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Celtic mythology

Celtic mythology

Overview
Celtic mythology is the mythology
Mythology
The term mythology can refer either to the study of myths, or to a body or collection of myths. As examples, comparative mythology is the study of connections between myths from different cultures, whereas Greek mythology is the body of myths from ancient Greece...

 of Celtic polytheism
Celtic polytheism
Celtic polytheism, commonly known as Celtic paganism, refers to the religious beliefs and practices adhered to by the Iron Age peoples of Western Europe now known as the Celts, roughly between 500 BCE and 500 CE, spanning the La Tène period and the Roman era, and in the case of the Insular Celts...

, apparently the religion
Religion
Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to...

 of the Iron Age
Iron Age
The Iron Age is the archaeological period generally occurring after the Bronze Age, marked by the prevalent use of iron. The early period of the age is characterized by the widespread use of iron or steel. The adoption of such material coincided with other changes in society, including differing...

 Celt
Celt
The Celts were a diverse group of tribal societies in Iron Age and Roman-era Europe who spoke Celtic languages.The earliest archaeological culture commonly accepted as Celtic, or rather Proto-Celtic, was the central European Hallstatt culture , named for the rich grave finds in Hallstatt, Austria....

s. Like other Iron Age
Iron Age
The Iron Age is the archaeological period generally occurring after the Bronze Age, marked by the prevalent use of iron. The early period of the age is characterized by the widespread use of iron or steel. The adoption of such material coincided with other changes in society, including differing...

 Europeans, the early Celts maintained a polytheistic mythology and religious structure. Among Celts in close contact with Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

, such as the Gaul
Gaul
Gaul was a region of Western Europe during the Iron Age and Roman era, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg and Belgium, most of Switzerland, the western part of Northern Italy, as well as the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the left bank of the Rhine. The Gauls were the speakers of...

s and Celtiberians
Celtiberians
The Celtiberians were Celtic-speaking people of the Iberian Peninsula in the final centuries BC. The group used the Celtic Celtiberian language.Archaeologically, the Celtiberians participated in the Hallstatt culture in what is now north-central Spain...

, their mythology did not survive the Roman empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

, their subsequent conversion to Christianity
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

, and the loss of their Celtic languages
Celtic languages
The Celtic languages are descended from Proto-Celtic, or "Common Celtic"; a branch of the greater Indo-European language family...

. It is mostly through contemporary Roman and Christian sources that their mythology has been preserved.
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Encyclopedia
Celtic mythology is the mythology
Mythology
The term mythology can refer either to the study of myths, or to a body or collection of myths. As examples, comparative mythology is the study of connections between myths from different cultures, whereas Greek mythology is the body of myths from ancient Greece...

 of Celtic polytheism
Celtic polytheism
Celtic polytheism, commonly known as Celtic paganism, refers to the religious beliefs and practices adhered to by the Iron Age peoples of Western Europe now known as the Celts, roughly between 500 BCE and 500 CE, spanning the La Tène period and the Roman era, and in the case of the Insular Celts...

, apparently the religion
Religion
Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to...

 of the Iron Age
Iron Age
The Iron Age is the archaeological period generally occurring after the Bronze Age, marked by the prevalent use of iron. The early period of the age is characterized by the widespread use of iron or steel. The adoption of such material coincided with other changes in society, including differing...

 Celt
Celt
The Celts were a diverse group of tribal societies in Iron Age and Roman-era Europe who spoke Celtic languages.The earliest archaeological culture commonly accepted as Celtic, or rather Proto-Celtic, was the central European Hallstatt culture , named for the rich grave finds in Hallstatt, Austria....

s. Like other Iron Age
Iron Age
The Iron Age is the archaeological period generally occurring after the Bronze Age, marked by the prevalent use of iron. The early period of the age is characterized by the widespread use of iron or steel. The adoption of such material coincided with other changes in society, including differing...

