would
be rash to affirm that the various streams of Aryan Celtic conquest made
no contributions to the conceptions of life and of the world which the
countries of their conquest came to hold (and the evidence of language
points, indeed, to some such contributions), but their quota appears to
be small compared with that of their predecessors; nor is this
surprising, in view of the immense period during which the lands of their
conquest had been previously occupied.  Nothing is clearer than the
marvellous persistence of traditional and immemorial modes of thought,
even in the face of conquest and subjugation, and, whatever ideas on
religion the Aryan conquerors of Celtic lands may have brought with them,
they whose conquests were often only partial could not eradicate the
inveterate beliefs of their predecessors, and the result in the end was
doubtless some compromise, or else the victory of the earlier faith.

But the Aryan conquerors of Gaul and Italy themselves were not men who
had advanced up the Danube in one generation.  Those men of Aryan speech
who poured into the Italian peninsula and into Gaul were doubtless in
blood not unmixed with the older inhabitants of Central Europe, and had
entered into the body of ideas which formed the religious beliefs of the
men of the Danube valley.  The common modifications of the Aryan tongue,
by Italians and Celts alike, as compared with Greek, suggests contact
with men of different speech.  Among the names of Celtic gods, too, like
those of other countries, we find roots that are apparently irreducible
to any found in Indo-European speech, and we know not what pre-Aryan
tongues may have contributed them.  Scholars, to-day, are far more alive
than they ever were before to the complexity of the contributory elements
that have entered into the tissue of the ancient religions of mankind,
and the more the relics of Celtic religion are investigated, the more
complex do its contributory factors become.  In the long ages before
history there were unrecorded conquests and migrations innumerable, and
ideas do not fail to spread because there is no historian to record them.

The more the scanty remnants of Celtic religion are examined, the clearer
it becomes that many of its characteristic features had been evolved
during the vast period of the ages of stone.  During these millennia, men
had evolved, concomitantly with their material civilisation, a kind of
working philosophy of life, traces of which are found in every land where
this form of civilisation has prevailed.  Man's religion can never be
dissociated from his social experience, and the painful stages through
which man reached the agricultural life, for example, have left their
indelible impress on the mind of man in Western Europe, as they have in
every land.  We are thus compelled, from the indications which we have of
Celtic religion, in the names of its deities, its rites, and its
survivals in folk-lore and legend, to come to the conclusion, that its
fundamental groundwork is a body of ideas, similar to those of other
lands, which were the natural correlatives of the phases of experience
through which man passed in his emergence into civilised life.  To
demonstrate and to illustrate these relations will be the aim of the
following chapters.


In the chief countries of Celtic civilisation, Gaul, Cisalpine and
Transalpine, Britain and Ireland, abundant materials have been found for
elucidating the stages of culture through which man passed in prehistoric
times.  In Britain, for example, palaeolithic man has left numerous
specimens of his implements, but the forms even of these rude implements
suggest that they, too, have been evolved from still more primitive
types.  Some antiquarians have thought to detect such earlier types in
the stones that have been named 'eoliths' found in Kent, but, though
these 'eoliths' may possibly show human use, the question of their
history is far from being settled.  It is certain, however, that man
succeeded in maintaining himself for ages in the company of the mammoth,
the cave-bear, and other animals now extinct.  Whether palaeolithic man
survived the Ice Age in Britain has not so far been satisfactorily
decided.  In Gaul, however, there is fair evidence of continuity between
the Palaeolithic and Neolithic periods, and this continuity must
obviously have existed somewhere.  Still in spite of the indications of
continuity, the civilisation of primitive man in Gaul presents one aspect
that is without any analogues in the life of the palaeolithic men of the
River Drift period, or in that of man of the New Stone Age.  The feature
in question is the remarkable artistic skill shown by the cave men of the
Dordogne district.  Some of the drawings and carvings of these men reveal
a sense of form which would have done credit to men of a far later age.  A
feature such as this, whatever may have been its object, whether it arose
from an effort by means of 'sympathetic magic' to catch animals, as M.
Salomon Reinach suggests, or to the mere artistic impulse, is a standing
reminder to us of the scantiness of our data for estimating the lines of
man's religious and other development in the vast epochs of prehistoric

We know that from the life of hunting man passed into the pastoral stage,
having learned to tame animals.  How he came to do so, and by what
motives he was actuated, is still a mystery.  It may be, as M. Salomon
Reinach has also suggested, that it was some curious and indefinable
sense of kinship with them that led him to do so, or more probably, as
the present writer thinks, some sense of a need of the alliance of
animals against hostile spirits.  In all probability it was no motive
which we can now fathom.  The mind of early man was like the unfathomable
mind of a boy.  From the pastoral life again man passed after long ages
into the life of agriculture, and the remains of neolithic man in Gaul
and in Britain give us glimpses of his life as a farmer.  The ox, the
sheep, the pig, the goat, and the dog were his domestic animals; he could
grow wheat and flax, and could supplement the produce of his farm by
means of hunting and fishing.  Neolithic man could spin and weave; he
could obtain the necessary flint for his implements, which he made by
chipping and polishing, and he could also make pottery of a rude variety.
In its essentials we have here the beginnings of the agricultural
civilisation of man all the world over.  In life, neolithic man dwelt
sometimes in pit-dwellings and sometimes in hut-circles, covered with a
roof of branches supported by a central pole.  In death, he was buried
with his kin in long mounds of earth called barrows, in chambered cairns
and cromlechs or dolmens.  The latter usually consist of three standing
stones covered by a cap-stone; forming the stony skeleton of a grave that
has been exposed to view after the mound of earth that covered it has
been washed away.  In their graves the dead were buried in a crouching
attitude, and fresh burials were made as occasion required.  Sometimes
the cromlech is double, and occasionally there is a hole in one of the
stones, the significance of which is unknown, unless it may have been for
the ingress and egress of souls.  Graves of the dolmen or cromlech type
are found in all the countries of Western Europe, North Africa, and
elsewhere, wherever stone suitable for the purpose abounds, and in this
we have a striking illustration of the way in which lines of development
in man's material civilisation are sooner or later correlated to his
geographical, geological, and other surroundings.  The religious ideas of
man in neolithic times also came into correlation with the conditions of
his development, and the uninterpreted stone circles and pillars of the
world are a standing witness to the religious zeal of a mind that was
haunted by stone.  Before proceeding to exemplify this thesis the
subsequent trend of Celtic civilisation may be briefly sketched.

Through the pacific intercourse of commerce, bronze weapons and
implements began to find their way, about 2000 B.C. or earlier, from
Central and Southern Europe into Gaul, and thence into Britain.  In
Britain the Bronze Age begins at about 1500 or 1400 B.C., and it is
thought by some archaeologists that bronze was worked at this period by
the aid of native tin in Britain itself.  There are indications, however,
that the introduction of bronze into Britain was not by way of commerce
alone.  About the beginning of the Bronze period are found evidences in
this island of a race of different type from that of neolithic man, being
characterised by a round skull and a powerful build, and by general
indications of a martial bearing.  The remains of this race are usually
found in round barrows.

This race, which certainly used bronze weapons, is generally believed to
have been the first wave that reached Britain of Aryan conquerors of
Celtic speech from the nearest part of the continent, where it must have
arrived some time previously, probably along the Rhine valley.  As the
type of Celtic speech that has penetrated farthest to the west is that
known as the Goidelic or Irish, it has not unreasonably been thought that
this must have been the type that arrived in Britain first.  There are
indications, too, that it was this type that penetrated furthest into the
west of Gaul.  Its most marked characteristic is its preservation of the
pronunciation of U as 'oo' and of QU, while the 'Brythonic' or Welsh
variety changed U to a sound pronounced like the French 'u' or the German
'u' and also QU to P.  There is a similar line of cleavage in the Italic
languages, where Latin corresponds to Goidelic, and Oscan and Umbrian to
Brythonic.  Transalpine Gaul was probably invaded by Aryan-speaking Celts
from more than one direction, and the infiltration and invasion of new-
comers, when it had once begun, was doubtless continuous through these
various channels.  There are cogent reasons for thinking that ultimately
the dominant type of Celtic speech over the greater part of Gaul came to
be that of the P rather than the QU type, owing to the influx from the
East and Northeast of an overflow from the Rhine valley of tribes
speaking that dialect; a dialect which, by force of conquest and culture,
tended to spread farther and farther West.  Into Britain, too, as time
went on, the P type of Celtic was carried, and has survived in Welsh and
Cornish, the remnants of the tongue of ancient Britain.  We know, too,
from the name Eporedia (Yvrea), that this dialect of Celtic must have
spread into Cisalpine Gaul.  The latter district may have received its
first Celtic invaders direct from the Danube valley, as M. Alexandre
Bertrand held, but it would be rash to assume that all its invaders came
from that direction.  In connection, however, with the history of Celtic
religion it is not the spread of the varying types of Celtic dialect that
is important, but the changes in the civilisation of Gaul and Britain,
which reacted on religious ideas or which introduced new factors into the
religious development of these lands.

