Celtic nature worship
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The pagan Celts of the ancient world were animists to the extent that they believed that all aspects of the natural world contained spirits, divine entities with which humans could establish a rapport. According to classical sources, the Celts worshipped the forces of nature and did not envisage deities in anthropomorphic terms. The numinous presence of deities undoubtedly informed the background to everyday life. Both archaeology and the literary record indicate that ritual practice in Celtic societies lacked a clear distinction between the sacred and profane in which rituals, offerings, and correct behaviour maintained a balance between gods and man and harnessed supernatural forces for the benefit of the group.
The pagan Celts perceived the presence of the supernatural as integral to their world. The sky, the sun, the dark places underground all had their spirits, life-forces and personalities. Every mountain, river, spring, marsh, tree and rocky outcrop was endowed with divinity. While both the Culture of Greece and the Culture of ancient Rome revolved around urban life, Celtic society was predominantly rural. The close link with the natural world is reflected in what we know of the religious systems of Celtic Europe during the late 1st millennium BC and early 1st millennium AD. As in many polytheistic systems, the localised spirits worshipped were those of both the wild and cultivated landscapes and their inhabitants: "god-types, as opposed to individual universal Gaulish deities, are to be looked for as an important feature of the religion of the Gauls," Anne Ross observed in examining the chain motif in pagan Celtic material "and the evidence of epigraphy strongly supports this conclusion." Celts focused upon features of the immediate landscape: local mountains, forests, springs and animals. Divine powers associated with the fertility of humans, of livestock and of crops were also objects of veneration. Tribal territories were themselves held sacred and the ground and waters which received the dead were imbued with sanctity and revered by their living relatives. Sanctuaries were sacred spaces separated from the ordinary world, often in natural locations such as springs, sacred groves or lakes. Many topographical features were deified as gods: many divine names refer to specific locations or geographical features, a clear indication of how closely Celtic societies identified with place. Small thank offerings were placed in domestic storage pits, while more elaborate deposits were left in specially dug ritual shafts and in lakes. These offerings linked the donor to the place in a concrete way, since complex and varied rituals involved the individual in personal contact with the sacred sites devoted to their gods. An image very different from the idea of druids administering a pan-Celtic religion.
* 1 Animal worship
* 2 Tree worship
* 3 Sanctity of hunting
* 4 Weather worship
* 5 Water worship
* 6 Notes
 Animal worship
The character and vitality of certain animal species seems to have been considered numinous. Certain spirits were very close to the animals with which they were associated: the names of Artio the ursine goddess and Epona the equine goddess are based on Celtic words for ‘bear’ and ‘horse’ Animals were perceived at the same time similar to and very different from humans. Certain creatures were observed to have particular physical and mental qualities and characteristics, and distinctive patterns of behaviour. An animal like a stag or horse could be admired for its beauty, speed or virility. Dogs were seen to be keen-scented, good at hunting, guarding and healing themselves. Snakes were seen to be destructive, fertile and having a curious habit of seeming to regenerate themselves by sloughing their skin. Birds were keen-sighted, and by flight, able to leave behind the confines of the earth. Beavers were seen to be skillful workers in wood. Thus admiration and acknowledgment for a beast’s essential nature led easily to reverence of those qualities and abilities which humans did not possess at all or possessed only partially.
The Celts believed that trees had spirits and worshipped certain trees. Often it was considered that fairy-like animistic beings lived in them. The three most sacred trees to the Celts were the oak, the ash and the thorn.
 Sanctity of hunting
Hunting deities whose role acknowledges the economic importance of animals and the ritual of the hunt highlight a different relationship to nature. The animal elements in half-human, antlered deities suggest that the forest and its denizens possessed a numinous quality as well as an economic value. For this reason they were deified as gods. Some scholars explain shape-shifting and magical motifs in terms of Celtic beliefs about rebirth and the afterlife, but it is more likely that such deities had a regenerative function. Attributes like fruit and grain imply fecundity, while animals such as snake and deer (who shed their skins and antlers) suggest cycles of growth.