 Europeans, the early Celts maintained a polytheistic mythology and religious structure. Among Celts in close contact with Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

, such as the Gaul
Gaul
Gaul was a region of Western Europe during the Iron Age and Roman era, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg and Belgium, most of Switzerland, the western part of Northern Italy, as well as the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the left bank of the Rhine. The Gauls were the speakers of...

s and Celtiberians
Celtiberians
The Celtiberians were Celtic-speaking people of the Iberian Peninsula in the final centuries BC. The group used the Celtic Celtiberian language.Archaeologically, the Celtiberians participated in the Hallstatt culture in what is now north-central Spain...

, their mythology did not survive the Roman empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

, their subsequent conversion to Christianity
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

, and the loss of their Celtic languages
Celtic languages
The Celtic languages are descended from Proto-Celtic, or "Common Celtic"; a branch of the greater Indo-European language family...

. It is mostly through contemporary Roman and Christian sources that their mythology has been preserved. The Celtic peoples who maintained either their political or linguistic identities (such as the Gaels
Gaels
The Gaels or Goidels are speakers of one of the Goidelic Celtic languages: Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and Manx. Goidelic speech originated in Ireland and subsequently spread to western and northern Scotland and the Isle of Man....

, Picts
Picts
The Picts were a group of Late Iron Age and Early Mediaeval people living in what is now eastern and northern Scotland. There is an association with the distribution of brochs, place names beginning 'Pit-', for instance Pitlochry, and Pictish stones. They are recorded from before the Roman conquest...

, and Brythonic
Britons (historical)
The Britons were the Celtic people culturally dominating Great Britain from the Iron Age through the Early Middle Ages. They spoke the Insular Celtic language known as British or Brythonic...

 tribes of Great Britain
Great Britain
Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

 and Ireland
Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

) left vestigial remnants of their ancestral mythologies, put into written form during the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

.

Overview



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
Homogeneity
Homogeneity, homogeneous, or homogenization may refer to:-Science:* Homogeneity , translational invariance or compatibility of units in equations* Homogeneous , a property of a mixture showing no variation in properties...

; as a result, there was a great deal of variation in local practices of Celtic religion
Celtic religion
Celtic religion may refer to:*Ancient Celtic polytheism**Druidism*Celtic Christianity**Celtic Rite**Celtic Orthodox Church**Celtic Catholic Church*Celtic Neopaganism**Neodruidism**Celtic Wicca**Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism...

 (although certain motifs, for example the god Lugh
Lugh
Lug or Lugh is an Irish deity represented in mythological texts as a hero and High King of the distant past. He is known by the epithets Lámhfhada , for his skill with a spear or sling, Ildánach , Samhildánach , Lonnbeimnech and Macnia , and by the...

, 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
Genius loci
In classical Roman religion a genius loci was the protective spirit of a place. It was often depicted in religious iconography as a figure holding a Cornucopia, patera and/or a snake. There are many Roman altars found in Western Europe dedicated in whole or in part to the particular Genius Loci...

, 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
Iconography
Iconography is the branch of art history which studies the identification, description, and the interpretation of the content of images. The word iconography literally means "image writing", and comes from the Greek "image" and "to write". A secondary meaning is the painting of icons in the...

, the Roman gods
Roman mythology
Roman mythology is the body of traditional stories pertaining to ancient Rome's legendary origins and religious system, as represented in the literature and visual arts of the Romans...

 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
Celtic languages
The Celtic languages are descended from Proto-Celtic, or "Common Celtic"; a branch of the greater Indo-European language family...

:
  • Ancient Celtic religion (known primarily through archaeological sources rather than through written mythology; cf. Ancient Gaulish and British deities)
  • mythology in Goidelic languages
    Goidelic languages
    The Goidelic languages or Gaelic languages are one of the two branches of the Insular Celtic languages, the other consisting of the Brythonic languages. Goidelic languages historically formed a dialect continuum stretching from the south of Ireland through the Isle of Man to the north of Scotland...

    , represented chiefly by Irish mythology
    Irish mythology
    The mythology of pre-Christian Ireland did not entirely survive the conversion to Christianity, but much of it was preserved, shorn of its religious meanings, in medieval Irish literature, which represents the most extensive and best preserved of all the branch and the Historical Cycle. There are...

     and Scottish mythology
    Scottish mythology
    Scottish mythology may refer to any of the mythologies of Scotland.Myths have emerged for various purposes throughout the history of Scotland, sometimes being elaborated upon by successive generations, and at other times being completely rejected and replaced by other explanatory narratives.-...