The predatory expeditions and wars of conquest of military Celtic tribes
in search for new homes for their superfluous populations brought into
prominence the deities of war, as was the case also with the ancient
Romans, themselves an agricultural and at the same time a predatory race.
The prominence of war in Celtic tribal life at one stage has left us the
names of a large number of deities that were identified with Mars and
Bellona, though all the war-gods were not originally such.  In the Roman
calendar there is abundant evidence that Mars was at one time an
agricultural god as well as a god of war.  The same, as will be shown
later, was the probable history of some of the Celtic deities, who were
identified in Roman times with Mars and Bellona.  Caesar tells us that
Mars had at one time been the chief god of the Gauls, and that in Germany
that was still the case.  In Britain, also, we find that there were
several deities identified with Mars, notably Belatucadrus and Cocidius,
and this, too, points in the direction of a development of religion under
military influence.  The Gauls appear to have made great strides in
military matters and in material civilisation during the Iron Age.  The
culture of the Early Iron Age of Hallstatt had been developed in Gaul on
characteristic lines of its own, resulting in the form now known as the
La Tene or Marnian type.  This type derives it name from the striking
specimens of it that were discovered at La Tene on the shore of Lake
Neuchatel, and in the extensive cemeteries of the Marne valley, the
burials of which cover a period of from 350-200 B.C.  It was during the
third century B.C. that this characteristic culture of Gaul reached its
zenith, and gave definite shape to the beautiful curved designs known as
those of Late-Celtic Art.  Iron appears to have been introduced into
Britain about 300 B.C., and the designs of Late-Celtic Art are here
represented best of all.  Excellent specimens of Late-Celtic culture have
been found in Yorkshire and elsewhere, and important links with
continental developments have been discovered at Aylesford, Aesica,
Limavady, and other places.  Into the development of this typical Gaulish
culture elements are believed to have entered by way of the important
commercial avenue of the Rhone valley from Massilia (Marseilles), from
Greece (_via_ Venetia), and possibly from Etruria.  Prehistoric
archaeology affords abundant proofs that, in countries of Celtic speech,
metal-working in bronze, iron, and gold reached a remarkably high pitch
of perfection, and this is a clear indication that Celtic countries and
districts which were on the line of trade routes, like the Rhone valley,
had attained to a material civilisation of no mean character before the
Roman conquest.  In Britain, too, the districts that were in touch with
continental commerce had, as Caesar tells us, also developed in the same
direction.  The religious counterpart of this development in civilisation
is the growth in many parts of Gaul, as attested by Caesar and by many
inscriptions and place-names, of the worship of gods identified with
Mercury and Minerva, the deities of civilisation and commerce.  It is no
accident that one of the districts most conspicuous for this worship was
the territory of the Allobrogic confederation, where the commerce of the
Rhone valley found its most remarkable development.  From this sketch of
Celtic civilisation it will readily be seen how here as elsewhere the
religious development of the Celts stood closely related to the
development of their civilisation generally.  It must be borne in mind,
however, that all parts of the Celtic world were not equally affected by
the material development in question.  Part of the complexity of the
history of Celtic religion arises from the fact that we cannot be always
certain of the degree of progress in civilisation which any given
district had made, of the ideas which pervaded it, or of the absorbing
interests of its life.  Another difficulty, too, is that the accounts of
Celtic religion given by ancient authorities do not always harmonise with
the indisputable evidence of inscriptions.  The probability is that the
religious practices of the Celtic world were no more homogeneous than its
general civilisation, and that the ancient authorities are substantially
true in their statements about certain districts, certain periods, or
certain sections of society, while the inscriptions, springing as they do
from the influence of the Gallo-Roman civilisation, especially of Eastern
Gaul and military Britain, give us most valuable supplementary evidence
for districts and environments of a different kind.  The inscriptions,
especially by the names of deities which they reveal, have afforded most
valuable clues to the history of Celtic religion, even in stages of
civilisation earlier than those to which they themselves belong.  In the
next chapter the correlation of Celtic religious ideas to the stages of
Celtic civilisation will be further developed.


In dealing with the long vista of prehistoric time, it is very difficult
for us, in our effort after perspective, not to shorten unduly in our
thoughts the vast epochs of its duration.  We tend, too, to forget, that
in these unnumbered millennia there was ample time for it to be possible
over certain areas of Europe to evolve what were practically new races,
through the prepotency of particular stocks and the annihilation of
others.  During these epochs, again, after speech had arisen, there was
time enough to recast completely many a language, for before the dawn of
history language was no more free from change than it is now, and in
these immense epochs whatever ideas as to the world of their surroundings
were vaguely felt by prehistoric men and formulated for them by their
kinsmen of genius, had abundant time in which to die or to win supremacy.
There must have been aeons before the dawn even of conscious animism, and
the experiment of trying sympathetic magic was, when first attempted,
probably regarded as a master-stroke of genius.  The Stone Age itself was
a long era of great if slow progress in civilisation, and the evolution
of the practices and ideas which emerge as the concomitants of its
agricultural stage, when closely regarded, bear testimony to the mind's
capacity for religious progress in the light of experience and
intelligent experiment, and at the same time to the errors into which it
fell.  The Stone Age has left its sediment in all the folk-lore of the
world.  To the casual observer many of the ideas embedded in it may seem
a mass of error, and so they are when judged unhistorically, but when
viewed critically, and at the same time historically, they afford many
glimpses of prehistoric genius in a world where life was of necessity a
great experiment.  The folk-lore of the world reveals for the same stages
of civilisation a wonderful uniformity and homogeneity, as Dr. J. G.
Frazer has abundantly shown in his _Golden Bough_.  This uniformity is
not, however, due to necessary uniformity of origin, but to a great
extent to the fact that it represents the state of equilibrium arrived at
between minds at a certain level and their environment, along lines of
thought directed by the momentum given by the traditions of millennia,
and the survival in history of the men who carefully regarded them.  The
apparently unreasoned prohibitions often known as 'taboos,' many of which
still persist even in modern civilised life, have their roots in ideas
and experiences which no speculation of ours can now completely fathom,
however much we may guess at their origin.  Many of these ancient
prohibitions have vanished under new conditions, others have often
survived from a real or supposed harmony with new experiences, that have
arisen in the course of man's history.  After passing through a stage
when he was too preoccupied with his material cares and wants to consider
whether he was haunted or not, early man in the Celtic world as
elsewhere, after long epochs of vague unrest, came to realise that he was
somehow haunted in the daytime as well as at night, and it was this sense
of being haunted that impelled his intellect and his imagination to seek
some explanation of his feelings.  Primitive man came to seek a solution
not of the Universe as a whole (for of this he had no conception), but of
the local Universe, in which he played a part.  In dealing with Celtic
folk-lore, it is very remarkable how it mirrors the characteristic local
colouring and scenery of the districts in which it has originated.  In a
country like Wales, for example, it is the folk-lore of springs, caves,
mountains, lakes, islands, and the forms of its imagination, here as
elsewhere, reflect unmistakably the land of its origin.  Where it depicts
an 'other world,' that 'other world' is either on an island or it is a
land beneath the sea, a lake, or a river, or it is approachable only
through some cave or opening in the earth.  In the hunting-grounds of the
Celtic world the primitive hunter knew every cranny of the greater part
of his environment with the accuracy born of long familiarity, but there
were some peaks which he could not scale, some caves which he could not
penetrate, some jungles into which he could not enter, and in these he
knew not what monsters might lurk or unknown beings might live.  In
Celtic folk-lore the belief in fabulous monsters has not yet ceased.  Man
was surrounded by dangers visible and invisible, and the time came when
some prehistoric man of genius propounded the view that all the objects
around him were no less living than himself.  This animistic view of the
world, once adopted, made great headway from the various centres where it
originated, and man derived from it a new sense of kinship with his
world, but also new terrors from it.  Knowing from the experience of
dreams that he himself seemed able to wander away from himself, he
thought in course of time that other living things were somehow double,
and the world around him came to be occupied, not merely with things that
were alive, but with other selves of these things, that could remain in
them or leave them at will.  Here, again, this new prehistoric philosophy
gave an added interest to life, but it was none the less a source of
fresh terrors.  The world swarmed with invisible spirits, some friendly,
some hostile, and, in view of these beings, life had to be regulated by
strict rules of actions and prohibitions.  Even in the neolithic stage
the inhabitants of Celtic countries had attained to the religious ideas
in question, as is seen not only by their folk-lore and by the names of
groups of goddesses such as the Matres (or mothers), but by the fact that
in historic times they had advanced well beyond this stage to that of
named and individualised gods.  As in all countries where the gods were
individualised, the men of Celtic lands, whether aborigines or invaders,
had toiled along the steep ascent from the primitive vague sense of being
haunted to a belief in gods who, like Esus, Teutates, Grannos, Bormanus,
Litavis, had names of a definite character.