Hunter-gods were venerated in Celtic Europe, and they often seem to have had an ambivalent role as protector both of the hunter and the prey, not unlike the functions of Diana and Artemis in classical mythology. From Gaul, the armed deer-hunter depicted on an image from the temple of Le Donon in the Vosges lays his hands in benediction on the antlers of his stag companion. The hunter-god from Le Touget in Gers carries a hare tenderly in his arms. Arduinna, the eponymous boar-goddess of the Ardennes, rides her ferocious quarry, knife in hand, whilst the boar-god of Euffigneix in the Haute-Marne is portrayed with the motif of a boar with bristles erect, striding along his torso, which implies conflation between the human animal perception of divinity. Arawn of Welsh mythology may represent the remnants of a similar hunter-god of the forests of Dyfed.
As with many traditional societies, the hunt was probably hedged about with prohibitions and rituals. The Greek author Arrian, writing in the 2nd century AD, said that the Celts never went hunting without the gods’ blessing and that they made payment of domestic animals to the supernatural powers in reparation for their theft of wild creatures from the landscape. Hunting itself may have been perceived as a symbolic, as well as practical, activity in which the spilling of blood led not only to the death of the beast but also to the earth’s nourishment and replenishment.
 Weather worship
Meteorological patterns and phenomena, especially the sun and thunder, were acknowledged as divine and propitiated. Inscribed dedications and iconography in the Roman period show that these spirits were personifications of natural forces. Taranis’s name indicates not that he was the god of thunder but that he actually was thunder. Archaeological evidence suggests that the sun and thunder were perceived as especially potent. Inscriptions to Taranis the ‘Thunderer’ have been found in Britain, Gaul, Germany and the former Yugoslavia and the Roman poet Lucan mentions him as a savage god who demanded human sacrifice.
From the early Bronze Age, people in much of temperate Europe used the spoked wheel to represent the sun and, by the late Iron Age and Roman periods, solar deities were represented with wheel-symbols, such as the sun cross. The Romans exported their own celestial god, Jupiter, to Celtic lands by interpretatio romana, and his imagery was merged with that of the native sun-god to produce a hybrid sky-deity who resembled the Roman god but who had the additional native solar attribute of the wheel. This Celtic sky-god had variations in the way he was perceived and his cult expressed. Yet the link between the Celtic Jupiter and the solar wheel is maintained over a wide area: altars decorated with the wheels were set up by Roman soldiers stationed at Hadrian's Wall, and also by supplicants in Cologne and Nîmes.
 Water worship
The spirits of watery places were invoked as givers of life and as links between the earthly and the other world. Sequana, for example, seems to have embodied the River Seine at its spring source, and Sulis appears to have been one and the same as the hot spring at Bath, Somerset, (Roman Aquae Sulis) not simply its guardian or possessor.
There is abundant evidence for the veneration of water by the Celts and indeed by their Bronze Age forebears. In the Pre-Roman Iron Age, lakes, rivers, springs and bogs received special offerings of metalwork, wooden objects, animals and, occasionally, of human beings. By the Roman period, the names of some water-deities were recorded on inscriptions or were included in contemporary texts. The ancient name for the River Marne was Matrona ‘Great Mother;’ the Seine was Sequana; the Severn, Sabrina; the Wharfe, Verbeia; the Saône, Souconna, and there are countless others. Natural springs were foci for healing cults: Sulis was invoked as a healer at Aquae Sulis and the goddess Arnemetia was hailed as a healer at Aquae Arnemetiae. Nemausus, for example, was not only the Gallic name for the town of Nîmes but also that of its presiding spring-god. He had a set of three female counterparts, the Nemausicae. In the same region, the town of Glanum possessed a god called Glanis: an altar from a sacred spring is inscribed ‘to Glanis and the Glanicae’.
1. ^ a b c Miranda Green. (1992:196) Animals in Celtic life and myth. London: Routledge. ISBN 0415050308
2. ^ a b c d Juliette Wood. ‘Introduction.’ In Squire, C. (2000). The mythology of the British Islands: an introduction to Celtic myth, legend, poetry and romance. London & Ware: UCL & Wordsworth Editions Ltd. ISBN 1-84022-500-9. Pages 12–13
3. ^ a b c d e f Miranda J. Green. (2005) Exploring the world of the druids. London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-28571-3. Page 29
4. ^ Anne Ross, "Chain Symbolism in Pagan Celtic Religion" Speculum 34.1 (January 1959:39–59) p. 39.