    :
    • Mythological Cycle
      Mythological Cycle
      The Mythological Cycle is one of the four major cycles of Irish mythology, and is so called because it represents the remains of the pagan mythology of pre-Christian Ireland, although the gods and supernatural beings have been euhemerised into historical kings and heroes.The cycle consists of...

    • Ulster Cycle
      Ulster Cycle
      The Ulster Cycle , formerly known as the Red Branch Cycle, one of the four great cycles of Irish mythology, is a body of medieval Irish heroic legends and sagas of the traditional heroes of the Ulaid in what is now eastern Ulster and northern Leinster, particularly counties Armagh, Down and...

    • Fenian cycle
      Fenian Cycle
      The Fenian Cycle , also referred to as the Ossianic Cycle after its narrator Oisín, is a body of prose and verse centering on the exploits of the mythical hero Fionn mac Cumhaill and his warriors the Fianna. It is one of the four major cycles of Irish mythology along with the Mythological Cycle,...

    • Historical Cycle
  • mythology in Brythonic languages
    Brythonic languages
    The Brythonic or Brittonic languages form one of the two branches of the Insular Celtic language family, the other being Goidelic. The name Brythonic was derived by Welsh Celticist John Rhys from the Welsh word Brython, meaning an indigenous Briton as opposed to an Anglo-Saxon or Gael...

    , represented chiefly by Welsh mythology
    Welsh mythology
    Welsh mythology, the remnants of the mythology of the pre-Christian Britons, has come down to us in much altered form in medieval Welsh manuscripts such as the Red Book of Hergest, the White Book of Rhydderch, the Book of Aneirin and the Book of Taliesin....

     (cf. also Breton mythology and folklore)

Historical sources



As a result of the scarcity of surviving materials bearing written Gaulish
Gaulish language
The Gaulish language is an extinct Celtic language that was spoken by the Gauls, a people who inhabited the region known as Gaul from the Iron Age through the Roman period...

, it is surmised that the most of the Celtic writings were destroyed by the Romans, although a written form of Gaulish using the Greek
Greek alphabet
The Greek alphabet is the script that has been used to write the Greek language since at least 730 BC . The alphabet in its classical and modern form consists of 24 letters ordered in sequence from alpha to omega...

, Latin
Latin alphabet
The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

 and North Italic
Old Italic alphabet
Old Italic refers to several now extinct alphabet systems used on the Italian Peninsula in ancient times for various Indo-European languages and non-Indo-European languages...

 alphabets was used (as evidenced by votive items bearing inscriptions in Gaulish and the Coligny Calendar
Coligny calendar
The Gaulish Coligny calendar was found in Coligny, Ain, France near Lyon in 1897, along with the head of a bronze statue of a youthful male figure. It is a lunisolar calendar...

). Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....

 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
Helvetii
The Helvetii were a Celtic tribe or tribal confederation occupying most of the Swiss plateau at the time of their contact with the Roman Republic in the 1st century BC...

 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
Deity
A deity is a recognized preternatural or supernatural immortal being, who may be thought of as holy, divine, or sacred, held in high regard, and respected by believers....

 discovered in Gaul
Gaul
Gaul was a region of Western Europe during the Iron Age and Roman era, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg and Belgium, most of Switzerland, the western part of Northern Italy, as well as the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the left bank of the Rhine. The Gauls were the speakers of...

 (modern France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 and Northern Italy
Northern Italy
Northern Italy is a wide cultural, historical and geographical definition, without any administrative usage, used to indicate the northern part of the Italian state, also referred as Settentrione or Alta Italia...

), Britain
Roman Britain
Roman Britain was the part of the island of Great Britain controlled by the Roman Empire from AD 43 until ca. AD 410.The Romans referred to the imperial province as Britannia, which eventually comprised all of the island of Great Britain south of the fluid frontier with Caledonia...

 and other formerly (or presently) Celtic-speaking areas post-date the Roman conquest.