Among the prohibitions which had established themselves among the races
of Celtic lands, as elsewhere, was that directed against the shedding of
the blood of one's own kin.  There are indications, too, that some at any
rate of the tribes inhabiting these countries reckoned kinship through
the mother, as in fact continued to be the case among the Picts of
Scotland into historic times.  It does not follow, as we know from other
countries, that the pre-Aryan tribes of Gaul and Britain, or indeed the
Aryan tribes themselves in their earliest stage, regarded their original
ancestors as human.  Certain names of deities such as Tarvos (the bull),
Moccos (the pig), Epona (the goddess of horses), Damona (the goddess of
cattle), Mullo (the ass), as well as the fact that the ancient Britons,
according to Caesar, preserved the hen, the goose, and the hare, but did
not kill and eat them, all point to the fact that in these countries as
elsewhere certain animals were held in supreme respect and were carefully
guarded from harm.  Judging from the analogy of kindred phenomena in
other countries, the practice of respecting certain animals was often
associated with the belief that all the members of certain clans were
descended from one or other of them, but how far this system was
elaborated in the Celtic world it is hard to say.  This phenomenon, which
is widely known as totemism, appears to be suggested by the prominence
given to the wild boar on Celtic coins and ensigns, and by the place
assigned on some inscriptions and bas-reliefs to the figure of a horned
snake as well as by the effigies of other animals that have been
discovered.  It is not easy to explain the beginnings of totemism in Gaul
or elsewhere, but it should always be borne in mind that early man could
not regard it as an axiomatic truth that he was the superior of every
other animal.  To reach that proud consciousness is a very high step in
the development of the human perspective, and it is to the credit of the
Celts that, when we know them in historic times, they appear to have
attained to this height, inasmuch as the human form is given to their
deities.  It is not always remembered how great a step in religious
evolution is implied when the gods are clothed with human attributes.  M.
Salomon Reinach, in his account of the vestiges of totemism among the
Celts, suggests that totemism was merely the hypertrophy of early man's
social sense, which extended from man to the animals around him.  This
may possibly be the case, but it is not improbable that man also thought
to discover in certain animals much-needed allies against some of the
visible and invisible enemies that beset him.  In his conflict with the
malign powers around him, he might well have regarded certain animals as
being in some respects stronger combatants against those powers than
himself; and where they were not physically stronger, some of them, like
the snake, had a cunning and a subtlety that seemed far to surpass his
own.  In course of time certain bodies of men came to regard themselves
as being in special alliance with some one animal, and as being descended
from that animal as their common ancestor.  The existence side by side of
various tribes, each with its definite totem, has not yet been fully
proved for the Gaulish system, and may well have been a developed social
arrangement that was not an essential part of such a mode of thought in
its primary forms.  The place of animal-worship in the Celtic religion
will be more fully considered in a later chapter.  Here it is only
indicated as a necessary stage in relation to man's civilisation in the
hunting and the pastoral stages, which had to be passed through before
the historic deities of Gaul and Britain in Roman times could have come
into being.  Certain of the divine names of the historic period, like
Artio (the bear-goddess), Moccus (the pig), Epona (the mare), and Damona
(the sheep), bear the unmistakable impress of having been at one time
those of animals.

As for the stage of civilisation at which totemism originated, there is
much difference of opinion.  The stage of mind which it implies would
suggest that it reflects a time when man's mind was preoccupied with wild
beasts, and when the alliances and friendships, which he would value in
life, might be found in that sphere.  There is much plausibility in the
view put forward by M. Salomon Reinach, that the domestication of animals
itself implies a totemistic habit of thought, and the consequent
protection of these animals by means of taboos from harm and death.  It
may well be that, after all, the usefulness of domestic animals from a
material point of view was only a secondary consideration for man, and a
happy discovery after unsuccessful totemistic attentions to other
animals.  We know not how many creatures early man tried to associate
with himself but failed.

In all stages of man's history the alternation of the seasons must have
brought some rudiments of order and system into his thoughts, though for
a long time he was too preoccupied to reflect upon the regularly
recurring vicissitudes of his life.  In the pastoral stage, the sense of
order came to be more marked than in that of hunting, and quickened the
mind to fresh thought.  The earth came to be regarded as the Mother from
whom all things came, and there are abundant indications that the earth
as the Mother, the Queen, the Long-lived one, etc., found her natural
place as a goddess among the Celts.  Her names and titles were probably
not in all places or in all tribes the same.  But it is in the
agricultural stage that she entered in Celtic lands, as she did in other
countries, into her completest religious heritage, and this aspect of
Celtic religion will be dealt with more fully in connection with the
spirits of vegetation.  This phase of religion in Celtic countries is one
which appears to underlie some of its most characteristic forms, and the
one which has survived longest in Celtic folk-lore.  The Earth-mother
with her progeny of spirits, of springs, rivers, mountains, forests,
trees, and corn, appears to have supplied most of the grouped and
individualised gods of the Celtic pantheon.  The Dis, of whom Caesar
speaks as the ancient god of the Gauls, was probably regarded as her son,
to whom the dead returned in death.  Whether he is the Gaulish god
depicted with a hammer, or as a huge dog swallowing the dead, has not yet
been established with any degree of certainty.