5. ^ Thus a "list of Celtic deities" derived from local inscriptions becomes a long one.
6. ^ a b c d Miranda J. Green. (2005) Exploring the world of the druids. London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-28571-3. Page 24
7. ^ Miranda J. Green. (2005) Exploring the world of the druids. London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-28571-3. Page 30
8. ^ a b Miranda J. Green. (2005) Exploring the world of the druids. London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-28571-3. Page 25
Celtic tree worship
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Almost all kinds of tree found in the Celtic countries have been thought to have special powers or to serve as the abode of the fairies, especially the magical trio of oak, ash, and thorn. Next in rank are the fruit-bearing trees apple and hazel, followed by the alder, elder, holly, and willow. The esteem given different trees varies in different parts of the Celtic world; on the Isle of Man, the phrase ‘fairy tree’ denotes the tramman elder.
* 1 List of trees
o 1.1 Oak
o 1.2 Ash
o 1.3 Apple
o 1.4 Hazel
o 1.5 Alder
o 1.6 Elder
o 1.7 Yew
* 2 References
 List of trees
The mighty deciduous hardwood of the oak has played a prominent role in the Celtic imagination from ancient to modern times. The English word ‘druid’ (from the Latin plural druidae) derives in part from the root dru- ‘oak;’ Celtic words for oak, e.g. Old Irish and Modern Irish. dair, Welsh derwen, share the same root. The ancient geographer Strabo (1st cent. AD) reported that the important sacred grove and meeting-place of the Galatian Celts of Asia Minor, Drunemeton, was filled with oaks. In an often-cited passage from Historia Naturalis (1st cent. AD), Pliny the Elder describes a festival on the sixth day of the moon where the druids climbed an oak tree, cut a bough of mistletoe, and sacrificed two white bulls as part of a fertility rite. Elsewhere druids made their wands from only three woods: yew, oak, and apple. In Mediterranean culture the oak was sacred to both Zeus and Jupiter, some aspects of which were no doubt transferred to the worship of Gaulish Jupiter. Britons under Roman occupation worshipped a goddess of the oak tree, Daron, whose name is commemorated in a rivulet in Gwynedd. According to the pseudo-history Lebor Gabála ‘Book of Invasions,’ the sacred oak of early Ireland was that of Mugna, probably located at or near Dunmanogoe, south Co. Kildare. Sacred associations of oaks survived Christianization, so that St Brigit's monastic foundation was at Cill Dara, ‘church of (the) oak,’ i.e. Kildare], and St Colum Cille favoured Doire Calgaich ‘Calgach's oak grove,’ i.e. Derry; see also Durrow, darú, from dair magh, ‘oak plain.’ In Welsh tradition Gwydion and Math use the flower of oak with broom to fashion the beautiful Blodeuwedd. When Lleu Llaw Gyffes is about to be killed by Gronw Pebyr, his wife's lover, he escapes in eagle form onto a magic oak tree. A sacred oak tree protects the Breton city of Ys until the feckless boy Kristof removes it, allowing Ys to be engulfed. The Arthurian figure Merlin is imprisoned in an oak tree in the Breton forest of Brocéliande by Viviane/Nimiane (the Lady of the Lake). In both British and Irish fairy lore, the oak is one of three magical woods, along with ash and thorn. Old Irish and Modern Irish is dair; Scots Gaelic, darach; Manx, daragh; Welsh, derwen, dâr; Cornish derowen; Breton, dervenn.
The ash tree was a tree regarded with awe in Celtic countries, especially Ireland. The mountain ash, rowan, or quicken tree, a smaller tree of the variety Sorbus aucuparia, is usually considered separately in the Celtic imagination.