Although early Gaels in Ireland and parts of modern Wales
Wales
Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east and the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west. It has a population of three million, and a total area of 20,779 km²...

 used the Ogham
Ogham
Ogham is an Early Medieval alphabet used primarily to write the Old Irish language, and occasionally the Brythonic language. Ogham is sometimes called the "Celtic Tree Alphabet", based on a High Medieval Bríatharogam tradition ascribing names of trees to the individual letters.There are roughly...

 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
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

. Indeed, many Gaelic myths were first recorded by Christian monk
Monk
A monk is a person who practices religious asceticism, living either alone or with any number of monks, while always maintaining some degree of physical separation from those not sharing the same purpose...

s, albeit without most of their original religious meanings.

Mythology of Ireland



The oldest body of myths stemming from the Heroic Age is found only from the early medieval period of Ireland. As Christianity began to take over, the gods and goddeses were slowly eliminated as such from the culture. What has survived includes material dealing with the Tuatha Dé Danann
Tuatha Dé Danann
The Tuatha Dé Danann are a race of people in Irish mythology. In the invasions tradition which begins with the Lebor Gabála Érenn, they are the fifth group to settle Ireland, conquering the island from the Fir Bolg....

 and the Fomorians
Fomorians
In Irish mythology, the Fomoire are a semi-divine race said to have inhabited Ireland in ancient times. They may have once been believed to be the beings who preceded the gods, similar to the Greek Titans. It has been suggested that they represent the gods of chaos and wild nature, as opposed to...

, 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
Lebor Gabála Érenn
Lebor Gabála Érenn is the Middle Irish title of a loose collection of poems and prose narratives recounting the mythical origins and history of the Irish from the creation of the world down to the Middle Ages...

(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
The Dagda is an important god of Irish mythology. The Dagda is a father-figure and a protector of the tribe. In some texts his father is Elatha, in others his mother is Ethniu. Other texts say that his mother is Danu; while others yet place him as the father of Danu, perhaps due to her...

. 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
Irish mythology
The mythology of pre-Christian Ireland did not entirely survive the conversion to Christianity, but much of it was preserved, shorn of its religious meanings, in medieval Irish literature, which represents the most extensive and best preserved of all the branch and the Historical Cycle. There are...

, 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
Dorset
Dorset , is a county in South West England on the English Channel coast. The county town is Dorchester which is situated in the south. The Hampshire towns of Bournemouth and Christchurch joined the county with the reorganisation of local government in 1974...

 there is a famous outline of an ithyphallic
Phallus
A phallus is an erect penis, a penis-shaped object such as a dildo, or a mimetic image of an erect penis. Any object that symbolically resembles a penis may also be referred to as a phallus; however, such objects are more often referred to as being phallic...

 giant known as the Cerne Abbas Giant
Cerne Abbas giant
The Cerne Abbas Giant, also referred to as the Rude Man or the Rude Giant, is a hill figure of a giant naked man on a hillside near the village of Cerne Abbas, to the north of Dorchester, in Dorset, England. The high, wide figure is carved into the side of a steep hill, and is best viewed from...

 with a club cut into the chalky soil. While this was probably produced in relatively modern times (English Civil War
English Civil War
The English Civil War was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians and Royalists...

 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
Hercules
Hercules is the Roman name for Greek demigod Heracles, son of Zeus , and the mortal Alcmene...

 (Heracles
Heracles
Heracles ,born Alcaeus or Alcides , was a divine hero in Greek mythology, the son of Zeus and Alcmene, foster son of Amphitryon and great-grandson of Perseus...

), with the skin of the Nemean Lion
Nemean Lion
The Nemean lion was a vicious monster in Greek mythology that lived at Nemea. It was eventually killed by Heracles. It could not be killed with mortal weapons because its golden fur was impervious to attack...

 over his arm and carrying the club he used to kill it. In Gaul
Gaul
Gaul was a region of Western Europe during the Iron Age and Roman era, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg and Belgium, most of Switzerland, the western part of Northern Italy, as well as the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the left bank of the Rhine. The Gauls were the speakers of...

, it is speculated that the Dagda is associated with Sucellos, the striker, equipped with a hammer and cup.