Like other religions, those of the Celtic lands of Europe supplemented
the earlier animism by a belief in spirits, who belonged to trees,
animals, rocks, mountains, springs, rivers, and other natural phenomena,
and in folk-lore there still survives abundant evidence that the Celt
regarded spirits as taking upon themselves a variety of forms, animal and
human.  It was this idea of spirits in animal form that helped to
preserve the memory of the older totemism into historic times.  It is
thus that we have names of the type of Brannogenos (son of the raven),
Artogenos (son of the bear), and the like, not to speak of simpler names
like Bran (raven), March (horse), surviving into historic times.  Bronze
images, too, have been found at Neuvy-en-Sullias, of a horse and a stag
(now in the Orleans museum), provided with rings, which were, as M.
Salomon Reinach suggests, probably used for the purpose of carrying these
images in procession.  The wild boar, too, was a favourite emblem of
Gaul, and there is extant a bronze figure of a Celtic Diana riding on a
boar's back.  At Bolar, near Nuits, there was discovered a bronze mule.
In the museum at Mayence is a bas-relief of the goddess of horses, Epona
(from the Gaulish _Epos_=Lat. _equus_, horse), riding on horseback.  One
of the most important monuments of this kind is a figure of Artio, the
bear-goddess (from Celtic _Artos_, a bear), found at Muri near Berne.  In
front of her stood a figure of a bear, which was also found with her.  The
bull of the Tarvos Trigaranos bas-relief of Notre Dame was also in all
likelihood originally a totem, and similarly the horned serpents of other
bas-reliefs, as well as the boar found on Gaulish ensigns and coins,
especially in Belgic territory.  There is a representation, too, of a
raven on a bas-relief at Compiegne.  The name 'Moccus,' which is
identified with Mercury, on inscriptions, and which is found inscribed at
Langres, Trobaso, the valley of the Ossola and the Borgo san Dalmazzo, is
undoubtedly the philological equivalent of the Welsh _moch_ (swine).  In
Britain, too, the boar is frequently found on the coins of the Iceni and
other tribes.  In Italy, according to Mr. Warde Fowler, the pig was an
appropriate offering to deities of the earth, so that in the widespread
use of the pig as a symbol in the Celtic world, there may be some ancient
echo of a connection between it and the earth-spirit.  Its diet of
acorns, too, may have marked it out, in the early days of life in forest-
clearings, as the animal embodiment of the oak-spirit.  In the legends of
the Celtic races, even in historic times, the pig, and especially the
boar, finds an honoured place.  In addition to the animals
aforementioned, the ass, too, was probably at one time venerated in one
of the districts of Gaul, and it is not improbable that Mullo, the name
of a god identified with Mars and regarded as the patron of muleteers,
mentioned on inscriptions (at Nantes, Craon, and Les Provencheres near
Craon), meant originally 'an ass.'  The goddess Epona, also, whose
worship was widely spread, was probably at one time an animal goddess in
the form of a mare, and the name of another goddess, Damona, either from
the root _dam_=Ir. _dam_, (ox); or Welsh _daf-ad_ (sheep), may similarly
be that of an ancient totem sheep or cow.  Nor was it in the animal world
alone that the Celts saw indications of the divine.  While the chase and
the pastoral life concentrated the mind's attention on the life of
animals, the growth of agriculture fixed man's thoughts on the life of
the earth, and all that grew upon it, while at the same time he was led
to think more and more of the mysterious world beneath the earth, from
which all things came and to which all things returned.  Nor could he
forget the trees of the forest, especially those which, like the oak, had
provided him with their fruit as food in time of need.  The name Druid,
as well as that of the centre of worship of the Gauls of Asia Minor,
Drunemeton (the oak-grove), the statement of Maximus of Tyre that the
representation of Zeus to the Celts was a high oak, Pliny's account of
Druidism (_Nat. Hist_., xvi. 95), the numerous inscriptions to Silvanus
and Silvana, the mention of Dervones or Dervonnae on an inscription at
Cavalzesio near Brescia, and the abundant evidence of survivals in folk-
lore as collected by Dr. J. G. Frazer and others, all point to the fact
that tree-worship, and especially that of the oak, had contributed its
full share to the development of Celtic religion, at any rate in some
districts and in some epochs.  The development of martial and commercial
civilisation in later times tended to restrict its typical and more
primitive developments to the more conservative parts of the Celtic
world.  The fact that in Caesar's time its main centre in Gaul was in the
territory of the Carnutes, the tribe which has given its name to
Chartres, suggests that its chief votaries were mainly in that part of
the country.  This, too, was the district of the god Esus (the eponymous
god of the Essuvii), and in some degree of Teutates, the cruelty of whose
rites is mentioned by Lucan.  It had occurred to the present writer,
before finding the same view expressed by M. Salomon Reinach, that the
worship of Esus in Gaul was almost entirely local in character.  With
regard to the rites of the Druids, Caesar tells us that it was customary
to make huge images of wickerwork, into which human beings, usually
criminals, were placed and burnt.  The use of wickerwork, and the
suggestion that the rite was for purifying the land, indicates a
combination of the ideas of tree-worship with those of early agricultural
life.  When the Emperor Claudius is said by Suetonius to have suppressed
Druidism, what is meant is, in all probability, that the more inhuman
rites were suppressed, leading, as the Scholiasts on Lucan seem to
suggest, to a substitution of animal victims for men.  On the side of
civil administration and education, the functions of the Druids, as the
successors of the primitive medicine men and magicians, doubtless varied
greatly in different parts of Gaul and Britain according to the progress
that had been made in the differentiation of functions in social life.
The more we investigate the state of the Celtic world in ancient times,
the clearer it becomes, that in civilisation it was very far from being
homogeneous, and this heterogeneity of civilisation must have had its
influence on religion as well as on other social phenomena.  The natural
conservatism of agricultural life, too, perpetuated many practices even
into comparatively late times, and of these we catch a glimpse in Gregory
of Tours, when he tells us that at Autun the goddess Berecyntia was
worshipped, her image being carried on a wagon for the protection of the
fields and the vines.  It is not impossible that by Berecyntia Gregory
means the goddess Brigindu, whose name occurs on an inscription at Volnay
in the same district of Gaul.  The belief in corn-spirits, and other
ideas connected with the central thought of the farmer's life, show, by
their persistence in Celtic as well as other folklore, how deeply they
had entered into the inner tissue of the agricultural mind, so as to be
linked to its keenest emotions.  Here the rites of religion, whether
persuasive as in prayer, or compulsory as in sympathetic magic, whether
associated with communal or propitiatory sacrifice, whether directed to
the earth or to the heaven, all had an intensely practical and terribly
real character, due to man's constant preoccupation with the growth and
storage of food for man and beast.  In the hunting, the pastoral, and
above all in the agricultural life, religion was not a matter merely of
imagination or sentiment, but one most intimately associated with the
daily practice of life, and this practical interest included in its
purview rivers, springs, forests, mountains, and all the setting of man's
existence.  And what is true of agriculture is true also, in a greater or
less degree, of the life of the Celtic metal-worker or the Celtic sailor.
Even in late Welsh legend Amaethon (old Celtic _Ambactonos_), the patron
god of farming (Welsh _Amaeth_), and Gofannon, the patron god of the
metal-worker (Welsh _gof_, Irish _gobha_), were not quite forgotten, and
the prominence of the worship of the counterparts of Mercury and Minerva
in Gaul in historic times was due to the sense of respect and gratitude,
which each trade and each locality felt for the deity who had rid the
land of monsters, and who had brought man into the comparative calm of
civilised life.


One of the most striking facts connected with the Celtic religion is the
large number of names of deities which it includes.  These names are
known to us almost entirely from inscriptions, for the most part votive
tablets, in acknowledgment of some benefit, usually that of health,
conferred by the god on man.  In Britain these votive tablets are chiefly
found in the neighbourhood of the Roman walls and camps, but we cannot be
always certain that the deities mentioned are indigenous.  In Gaul,
however, we are on surer ground in associating certain deities with
certain districts, inasmuch as the evidence of place-names is often a
guide.  These inscriptions are very unevenly distributed over Gaulish
territory, the Western and the North-Western districts being very
sparsely represented.

In the present brief sketch it is impossible to enter into a full
discussion of the relations of the names found on inscriptions to
particular localities, and the light thus thrown on Celtic religion; but
it may be here stated that investigation tends to confirm the local
character of most of the deities which the inscriptions name.  Out of
these deities, some, it is true, in the process of evolution, gained a
wider field of worshippers, while others, like Lugus, may even have been
at one time more widely worshipped than they came to be in later times.
Occasionally a name like Lugus (Irish _Lug_), Segomo (Irish, in the
genitive, _Segamonas_), Camulos, whence Camulodunum (Colchester), Belenos
(Welsh _Belyn_), Maponos (Welsh _Mabon_), Litavis (Welsh _Llydaw_), by
its existence in Britain as well as in Gaul, suggests that it was either
one of the ancient deities of the Aryan Celts, or one whose worship came
to extend over a larger area than its fellows.  Apart from a few
exceptional considerations of this kind, however, the local character of
the deities is most marked.

