Thursday, 2 April 2009

Celtic Myths

Celts mythology
Is the mythology of Celtic polytheism, apparently the religion of the Iron Age Celts. Like other Iron Age Europeans, the early Celts maintained a polytheistic mythology and religious structure. Among Celts peoples in close contact with Ancient Rome, such as the Gauls and Celtiberians, their mythology did not survive the Roman empire, their subsequent conversion to Christianity, and the loss of their Celtic languages. Ironically, it is mostly through contemporary Roman and Christian sources that their mythology has been preserved. The Celts peoples who maintained either their political or linguistic identities (such as the Gaels and Brythonic tribes of the British Isles) left vestigial remnants of their forebears' mythologies, put into written form during the Middle Ages.
Though the Celtic world at its apex covered much of western and central Europe, it was not politically unified nor was there any substantial central source of cultural influence or homogeneity; as a result, there was a great deal of variation in local practices of Celtic religion (although certain motifs—for example, the god Lugh—appear to have diffused throughout the Celtic world). Inscriptions to more than three hundred deities, often equated with their Roman counterparts, have survived, but of these most appear to have been genii locorum, local or tribal gods, and few were widely worshipped. However, from what has survived of Celtic mythology, it is possible to discern commonalities which hint at a more unified pantheon than is often given credit.


The nature and functions of these ancient gods can be deduced from their names, the location of their inscriptions, their iconography, the Roman gods they are equated with, and similar figures from later bodies of Celtic mythology.
Celtic mythology is found in a number of distinct, if related, subgroups, largely corresponding to the branches of the Celtic languages:
Ancient Celtic religion (known primarily through archaeological sources rather than through written mythology; cf. Ancient Gaulish and British deities) mythology in Goidelic languages, represented chiefly by Scottish mythology and Irish mythology

The Mythological Cycle (or Book of Invasions or Aliens) deals with the battles for Ireland by six different races, and includes the retreat of the Danaans (gods) to Tir Na Nog beneath the hollow hills, the victory of the Milesians (mortals) and the death of Conary Mor, High King of all Ireland at Tara. Almost entirely pagan. This is the nearest thing to a Celtic creation myth.
The Ulster Cycle (or Ultonian or Connorian) deals with The Curse of Ulster (The Pangs), the reign of Conchobor Mac Nesa, King of Ulster at Emain Macha, his battles with the other three Irish provinces (Connacht, Leinster and Munster), his champion Cuchulainn and his fellow warriors of the Red Branch warband, and The Tain (The Cattle Raid of Cooley). This is by far the best bit in my opinion, and entirely pagan. It probably originated in the late La Tene period, the 3rd to 1st centuries BC.
The Fenian Cycle (or Ossianic) deals with Finn mac Cumhal, leader of the Fianna warband which roamed Ireland during the reign of Cormac mac Art, the High King of all Ireland who ruled from Tara. Considerable Christian contamination. Generally accepted to have originated in around the 3rd century AD.
The Historical Cycle (or Cycle of the Kings) is a mishmash of heavily Christianised stories, including adventures, voyages and visions. It stretches from Labraid Loingsech, King of Leinster in the 3rd century BC, up to Brian Boramha, High King of all Ireland AD 1001 to 1014.
mythology in Brythonic languages, represented chiefly by Welsh mythology (cf. also Breton mythology and folklore)
Historical sources
Votive Celtic wheels thought to correspond to the cult of Taranis. Thousands such wheels have been found in sanctuaries in Belgic Gaul, dating from 50 BCE to 50 CE. Musée d'Archéologie Nationale.Because of the scarcity of surviving materials bearing written Gaulish, it is surmised that the pagan Celts were not widely literate— although a written form of Gaulish using the Greek, Latin and North Italic alphabets was used (as evidenced by votive items bearing inscriptions in Gaulish and the Coligny Calendar). Caesar attests to the literacy of the Gauls, but also wrote that their priests, the druids, were forbidden to use writing to record certain verses of religious significance (Caesar, De Bello Gallico 6.14) while also noting that the Helvetii had a written census (Caesar, De Bello Gallico 1.29).
Rome introduced a more widespread habit of public inscriptions, and broke the power of the druids in the areas it conquered; in fact, most inscriptions to deities discovered in Gaul (modern France and Northern Italy), Britain and other formerly (or presently) Celtic-speaking areas post-date the Roman conquest.
And although early Gaels in Ireland and parts of modern Wales used the Ogham script to record short inscriptions (largely personal names), more sophisticated literacy was not introduced to Celtic areas that had not been conquered by Rome until the advent of Christianity; indeed, many Gaelic myths were first recorded by Christian monks, albeit without most of their original religious meanings.
The mythology of Ireland
The oldest body of myths is found only from the Early medieval period of Ireland. As Christianity began to take over, the gods and goddeses were slowly eliminated from the culture.The basis that has prevailed is the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Fomorians, which forms the basis for the text Cath Maige Tuireadh (the Battle of Mag Tuireadh), as well as portions of the history-focused Lebor Gabála Érenn (the Book of Invasions). The Tuatha Dé represent the functions of human society such as kingship, crafts and war, while the Fomorians represent chaos and wild nature.
The Dagda
The leader of the gods for the Irish pantheon appears to have been The Dagda. The Dagda was the figure after which male humans and other gods were based due to his embodiment of the ideal Irish traits. Celtic gods were also considered to be a clan due to their lack of specialization and unknown origins. The particular character of The Dagda describes him as a figure of burlesque lampoonery in Irish mythology, and some authors even conclude that he was trusted to be benevolent enough to tolerate jokes at his own expense.
Irish tales depict the Dagda as a figure of power, armed with a spear. In Dorset there is a famous outline of an ithyphallic giant known as the Cerne Abbas Giant with a club cut into the chalky soil. While this was probably produced in relatively modern times (English Civil War era), it was long thought to be a representation of the Dagda. This has been called into question by recent studies which show that there may have been a representation of what looks like a large drapery hanging from the horizontal arm of the figure, leading to suspicion that this figure actually represents Hercules (Heracles), with the skin of the Nemean Lion over his arm and carrying the club he used to kill it. In Gaul, it is speculated that the Dagda is associated with Sucellos, the striker, equipped with a hammer and cup.
The Morrígan
The Morrígan was a tripartite battle goddess of the Celts of Ancient Ireland. She was known as the Morrígan, but the different sections she was divided into were also referred to as Nemhain, Macha, and Badb (among other, less common names), with each representing different aspects of combat. She is most commonly known for her involvement in the Táin Bó Cúailnge.
The widespread diffusion of the god Lugus (seemingly related to the mythological figure Lugh in Irish) in Celtic religion is apparent from the number of place names in which his name appears, occurring across the Celtic world. The most famous of these are the cities of Lugdunum (the modern French city of Lyon) and Lugdunum Batavorum (the modern city of Katwijk, 10 kilometers to the west of Leiden). Lug is described in the Celtic myths as the last to be added to the list of deities. In Ireland a festival called the Lughnasa (Modern Irish lúnasa) was held in his honour.
A statuette in the Museum of Brittany, Rennes, probably depicting Brigantia (Brigid): c2nd century BCE Other important goddesses include Brigid (or Brigit), the Dagda's daughter; Aibell, Aine, Macha, and the sovereign goddess, Ériu.

Significant Irish gods are Goibniu the smith and brewer, Dian Cecht the patron of healing and the sea god Manannán mac Lir.

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