The Morrígan


The Morrígan
Morrígan
The Morrígan or Mórrígan , also written as Morrígu or in the plural as Morrígna, and spelt Morríghan or Mór-Ríoghain in Modern Irish, is a figure from Irish mythology who appears to have once been a goddess, although she is not explicitly referred to as such in the texts.The Morrigan is a goddess...

 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
Macha (Irish mythology)
Macha is a goddess of ancient Ireland, associated with war, horses, sovereignty, and the sites of Armagh and Emain Macha in County Armagh, which are named after her...

, and Badb
Badb
In Irish mythology, the Badb or Badhbh —meaning "crow" or "vulture"—was a war goddess who took the form of a crow, and was thus sometimes known as Badb Catha . She often caused fear and confusion among soldiers in order to move the tide of battle to her favoured side...

 (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
Táin Bó Cúailnge
is a legendary tale from early Irish literature, often considered an epic, although it is written primarily in prose rather than verse. It tells of a war against Ulster by the Connacht queen Medb and her husband Ailill, who intend to steal the stud bull Donn Cuailnge, opposed only by the teenage...

.

Lugh/Lug


The god appearing most frequently in the tales is Lugh
Lugh
Lug or Lugh is an Irish deity represented in mythological texts as a hero and High King of the distant past. He is known by the epithets Lámhfhada , for his skill with a spear or sling, Ildánach , Samhildánach , Lonnbeimnech and Macnia , and by the...

. He is evidently a residual of the earlier, more widespread god Lugus
Lugus
Lugus was a deity of the Celtic pantheon. His name is rarely directly attested in inscriptions, but his importance can be inferred from placenames and ethnonyms, and his nature and attributes are deduced from the distinctive iconography of Gallo-Roman inscriptions to Mercury, who is widely believed...

, whose diffusion 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
Lugdunum
Colonia Copia Claudia Augusta Lugdunum was an important Roman city in Gaul. The city was founded in 43 BC by Lucius Munatius Plancus. It served as the capital of the Roman province Gallia Lugdunensis. To 300 years after its foundation Lugdunum was the most important city to the west part of Roman...

 (the modern French city of Lyon
Lyon
Lyon , is a city in east-central France in the Rhône-Alpes region, situated between Paris and Marseille. Lyon is located at from Paris, from Marseille, from Geneva, from Turin, and from Barcelona. The residents of the city are called Lyonnais....

), Lugdunum Batavorum (the modern city of Katwijk
Katwijk
Katwijk is a coastal municipality and town in the province of South Holland in the western Netherlands. It has a population of 61,292.-Location:...

, 10 kilometers to the west of Leiden) and Lucus Augusti
Lucus Augusti
Lucus Augusti is the Latin name of two different ancient places in the Roman Empire:*Lugo, a city in Spain*Luc-en-Diois, a city in France...

 or Λοuκος Λuγούστον (the modern Galician city of Lugo
Lugo
Lugo is a city in northwestern Spain, in the autonomous community of Galicia. It is the capital of the province of Lugo. The municipality had a population of 97,635 in 2010, which makes is the fourth most populated city in Galicia.-Population:...

). 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.

Others


Other important goddesses include Brigid
Brigid
In Irish mythology, Brigit or Brighid was the daughter of the Dagda and one of the Tuatha Dé Danann. She was the wife of Bres of the Fomorians, with whom she had a son, Ruadán....

 (or Brigit), the Dagda's daughter; Aibell
Aibell
As described by Donal O'Sullivan, Aibell "was the Fairy Queen of Thomond in Irish mythology; and her palace, Carraig Liath or The Grey Rock, is a hill overlooking the Shannon about a mile and a half above Killaloe, on the Clare side of the river."She is the principal fairy goddess of the Dál gCais...

, Áine
Áine
Áine is an Irish goddess of love, summer, wealth and sovereignty. She is associated with the sun and midsummer, and is sometimes represented by a red mare. She is the daughter of Egobail, the sister of Aillen and/or Fennen, and is claimed as an ancestor by multiple Irish clans...