A very considerable number are the deities of springs and rivers.  In
Noricum, for example, we have Adsalluta, a goddess associated with Savus
(the river Save).  In Britain 'the goddess' Deva (the Dee), and Belisama
(either the Ribble or the Mersey), a name meaning 'the most warlike
goddess,' are of this type.  We have again Axona the goddess of the river
Aisne, Sequana, the goddess of the Seine, Ritona of the river Rieu,
numerous nymphs and many other deities of fountains.  Doubtless many
other names of local deities are of this kind.  Aerial phenomena appear
to have left very few clear traces on the names of Celtic deities.
Vintios, a god identified with Mars, was probably a god of the wind,
Taranucus, a god of thunder, Leucetios, a god of lightning, Sulis (of
Bath) a sun-goddess, but beyond these there are few, if any, reflections
of the phenomena of the heavens.  Of the gods named on inscriptions
nearly all are identified with Mercury, Mars, or Apollo.  The gods who
came to be regarded as culture-deities appear from their names to be of
various origins: some are humanised totems, others are in origin deities
of vegetation or local natural phenomena.  As already indicated, it is
clear that the growth of commercial and civilised life in certain
districts had brought into prominence deities identified with Mercury and
Minerva as the patrons of civilisation.  Military men, especially in
Britain, appear to have favoured deities like Belatucadros (the brilliant
in war), identified with Mars.

About fourteen inscriptions mentioning him have been found in the North
of England and the South of Scotland.  The goddess Brigantia (the patron-
deity of the Brigantes), too, is mentioned on four inscriptions:
Cocidius, identified with Mars, is mentioned on thirteen: while another
popular god appears to have been Silvanus.  Among the most noticeable
names of the Celtic gods identified with Mercury are Adsmerius or
Atesmerius, Dumiatis (the god of the Puy de Dome), Iovantucarus (the
lover of youth), Teutates (the god of the people), Caletos (the hard),
and Moccus (the boar).  Several deities are identified with Mars, and of
these some of the most noticeable names are Albiorix (world-king),
Caturix (battle-king), Dunatis (the god of the fort), Belatucadrus (the
brilliant in war), Leucetius (the god of lightning), Mullo (the mule),
Ollovidius (the all-knowing) Vintius (the wind-god), and Vitucadrus (the
brilliant in energy).  The large number of names identified with Mars
reflects the prominent place at one time given to war in the ideas that
affected the growth of the religion of the Celtic tribes.  Of the gods
identified with Hercules, the most interesting name is Ogmios (the god of
the furrow) given by Lucian, but not found on any inscription.  The
following gods too, among others, are identified with Jupiter: Aramo (the
gentle), Ambisagrus (the persistent), Bussumarus (the large-lipped),
Taranucus (the thunderer), Uxellimus (the highest).  It would seem from
this that in historic times at any rate Jupiter did not play a large part
in Celtic religious ideas.

There remains another striking feature of Celtic religion which has not
yet been mentioned, namely the identification of several deities with
Apollo.  These deities are essentially the presiding deities of certain
healing-springs and health-resorts, and the growth of their worship into
popularity is a further striking index to the development of religion
side by side with certain aspects of civilisation.  One of the names of a
Celtic Apollo is Borvo (whence Bourbon), the deity of certain hot
springs.  This name is Indo-European, and was given to the local fountain-
god by the Celtic-speaking invaders of Gaul: it simply means 'the
Boiler.'  Other forms of the name are also found, as Bormo and Bormanus.
At Aquae Granni (Aix-la-Chapelle) and elsewhere the name identified with
Apollo is Grannos.  We find also Mogons, and Mogounus, the patron deity
of Moguntiacum (Mainz), and, once or twice, Maponos (the great youth).
The essential feature of the Apollo worship was its association in Gallo-
Roman civilisation with the idea of healing, an idea which, through the
revival of the worship of AEsculapius, affected religious views very
strongly in other quarters of the empire.  It was in this conception of
the gods as the guides of civilisation and the restorers of health, that
Celtic religion, in some districts at any rate, shows itself emerging
into a measure of light after a long and toilsome progress from the
darkness of prehistoric ideas.  What Caesar says of the practice of the
Gauls of beginning the year with the night rather than with the day, and
their ancient belief that they were sprung from Dis, the god of the lower
world, is thus typified in their religious history.

In dealing with the deities of the Celtic world we must not, however,
forget the goddesses, though their history presents several problems of
great difficulty.  Of these goddesses some are known to us by
groups--Proximae (the kinswomen), Dervonnae (the oak-spirits), Niskai
(the water-sprites), Mairae, Matronae, Matres or Matrae (the mothers),
Quadriviae (the goddesses of cross roads).  The Matres, Matrae, and
Matronae are often qualified by some local name.  Deities of this type
appear to have been popular in Britain, in the neighbourhood of Cologne
and in Provence.  In some cases it is uncertain whether some of these
grouped goddesses are Celtic or Teutonic.  It is an interesting parallel
to the existence of these grouped goddesses, when we find that in some
parts of Wales 'Y Mamau' (the mothers) is the name for the fairies.  These
grouped goddesses take us back to one of the most interesting stages in
the early Celtic religion, when the earth-spirits or the corn-spirits had
not yet been completely individualised.  Of the individualised goddesses
many are strictly local, being the names of springs or rivers.  Others,
again, appear to have emerged into greater individual prominence, and of
these we find several associated on inscriptions, sometimes with a god of
Celtic name, but sometimes with his Latin counterpart.  It is by no means
certain that the names so linked together were thus associated in early
times, and the fashion may have been a later one, which, like other
fashions, spread after it had once begun.  The relationship in some cases
may have been regarded as that of mother and son, in others that of
brother and sister, in others that of husband and wife, the data are not
adequate for the final decision of the question.  Of these associated
pairs the following may be noted, Mercurius and Rosmerta, Mercurius and
Dirona, Grannus (Apollo) and Sirona, Sucellus and Nantosvelta, Borvo and
Damona, Cicolluis (Mars) and Litavis, Bormanus and Bormana, Savus and
Adsalluta, Mars and Nemetona.  One of these names, Sirona, probably meant
the long-lived one, and was applied to the earth-mother.  In Welsh one or
two names have survived which, by their structure, appear to have been
ancient names of goddesses; these are Rhiannon (Rigantona, the great
queen), and Modron (Matrona, the great mother).  The other British
deities will be more fully treated by another writer in this series in a
work on the ancient mythology of the British Isles.  It is enough to say
that research tends more and more to confirm the view that the key to the
history of the Celtic deities is the realisation of the local character
of the vast majority of them.