There are several recorded instances in Irish history in which people refused to cut an ash, even when wood was scarce, for fear of having their own cabins consumed with flame. The ash tree itself might be used in May Day ( Beltaine) rites. Under the Old Irish word nin, the ash also gives its name to the letter N in the ogham alphabet. Together with the oak and thorn, the ash is part of a magical trilogy in fairy lore. Ash seedpods may be used in divination, and the wood has the power to ward off fairies, especially on the Isle of Man. In Gaelic Scotland children were given the astringent sap of the tree as a medicine and as a protection against witch-craft. Some famous ash trees were the Tree of Uisnech, the Bough of Dathí, and the Tree of Tortu. The French poet who used Breton sources, Marie de France (late 12th cent.), wrote a lai about an ash tree. The Old Irish for ‘ash’ is nin; Irish, fuinseog; Scots Gaelic, fuinnseann; Manx, unjin; Welsh, onnen; Cornish, onnen; Breton, onnenn.
The pome fruit and tree of the apple is celebrated in numerous functions in Celtic mythology, legend, and folklore; it is an emblem of fruitfulness and sometimes a means to immortality. Wands of druids were made from wood either of the yew or of the apple. A name for the Avalon of Arthurian tradition in certain medieval narratives, attributing Welsh origin, is Insula Pomorum, ‘The Isle of Apples’. One gloss of the name for the magical Irish island Emain Ablach is ‘Emain of the Apples’. In the Ulster Cycle the soul of Cú Roí was confined in an apple that lay in the stomach of a salmon which appeared once every seven years. Cúchulainn once gained his escape by following the path of a rolled apple. An apple-tree grew from the grave of the tragic lover Ailinn. In the Irish tale Echtrae Conli (The Adventure of Connla), Connla the son of Conn is fed an apple by a fairy lover, which sustains him with food and drink for a month without diminishing; but it also makes him long for the woman and the beautiful country of women to which his lover is enticing him. In the Irish story from the Mythological Cycle, Oidheadh Chlainne Tuireann, the first task given the Children of Tuireann is to retrieve the Apples of the Hesperides (or Hisbernia). Afallennau (Welsh, ‘apple trees’) is a 12th-century Welsh narrative poem dealing with Myrddin Wyllt. The Breton pseudosaint Konorin was reborn by means of an apple. The Old Irish word is uball, ubull; Modern Irish. ubhal, úll; Scots Gaelic ubhall; Manx, ooyl; Welsh, afal; Corn. aval; Bret. Aval.
Both the wood and the edible nuts of the hazel have played important roles in Irish and Welsh traditions. Hazel leaves and nuts are found in early British burial mounds and shaft-wells, especially at Ashill, Norfolk. The place-name story for Fordruim, an early name for Tara, describes it as a pleasant hazel wood. In the ogham alphabet of early Ireland, the letter C was represented by hazel [OIr. coll]. It also represented the ninth month on the Old Irish calendar, 6 August to 2 September. Initiate members of the Fianna had to defend themselves armed only with a hazel stick and a shield; yet in the Fenian legends the hazel without leaves was thought evil, dripping poisonous milk, and the home of vultures. Thought a fairy tree in both Ireland and Wales, wood from the hazel was sacred to poets and was thus a taboo fuel on any hearth. Heralds carried hazel wands as badges of office. Witches' wands are often made of hazel, as are divining rods, used to find underground water. In Cornwall the hazel was used in the millpreve, the magical adder stones. In Wales a twig of hazel would be given to a rejected lover.
Even more esteemed than the hazel's wood were its nuts, often described as the ‘nuts of wisdom’, e.g. esoteric or occult knowledge. Hazels of wisdom grew at the heads of the seven chief rivers of Ireland, and nine grew over both Connla's Well and the Well of Segais, the legendary common source of the Boyne and the Shannon. The nuts would fall into the water, causing bubbles of mystic inspiration to form, or were eaten by salmon. The number of spots on a salmon's back were thought to indicate the number of nuts it had consumed. The salmon of wisdom caught by Fionn mac Cumhaill had eaten hazel nuts.
The name of the Irish hero Mac Cuill means ‘son of the hazel’. W. B. Yeats thought the hazel was the common Irish form of the tree of life. Old Irish and Modern Irish is coll; Scots Gaelic, calltunn, calltuinn; Manx, coull; Welsh, collen; Cornish, collwedhen; Breton, kraoñklevezenn.