, Macha
Macha
Macha is the name of a goddess and several other characters in Irish mythology.Macha can also mean:*The LÉ Macha , a ship in the Irish Naval Service, named for the goddess*The Macha crater in Russia, less than 7000 years old...

, and the sovereign goddess, Ériu
Ériu
In Irish mythology, Ériu , daughter of Ernmas of the Tuatha Dé Danann, was the eponymous matron goddess of Ireland. Her husband was Mac Gréine ....

. Notable is Epona, the horse goddess, celebrated with horse races at the summer festival. Significant Irish gods include Nuada Airgetlám, the first king of the Tuatha Dé Danann; Goibniu
Goibniu
In Irish mythology Goibniu or Goibhniu was the smith of the Tuatha Dé Danann. The name of his father appears as Esarg or Tuirbe Trágmar, the 'thrower of axes.' Irish texts do not mention his mother but his counterpart in Welsh mythology, Gofannon, is a son of Dôn...

, the smith and brewer; Dian Cecht
Dian Cecht
In Irish mythology, Dian Cécht , also known as Cainte, Canta, was the God of healing to the Irish people. He was the healer for the Tuatha Dé Danann and the father of Cian, Cú, and Cethen...

, the patron of healing; and the sea god Manannán mac Lir
Manannán mac Lir
Manannán mac Lir is a sea deity in Irish mythology. He is the son of the obscure Lir . He is often seen as a psychopomp, and has strong affiliations with the Otherworld, the weather and the mists between the worlds...

.

Mythology of Wales




Less is known about the pre-Christian mythologies of Britain
Prehistoric Britain
For the purposes of this article, Prehistoric Britain is that period of time between the first arrival of humans on the land mass now known as Great Britain and the start of recorded British history...

 than those of Ireland
Prehistoric Ireland
The prehistory of Ireland has been pieced together from archaeological and genetic evidence; it begins with the first evidence of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers settling in Ireland around 7000 BC and finishes with the start of the historical record, around AD 400. The prehistoric period covers the...

. Important reflexes of British mythology appear in the Four Branches of the Mabinogi
Four Branches of the Mabinogi
The Four Branches of the Mabinogi are the best known tales from the collection of medieval Welsh prose known as the Mabinogion. The word "Mabinogi" originally designated only these four tales, which are really parts or "branches" of a single work, rather than the whole collection...

, especially in the names of several characters, such as Rhiannon
Rhiannon
Rhiannon is a prominent figure in Welsh mythology, mother to the Demetian hero Pryderi and wife to Pwyll . She is probably a reflex of the Celtic Great Queen goddess Rigantona and may also be associated with the horse goddess Epona.She appears in both the first and third branches of the Mabinogi...

, Teyrnon
Teyrnon
In Welsh tradition, Teyrnon Twrf Liant is the lord of Gwent and the foster-father of the divine son, Pryderi. He appears most prominently in Pwyll Pendefig Dyfed, the first branch of the Mabinogi, but also features briefly in the early Arthurian tale, Culhwch ac Olwen as a knight of King Arthur's...

, and Bendigeidfran
Bran the Blessed
Brân the Blessed is a giant and king of Britain in Welsh mythology. He appears in several of the Welsh Triads, but his most significant role is in the Second Branch of the Mabinogi, Branwen ferch Llŷr. He is a son of Llŷr and Penarddun, and the brother of Brânwen, Manawydan, Nisien and Efnysien...

 (‘Bran [Crow] the Blessed’). Other characters, in all likelihood, derive from mythological sources, and various episodes, such as the appearance of Arawn
Arawn
In Welsh mythology, Arawn was the king of the otherworld realm of Annwn, appearing prominently in the first branch, and alluded to in the fourth. In later tradition, the role of king of Annwn was largely attributed to the Welsh psychopomp, Gwyn ap Nudd...

, a king of the Otherworld seeking the aid of a mortal in his own feuds, and the tale of the hero who cannot be killed except under seemingly contradictory circumstances, can be traced throughout Indo-European myth and legend. The children of Llŷr
Llyr
Llŷr is a figure in Welsh mythology, the father of Brân, Brânwen and Manawydan by Penarddun. The Welsh Triads mention he was imprisoned by Euroswydd; the Second Branch of the Mabinogi names Euroswydd as the father of Penarddun's younger two sons, Nisien and Efnisien. Llŷr corresponds to Lir in...