No name in connection with Celtic religion is more familiar to the
average reader than that of the Druids, yet there is no section of the
history of Celtic religion that has given rise to greater discussion than
that relating to this order.  Even the association of the name with the
Indo-European root _dru_-, which we find in the Greek word _drus_, an
oak, has been questioned by such a competent Celtic scholar as M.
d'Arbois de Jubainville, but on this point it cannot be said that his
criticism is conclusive.  The writers of the ancient world who refer to
the Druids, do not always make it sufficiently clear in what districts
the rites, ceremonies, and functions which they were describing
prevailed.  Nor was it so much the priestly character of the Druids that
produced the deepest impression on the ancients.  To some philosophical
and theological writers of antiquity their doctrines and their apparent
affinities with Pythagoreanism were of much greater interest than their
ceremonial or other functions.  One thing at any rate is clear, that the
Druids and their doctrines, or supposed doctrines, had made a deep
impression on the writers of the ancient world.  There is a reference to
them in a fragment of Aristotle (which may not, however, be genuine) that
is of interest as assigning them a place in express terms both among the
Celts and the Galatae.  The prominent feature of their teaching which had
attracted the attention of other writers, such as the historian Diodorus
Siculus and the Christian theologian Clement of Alexandria, was the
resemblance of their doctrine concerning the immortality and
transmigration of the soul to the views of Pythagoras.  Ancient writers,
however, did not always remember that a religious or philosophical
doctrine must not be treated as a thing apart, but must be interpreted in
its whole context in relation to its development in history and in the
social life of the community in which it has flourished.  To some of the
ancients the superficial resemblance between the Druidic doctrine of the
soul's future and the teaching attributed to Pythagoras was the essential
point, and this was enough to give the Druids a reputation for
philosophy, so that a writer like Clement of Alexandria goes so far as to
regard the Druids of the 'Galatae' along with the prophets of the
Egyptians, the 'Chaldaeans' of the Assyrians, the 'philosophers of the
Celts,' and the Magi of the Persians as the pioneers of philosophy among
the barbarians before it spread to the Greeks.  The reason for the
distinction drawn in this passage between the 'Druids of the Galatae' and
'the philosophers of the Celts' is not clear.  Diodorus Siculus calls
attention to the Druidic doctrine that the souls of men were immortal,
and that after the lapse of an appointed number of years they came to
life again, the soul then entering into another body.  He says that there
were certain 'philosophers and theologians' that were called Druids who
were held in exceptional honour.  In addition to these, the Celts, he
says, had also seers, who foretold the future from the flight of birds
and by means of the offering of sacrifices.  According to him it was
these priestly seers who had the masses in subjection to them.  In great
affairs they had, he says, the practice of divination by the slaughter of
a human victim, and the observation of the attitude in which he fell, the
contortions of the limbs, the spurting of the blood, and the like.  This,
he states, was an ancient and established practice.  Moreover, it was the
custom, according to Diodorus, to make no sacrifice without the presence
of a philosopher (apparently a Druid in addition to the sacrificing
seer), the theory being that those who were authorities on the divine
nature were to the gods intelligible mediators for the offering of gifts
and the presentation of petitions.  These philosophers were in great
request, together with their poets, in war as well as in peace, and were
consulted not merely by the men of their own side, but also by those of
the enemy.  Even when two armies were on the point of joining battle,
these philosophers had been able, Diodorus says, to step into the space
between them and to stop them from fighting, exactly as if they had
charmed wild beasts.  The moral which Diodorus draws from this is, that
even among the wildest of barbarians the spirited principle of the soul
yields to wisdom, and that Ares (the god of war) even there respects the
Muses.  It is clear from this account that Diodorus had in mind the three
classes of non-military professional men among the Celts, to whom other
ancient writers also refer, namely, the Bards, the Seers, and the Druids.
His narrative is apparently an expansion, in the light of his reading and
philosophical meditation, of information supplied by previous writers,
notably Posidonius.  The latter, too, appears to have been Julius Caesar's
chief authority, in addition to his own observation, but Caesar does not
appear expressly to indicate the triple division here in question.  The
account which he gives is important, and would be even more valuable than
it is had he told us how far what he describes was written from his own
personal information, and the degree of variation (if any) of religious
practice in different districts.  However, Caesar's statements deserve
the closest consideration.  After calling attention to the division of
the Gaulish aristocracy into two main sections, the Druids and the
Knights, he proceeds to speak of the Druids.  These were occupied, he
says, with religious matters, they attended to public and private
sacrifices, and interpreted omens.  Moreover, they were the teachers of
the country.  To them the young men congregated for knowledge, and the
pupils held their teachers in great respect.  They, too, were the judges
in public and private disputes: it was they who awarded damages and
penalties.  Any contumacy in reference to their judgments was punished by
exclusion from the sacrifices.  This sentence of excommunication was the
severest punishment among the Gauls.  The men so punished were treated as
outlaws, and cut off from all human society, with its rights and
privileges.  Over these Druids there was one head, who wielded the
highest influence among them.  On his death the nearest of the others in
dignity succeeded him, or, if several were equal, the election of a
successor was made by the vote of the Druids.  Sometimes the primacy was
not decided without the arbitrament of arms.  The Druids met at a fixed
time of the year in a consecrated spot in the territory of the Carnutes,
the district which was regarded as being in the centre of the whole of
Gaul.  This assembly of Druids formed a court for the decision of cases
brought to them from everywhere around.  It was thought, Caesar says,
that the doctrine of the Druids was discovered in Britain and thence
carried over into Gaul.  At that time, too, those who wanted to make a
profounder study of it resorted thither for their training.  The Druids
had immunity from military service and from the payment of tribute.  These
privileges drew many into training for the profession, some of their own
accord, others at the instance of parents and relatives.  While in
training they were said to learn by heart a large number of verses, and
some went so far as to spend twenty years in their course of preparation.
The Druids held it wrong to put their religious teaching in writing,
though, in almost everything else, whether public or private affairs,
they made use of Greek letters.  Caesar thought that they discouraged
writing on the one hand, lest their teaching should become public
property; on the other, lest reliance upon writing should lessen the
cultivation of the memory.  To this risk Caesar could testify from his
own knowledge.  Their cardinal doctrine was that souls did not perish,
but that after death they passed from one person to another; and this
they regarded as a supreme incentive to valour, since, with the prospect
of immortality, the fear of death counted for nothing.  They carried on,
moreover, many discussions about the stars and their motion, the
greatness of the universe and the lands, the nature of things, the
strength and power of the immortal gods, and communicated their knowledge
to their pupils.  In another passage Caesar says that the Gauls as a
people were extremely devoted to religious ideas and practices.  Men who
were seriously ill, who were engaged in war, or who stood in any peril,
offered, or promised to offer, human sacrifices, and made use of the
Druids as their agents for such sacrifices.  Their theory was, that the
immortal gods could not be appeased unless a human life were given for a
human life.  In addition to these private sacrifices, they had also
similar human sacrifices of a public character.  Caesar further contrasts
the Germans with the Gauls, saying that the former had no Druids to
preside over matters of religion, and that they paid no attention to

In his work on divination, Cicero, too, refers to the profession which
the Druids made of natural science, and of the power of foretelling the
future, and instances the case of the AEduan Diviciacus, his brother's
guest and friend.  Nothing is here said by Cicero of the three classes
implied in Diodorus, but Timagenes (quoted in Ammianus) refers to the
three classes under the names 'bardi,' 'euhages' (a mistake for 'vates'),
and 'drasidae' (a mistake for 'druidae').  The study of nature and of the
heavens is here attributed to the second class of seers (vates).  The
highest class, that of the Druids, were, he says, in accordance with the
rule of Pythagoras, closely linked together in confraternities, and by
acquiring a certain loftiness of mind from their investigations into
things that were hidden and exalted, they despised human affairs and
declared the soul immortal.  We see here the view expressed that socially
as well as intellectually the Druids lived according to the Pythagorean
philosophy.  Origen also refers to the view that was prevalent in his
time, that Zamolxis, the servant of Pythagoras, had taught the Druids the
philosophy of Pythagoras.  He further states that the Druids practised
sorcery.  The triple division of the non-military aristocracy is perhaps
best given by Strabo, the Greek geographer, who here follows Posidonius.
The three classes are the Bards, the Seers (ouateis=vates), and Druids.
The Bards were hymn-writers and poets, the Seers sacrificers and men of
science, while the Druids, in addition to natural science, practised also
moral philosophy.  They were regarded as the justest of men, and on this
account were intrusted with the settlement of private and public
disputes.  They had been the means of preventing armies from fighting
when on the very verge of battle, and were especially intrusted with the
judgment of cases involving human life.  According to Strabo, they and
their fellow-countrymen held that souls and the universe were immortal,
but that fire and water would sometime prevail.  Sacrifices were never
made, Strabo says, without the intervention of the Druids.  Pomponius
Mela says that in his time (c. 44 A.D.), though the ancient savagery was
no more, and the Gauls abstained from human sacrifices, some traces of
their former practices still remained, notably in their habit of cutting
a portion of the flesh of those condemned to death after bringing them to
the altars.  The Gauls, he says, in spite of their traces of barbarism,
had an eloquence of their own, and had the Druids as their teachers in
philosophy.  These professed to know the size and form of the earth and
of the universe, the motions of the sky and stars, and the will of the
gods.  He refers, as Caesar does, to their work in education, and says
that it was carried on in caves or in secluded groves.  Mela speaks of
their doctrine of immortality, but says nothing as to the entry of souls
into other bodies.  As a proof of this belief he speaks of the practice
of burning and burying with the dead things appropriate to the needs of
the living.  Lucan, the Latin poet, in his _Pharsalia_, refers to the
seclusion of the Druids' groves and to their doctrine of immortality.  The
Scholiasts' notes on this passage are after the manner of their kind, and
add very little to our knowledge.  In Pliny's _Natural History_ (xvi,
249), however, we seem to be face to face with another, though perhaps a
distorted, tradition.  Pliny was an indefatigable compiler, and appears
partly by reading, partly by personal observation, to have noticed phases
of Celtic religious practices which other writers had overlooked.  In the
first place he calls attention to the veneration in which the Gauls held
the mistletoe and the tree on which it grew, provided that that tree was
the oak.  Hence their predilection for oak groves and their requirement
of oak leaves for all religious rites.  Pliny here remarks on the
consonance of this practice with the etymology of the name Druid as
interpreted even through Greek (the Greek for an oak being _drus_).  Were
not this respect for the oak and for the mistletoe paralleled by numerous
examples of tree and plant-worship given by Dr. Frazer and others, it
might well have been suspected that Pliny was here quoting some writer
who had tried to argue from the etymology of the name Druid.  Another
suspicious circumstance in Pliny's account is his reference to the
serpent's egg composed of snakes rolled together into a ball.  He states
that he himself had seen such an 'egg,' of about the size of an apple.
Pliny, too, states that Tiberius Caesar abolished by a decree of the
Senate the Druids and the kind of seers and physicians the Gauls then
had.  This statement, when read in its context, probably refers to the
prohibition of human sacrifices.  The historian Suetonius, in his account
of the Emperor Claudius, also states that Augustus had prohibited 'the
religion of the Druids' (which, he says, 'was one of fearful savagery')
to Roman citizens, but that Claudius had entirely abolished it.  What is
here also meant, in view of the description given of Druidism, is
doubtless the abolishing of its human sacrifices.  In later Latin writers
there are several references to Druidesses, but these were probably only
sorceresses.  In Irish the name _drui_ (genitive _druad_) meant a
magician, and the word _derwydd_ in mediaeval Welsh was especially used
in reference to the vaticinations which were then popular in Wales.