The alder, a shrub or tree of the birch family has special implications in Celtic tradition. The alder usually grows in wet ground, with small, pendulous catkins. Alders are especially associated with Bran; at Cad Goddeu, ‘The Battle of the Trees’, Gwydion guessed Bran's name from the alder twigs in his hand. The answer to an old Taliesin riddle ‘Why is the alder purple?’ is ‘Because Bran wore purple’. Bran's alder may be a symbol of resurrection. The name for the boy Gwern, son of Matholwch and Branwen, means ‘alder’. The place-name Fernmag (ang. Farney) means ‘plain of the alder’.
In Ireland the alder was regarded with awe apparently because when cut the wood turns from white to red. At one time the felling of an alder was punishable, and it is still avoided. The alder was thought to have power of divination, especially in the diagnosing of diseases. Alder or yew might be used in the fé, a rod for measuring corpses and graves in pre-Christian Ireland. The letter F, third consonant in the ogham alphabet, was named after the alder. The Old Irish is fern;. Modern Irish is fearnóg; Scots Gaelic, feàrna; Manx, farney; Welsh, gwernen; Cornish, gwernen; Breton, gwernenn.
The elder, having clusters of white flowers and red or blackish berry-like fruit, has many associations with the fairy world in oral traditions of recent centuries in Celtic countries. On the Isle of Man, where elder grows abundantly and is called tramman, it is commonly thought of as the ‘ fairy tree’. In Ireland many individual elder trees were thought haunted by fairies or demons. Old Irish is tromm; Modern Irish is trom; Scots Gaelic, troman, droman; Welsh, ysgawen; Cornish, scawen; Breton, skavenn.
The evergreen yew with dark green, needle-like leaves and red berries has commonly symbolized immortality in the Indo-European imagination as it is the longest-lived entity, often lasting more than 1,000 years, to be found in the European environment. It is still commonly planted in Christian churchyards and cemeteries. The druids preferred yew for wand-making over their other favourite woods, apple and oak. The name of the Eburones, a Gaulish people residing between the Main and Rhine, means ‘people of the yew’, while several Irish and Scottish place-names allude to the yew, notably Youghall [Eochaill, yew wood] in County Cork. The Irish personal name Eógan means ‘born of the yew’, so that the great Munster dynasty could be glossed as ‘people of the yew’. According to the foundation story of Cashel, the Eóganacht capital, Corc mac Luigthig has a vision of a yew bush, with angels dancing over it, before settling on the site. One of Conchobar mac Nessa's residences at Emain Macha, Cráebruad, has nine rooms lined with red yew. Suibne Geilt in Buile Shuibhne (The Frenzy of Suibne) rests on yew trees during his flight. When Eógan and Lugaid mac Con are disputing they hear the magical music of the yew tree over a waterfall; the musician is revealed to be Fer Í (man of yew), the son of Eogabal. Wielders of the spear Gáe Assail are sure to kill their victims if they utter the word “ibar” (yew) as they cast. The agnomen of Cáer, the swan maiden, is Ibormeith [yew berry]. In oral variants of the Deirdre story, King Conchobar mac Nessa drives yew stakes through the hearts of the dead lovers, which later grow and intertwine near a church. Yet not all stories of the yew imply power or vitality. A rod named fé, made of yew or alder, was used to measure corpses and graves. And Fergus, the hapless brother of Niall Noígiallach (of the Nine Hostages) in Echtra Mac nEchach Muigmedóin (The Adventure of the Sons of Eochaid Mugmedón), signals his sterility when he rescues from a burning forge only the ‘withered wood’ of yew, which will not burn. Old Irish is ibar; Modern Irish, iúr; Scots Gaelic, iubhar; Manx, euar; Welsh, ywen; Cornish, ewen; Breton, ivinenn.
1. ^ McKillop, James (1998). ‘Fairy tree.’ A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press
2. ^ McKillop, James (1998). ‘Oak’ A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press
3. ^ McKillop, James (1998). ‘Ash.’ A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press
4. ^ McKillop, James (1998). ‘ash tree.’ A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press
5. ^ McKillop, James (1998). ‘apple.’ A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press
6. ^ McKillop, James (1998). ‘hazel.’ A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press
7. ^ McKillop, James (1998). ‘alder.’ A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press
8. ^ McKillop, James (1998). ‘elder tree.’ A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press
9. ^ McKillop, James (1998). ‘yew.’ A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press