 (‘Sea’ = Irish Lir
Lir
Ler or Lir is a sea god in Irish mythology. His name suggests that he is a personification of the sea, rather than a distinct deity. He is named Allód in early genealogies, and corresponds to the Llŷr of Welsh mythology...

) in the Second and Third Branches, and the children of Dôn
Dôn
Dôn was a Welsh mother goddess. She does not play a direct part in the action of the Mabinogi, though many characters in that cycle are related to her. She is the mother of Arianrhod, Gwydion, Gilfaethwy, Gofannon, Eufydd, Elestron and Amaethon. Patrick K...

 (Danu
Danu
The name Danu can mean:* A water goddess in Indo-European religion* An ancient Scythian word meaning "river". The commonly proposed etymology of the names of the Danube River, Dnieper River, Dniester River, Donets River and Don River...

 in Irish and earlier Indo-European tradition) in the Fourth Branch are major figures, but the tales themselves are not primary mythology.

While further mythological names and references appear elsewhere in Welsh narrative and tradition, especially in the tale of Culhwch and Olwen
Culhwch and Olwen
Culhwch and Olwen is a Welsh tale about a hero connected with Arthur and his warriors that survives in only two manuscripts: a complete version in the Red Book of Hergest, ca. 1400, and a fragmented version in the White Book of Rhydderch, ca. 1325. It is the longest of the surviving Welsh prose...

, where we find, for example, Mabon ap Modron
Mabon ap Modron
Mabon ap Modron is a prominent figure from Welsh literature and mythology, the son of Modron and a member of Arthur's warband. Both he and his mother were likely deities in origin, descending from a divine mother–son pair. His name is related to the Romano-British god Maponos, whose name means...

 (‘the Divine Son of the Divine Mother’), and in the collected Triads of the Island of Britain
Welsh Triads
The Welsh Triads are a group of related texts in medieval manuscripts which preserve fragments of Welsh folklore, mythology and traditional history in groups of three. The triad is a rhetorical form whereby objects are grouped together in threes, with a heading indicating the point of likeness...

, not enough is known of the British mythological background to reconstruct either a narrative of creation or a coherent pantheon of British deities. Indeed, though there is much in common with Irish myth, there may have been no unified British mythological tradition per se. Whatever its ultimate origins, the surviving material has been put to good use in the service of literary masterpieces that address the cultural concerns of Wales
Wales
Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east and the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west. It has a population of three million, and a total area of 20,779 km²...

 in the early and later Middle Ages.

Remnants of Gaulish and other mythology



The Celts also worshipped a number of deities of which we know little more than their names. Classical writers preserve a few fragments of legends or myths that may possibly be Celtic.

According to the Syrian rhetorician Lucian
Lucian
Lucian of Samosata was a rhetorician and satirist who wrote in the Greek language. He is noted for his witty and scoffing nature.His ethnicity is disputed and is attributed as Assyrian according to Frye and Parpola, and Syrian according to Joseph....

, Ogmios
Ogmios
Ogmios was the Celtic deity of eloquence. He looked like an older version of Heracles. He was also a binding god who would use his powers of persuasion to bind men onto himself and then lead them into the underworld....

 was supposed to lead a band of men chained by their ears to his tongue as a symbol of the strength of his eloquence.

The Roman poet Lucan
Marcus Annaeus Lucanus
Marcus Annaeus Lucanus , better known in English as Lucan, was a Roman poet, born in Corduba , in the Hispania Baetica. Despite his short life, he is regarded as one of the outstanding figures of the Imperial Latin period...

 (1st century AD) mentions the gods Taranis
Taranis
In Celtic mythology Taranis was the god of thunder worshipped essentially in Gaul, the British Isles, but also in the Rhineland and Danube regions amongst others, and mentioned, along with Esus and Toutatis as part of a sacred triad, by the Roman poet Lucan in his epic poem Pharsalia as a Celtic...