When we analyse the testimony of ancient writers concerning the Druids,
we see in the first place that to different minds the name connoted
different things.  To Caesar it is the general name for the non-military
professional class, whether priests, seers, teachers, lawyers, or judges.
To others the Druids are pre-eminently the philosophers and teachers of
the Gauls, and are distinguished from the seers designated _vates_.  To
others again, such as Pliny, they were the priests of the oak-ritual,
whence their name was derived.  In view of the variety of grades of
civilisation then co-existing in Gaul and Britain, it is not improbable
that the development of the non-military professional class varied very
considerably in different districts, and that all the aspects of Druidism
which the ancient writers specify found their appropriate places in the
social system of the Celts.  In Gaul and Britain, as elsewhere, the
office of the primitive tribal medicine-man was capable of indefinite
development, and all the forms of its evolution could not have proceeded
_pari passu_ where the sociological conditions found such scope for
variation.  It may well be that the oak and mistletoe ceremonies, for
example, lingered in remote agricultural districts long after they had
ceased to interest men along the main routes of Celtic civilisation.  The
bucolic mind does not readily abandon the practices of millennia.

In addition to the term Druid, we find in Aulus Hirtius' continuation of
Caesar's _Gallic War_ (Bk. viii., c. xxxviii., 2), as well as on two
inscriptions, one at Le-Puy-en-Velay (Dep. Haute-Loire), and the other at
Macon (Dep. Saone-et-Loire), another priestly title, 'gutuater.'  At
Macon the office is that of a 'gutuater Martis,' but of its special
features nothing is known.


In the preceding chapter we have seen that the belief was widely
prevalent among Greek and Roman writers that the Druids taught the
immortality of the soul.  Some of these writers, too, point out the
undoubted fact, attested by Archaeology, that objects which would be
serviceable to the living were buried with the dead, and this was
regarded as a confirmation of the view that the immortality of souls was
to the Celts an object of belief.  The study of Archaeology on the one
hand, and of Comparative Religion on the other, certainly leads to the
conclusion that in the Bronze and the Early Iron Age, and in all
probability in the Stone Age, the idea prevailed that death was not the
end of man.  The holed cromlechs of the later Stone Age were probably
designed for the egress and ingress of souls.  The food and the weapons
that were buried with the dead were thought to be objects of genuine
need.  Roman religion, too, in some of its rites provided means for the
periodical expulsion of hungry and hostile spirits of the dead, and for
their pacification by the offer of food.  A tomb and its adjuncts were
meant not merely for the honour of the dead, but also for the protection
of the living.  A clear line of distinction was drawn between satisfied
and beneficent ghosts like the Manes, and the unsatisfied and hostile
ghosts like the Lemures and Larvae.  To the Celtic mind, when its
analytical powers had come to birth, and man was sufficiently
self-conscious to reflect upon himself, the problem of his own nature
pressed for some solution.  In these solutions the breath, the blood, the
name, the head, and even the hair generally played a part, but these
would not in themselves explain the mysterious phenomena of sleep, of
dreams, of epilepsy, of madness, of disease, of man's shadow and his
reflection, and of man's death.  By long familiarity with the scientific
or quasi-scientific explanations of these things, we find it difficult to
realise fully their constant fascination for early man, who had his
thinkers and philosophies like ourselves.  One very widely accepted
solution of early man in the Celtic world was, that within him there was
another self which could live a life of its own apart from the body, and
which survived even death, burial, and burning.  Sometimes this inner
self was associated with the breath, whence, for example, the Latin
'anima' and the Welsh 'enaid,' both meaning the soul, from the root _an_-,
to breathe.  At other times the term employed for the second self had
reference to man's shadow: the Greek 'skia,' the Latin 'umbra,' the Welsh
'ysgawd,' the English 'shade.'  There are abundant evidences, too, that
the life-principle was frequently regarded as being especially associated
with the blood.  Another tendency, of which Principal Rhys has given
numerous examples in his Welsh folk-lore, was to regard the soul as
capable of taking a visible form, not necessarily human, preferably that
of some winged creature.  In ancient writers there is no information as
to the views prevalent among the Celts regarding the forms or the abodes
of the spirits of the dead, beyond the statement that the Druids taught
the doctrine of their re-birth.  We are thus compelled to look to the
evidence afforded by myth, legend, and folk-lore.  These give fair
indications as to the types of earlier popular belief in these matters,
but it would be a mistake to assume that the ideas embodied in them had
remained entirely unchanged from remote times.  The mind of man at
certain levels is quite capable of evolving new myths and fresh folk-lore
along the lines of its own psychology and its own logic.  The forms which
the soul could take doubtless varied greatly in men's opinions in
different districts and in different mental perspectives, but folk-lore
tends to confirm the view that early man, in the Celtic world as
elsewhere, tended to emphasise his conception of the subtlety and
mobility of the soul as contrasted with the body.  Sooner or later the
primitive philosopher was bound to consider whither the soul went in
dreams or in death.  He may not at first have thought of any other sphere
than that of his own normal life, but other questions, such as the home
of the spirits of vegetation in or under the earth, would suggest, even
if this thought had not occurred to him before, that the spirits of men,
too, had entrance to the world below.  Whether this world was further
pictured in imagination depended largely on the poetic genius of any
given people.  The folk-lore of the Celtic races bears abundant testimony
to their belief that beneath this world there was another.  The 'annwfn'
of the Welsh was distinctly conceived in the folk-lore embodied in
mediaeval poetry as being 'is elfydd' (beneath the world).  In mediaeval
Welsh legend, again, this lower world is regarded as divided into
kingdoms, like this world, and its kings, like Arawn and Hafgan in the
Mabinogi of Pwyll, are represented as being sometimes engaged in
conflict.  From this lower world had come to man some of the blessings of
civilisation, and among them the much prized gift of swine.  The lower
world could be even plundered by enterprising heroes.  Marriages like
that of Pwyll and Rhiannon were possible between the dwellers of the one
world and the other.  The other-world of the Celts does not seem,
however, to have been always pictured as beneath the earth.  Irish and
Welsh legend combine in viewing it at times as situated on distant
islands, and Welsh folk-lore contains several suggestions of another
world situated beneath the waters of a lake, a river, or a sea.  In one
or two passages also of Welsh mediaeval poetry the shades are represented
as wandering in the woods of Caledonia (Coed Celyddon).  This was no
doubt a traditional idea in those families that migrated to Wales in post-
Roman times from Strathclyde.  To those who puzzled over the fate of the
souls of the dead the idea of their re-birth was a very natural solution,
and Mr. Alfred Nutt, in his _Voyage of Bran_, has called attention to the
occurrence of this idea in Irish legend.  It does not follow, however,
that the souls of all men would enjoy the privilege of this re-birth.  As
Mr. Alfred Nutt points out, Irish legend seems to regard this re-birth
only as the privilege of the truly great.  It is of interest to note the
curious persistence of similar ideas as to death and the other-world in
literature written even in Christian times and by monastic scribes.  In
Welsh, in addition to Annwfn, a term which seems to mean the 'Not-world,'
we have other names for the world below, such as 'anghar,' the loveless
place; 'difant,' the unrimmed place (whence the modern Welsh word
'difancoll,' lost for ever); 'affwys,' the abyss; 'affan,' the land
invisible.  The upper-world is sometimes called 'elfydd,' sometimes
'adfant,' the latter term meaning the place whose rim is turned back.
Apparently it implies a picture of the earth as a disc, whose rim or lip
is curved back so as to prevent men from falling over into the 'difant,'
or the rimless place.  In modern Celtic folk-lore the various local other-
worlds are the abodes of fairies, and in these traditions there may
possibly be, as Principal Rhys has suggested, some intermixture of
reminiscences of the earlier inhabitants of the various districts.  Modern
folk-lore, like mediaeval legend, has its stories of the inter-marriages
of natives of this world with those of the other-world, often located
underneath a lake.  The curious reader will find several examples of such
stories in Principal Rhys's collection of Welsh and Manx folk-lore.  In
Irish legend one of the most classical of these stories is that of the
betrothal of Etain, a story which has several points of contact with the
narrative of the meeting of Pwyll and Rhiannon in the Welsh Mabinogi.  The
name of Arthur's wife, Gwenhwyfar, which means 'the White Spectre,' also
suggests that originally she too played a part in a story of the same
kind.  In all these and similar narratives, it is important to note the
way in which the Celtic conceptions of the other-world, in Britain and in
Ireland, have been coloured by the geographical aspects of these two
countries, by their seas, their islands, their caves, their mounds, their
lakes, and their mountains.  The local other-worlds of these lands bear,
as we might have expected, the clear impress of their origin.  On the
whole the conceptions of the other-world which we meet in Celtic legend
are joyous; it is a land of youth and beauty.  Cuchulainn, the Irish
hero, for example, is brought in a boat to an exceedingly fair island
round which there is a silver wall and a bronze palisade.  In one Welsh
legend the cauldron of the Head of Annwfn has around it a rim of pearls.
One Irish story has a naive description of the glories of the Celtic
Elysium in the words--'Admirable was that land: there are three trees
there always bearing fruit, one pig always alive, and another ready
cooked.'  Occasionally, however, we find a different picture.  In the
Welsh poem called 'Y Gododin' the poet Aneirin is represented as
expressing his gratitude at being rescued by the son of Llywarch Hen from
'the cruel prison of the earth, from the abode of death, from the
loveless land.'  The salient features, therefore, of the Celtic
conceptions of the other-world are their consonance with the suggestions
made by Celtic scenery to the Celtic imagination, the vagueness and
variability of these conceptions in different minds and in different
moods, the absence of any ethical considerations beyond the incentive
given to bravery by the thought of immortality, and the remarkable
development of a sense of possible inter-relations between the two
worlds, whether pacific or hostile.  Such conceptions, as we see from
Celtic legend, proved an admirable stimulus and provided excellent
material for the development of Celtic narrative, and the weird and
romantic effect was further heightened by the general belief in the
possibilities of magic and metamorphosis.  Moreover, the association with
innumerable place-names of legends of this type gave the beautiful
scenery of Celtic lands an added charm, which has attached their
inhabitants to them with a subtle and unconquerable attachment scarcely
intelligible to the more prosaic inhabitants of prosaic lands.  To the
poetic Celt the love of country tends to become almost a religion.  The
Celtic mind cannot remain indifferent to lands and seas whose very beauty
compels the eyes of man to gaze upon them to their very horizon, and the
lines of observation thus drawn to the horizon are for the Celt continual
temptations to the thought of an infinity beyond.  The preoccupation of
the Celtic mind with the deities of his scenery, his springs, his rivers,
his seas, his forests, his mountains, his lakes, was in thorough keeping
with the tenour of his mind, when tuned to its natural surroundings.  In
dealing with Celtic religion, mythology, and legend, it is not so much
the varying local and temporal forms that demand our attention, as the
all-pervading and animating spirit, which shows its essential character
even through the scanty remains of the ancient Celtic world.  Celtic
religion bears the impress of nature on earth far more than nature in the
heavens.  The sense of the heaven above has perhaps survived in some of
the general Indo-European Celtic terms for the divine principle, and
there are some traces of a religious interest in the sun and the god of
thunder and lightning, but every student of Celtic religion must feel
that the main and characteristic elements are associated with the earth
in all the variety of its local phenomena.  The great earth-mother and
her varied offspring ever come to view in Celtic religion under many
names, and the features even of the other-world could not be dissociated
for the Celt from those of his mother-earth.  The festivals of his year,
too, were associated with the decay and the renewal of her annual life.
The bonfires of November, May, Midsummer, and August were doubtless meant
to be associated with the vicissitudes of her life and the spirits that
were her children.  For the Celt the year began in November, so that its
second half-year commenced with the first of May.  The idea to which
Caesar refers, that the Gauls believed themselves descended from Dis, the
god of the lower world, and began the year with the night, counting their
time not by days but by nights, points in the same direction, namely that
the darkness of the earth had a greater hold on the mind than the
brightness of the sky.  The Welsh terms for a week and a fortnight,
_wythnos_ (eight nights) and _pythefnos_ (fifteen nights) respectively
confirm Caesar's statement.  To us now it may seem more natural to
associate religion with the contemplation of the heavens, but for the
Celtic lands at any rate the main trend of the evidence is to show that
the religious mind was mainly drawn to a contemplation of the earth and
her varied life, and that the Celt looked for his other-world either
beneath the earth, with her rivers, lakes, and seas, or in the islands on
the distant horizon, where earth and sky met.  This predominance of the
earth in religion was in thorough keeping with the intensity of religion
as a factor in his daily pursuits.  It was this intensity that gave the
Druids at some time or other in the history of the Western Celts the
power which Caesar and others assign to them.  The whole people of the
Gauls, even with their military aristocracy, were extremely devoted to
religious ideas, though these led to the inhumanity of human sacrifices.
At one time their sense of the reality of the other-world was so great,
that they believed that loans contracted in this world would be repaid
there, and practical belief could not go much further than that.  All
these considerations tend to show how important it is, in the comparative
study of religions, to investigate each religion in its whole
sociological and geographical environment as well as in the etymological
meaning of its terms.

In conclusion, the writer hopes that this brief sketch, which is based on
an independent study of the main evidence for the religious ideas and
practices of the Celtic peoples, will help to interest students of
religion in the dominant modes of thought which from time immemorial held
sway in these lands of the West of Europe, and which in folk-lore and
custom occasionally show themselves even in the midst of our highly
developed and complex civilisation of to-day.  The thought of early man
on the problems of his being--for after all his superstitions reveal
thought--deserve respect, for in his efforts to think he was trying to
grope towards the light.


RHYS, _Hibbert Lectures on Celtic Heathendom_.

RHYS, _Celtic Folk-lore_, _Welsh and Manx_.

REINACH, S., _Cultes_, _Mythes et Religion_.

NUTT, ALFRED, _The Voyage of Bran_.

SQUIRE, _Mythology of the British Islands_.

GAIDOZ, _Esqiusse de Mythologie gauloise_.

BERTRAND, _La Religion des Gaulois_, _les Druides et le Druidisme_.

FRAZER, _The Golden Bough_.

JOYCE, _The Social History of Ireland_.

D'ARBOIS DE JUBAINVILLE, _Les Druides et les dieux celtiques a forme

WINDISCH, _Irische Texte mit Worterbuch_.

CYNDDELW, _Cymru Fu_.

FOULKES, _Enwogion Cymru_.

CAMPBELL, _Popular Tales of the West Highlands_.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Celtic Religion - in Pre-Christian Times" ***

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