, Teutates
Toutatis
Toutatis or Teutates was a Celtic god worshipped in ancient Gaul and Britain. On the basis of his name's etymology, he has been widely interpreted to be a tribal protector. Today, he is best known under the name Toutatis through the Gaulish catchphrase "By Toutatis!", invented for the Asterix...

 and Esus
Esus
Esus or Hesus was a Gaulish god known from two monumental statues and a line in Lucan's Bellum civile.-Imagery:The two statues on which his name appears are the Pillar of the Boatmen from among the Parisii and a pillar from Trier among the Treveri. In both of these, Esus is portrayed cutting...

, but there is little Celtic evidence that these were important deities.

A number of objets d'art, coins, and altars may depict scenes from lost myths, such as the representations of Tarvos Trigaranus
Tarvos Trigaranus
Tarvos Trigaranus or Taruos Trigaranos is a divine figure who appears on a relief panel of the Pillar of the Boatmen as a bull with three cranes perched on his back...

 or of an equestrian ‘Jupiter
Jupiter (mythology)
In ancient Roman religion and myth, Jupiter or Jove is the king of the gods, and the god of the sky and thunder. He is the equivalent of Zeus in the Greek pantheon....

’ surmounting a snake-legged human-like figure
Anguipede
The Anguiped is a divinity that is often found on magical amulets from the Greco-Roman period.The Anguiped is depicted as a creature with the head of a rooster and snakes for legs, symbolism thought to be of Persian origin. Sometimes inscribed below is Iao, a form of the Tetragrammaton - the four...

. The Gundestrup cauldron
Gundestrup cauldron
The Gundestrup cauldron is a richly-decorated silver vessel, thought to date to the 1st century BC, placing it into the late La Tène period. It was found in 1891 in a peat bog near the hamlet of Gundestrup, in the Aars parish in Himmerland, Denmark...

 has been also interpreted mythically.

Along with dedications giving us god names, there are also deity representations to which no name has yet been attached. Among these are images of a three headed or three faced god, a squatting god, a god with a snake, a god with a wheel, and a horseman with a kneeling giant. Some of these images can be found in Late Bronze Age
Bronze Age
The Bronze Age is a period characterized by the use of copper and its alloy bronze as the chief hard materials in the manufacture of some implements and weapons. Chronologically, it stands between the Stone Age and Iron Age...

 peat bogs
Bog
A bog, quagmire or mire is a wetland that accumulates acidic peat, a deposit of dead plant material—often mosses or, in Arctic climates, lichens....

 in Britain, indicating the symbols were both pre-Roman and widely spread across Celtic culture. The distribution of some of the images has been mapped and shows a pattern of central concentration of an image along with a wide scatter indicating these images were most likely attached to specific tribes and were distributed from some central point of tribal concentration outward along lines of trade. The image of the three headed god has a central concentration among the Belgae, between the Oise, Marne and Moselle rivers. The horseman with kneeling giant is centered on either side of the Rhine. These examples seem to indicate regional preferences of a common image stock.

Julius Caesar’s comments on Celtic religion and their significance



The classic entry about the Celtic gods of Gaul is the section in Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....

's Commentarii de bello Gallico (52–51 BC; The Gallic War). In this he names the five principal gods worshipped in Gaul (according to the practice of his time, he gives the names of the closest equivalent Roman gods) and describes their roles. Mercury
Mercury (mythology)
Mercury was a messenger who wore winged sandals, and a god of trade, the son of Maia Maiestas and Jupiter in Roman mythology. His name is related to the Latin word merx , mercari , and merces...

 was the most venerated of all the deities and numerous representations of him were to be discovered. Mercury was seen as the originator of all the arts (and is often taken to refer to Lugus
Lugus
Lugus was a deity of the Celtic pantheon. His name is rarely directly attested in inscriptions, but his importance can be inferred from placenames and ethnonyms, and his nature and attributes are deduced from the distinctive iconography of Gallo-Roman inscriptions to Mercury, who is widely believed...

 for this reason), the supporter of adventurers and of traders, and the mightiest power concerning trade and profit. Next the Gauls revered Apollo
Apollo
Apollo is one of the most important and complex of the Olympian deities in Greek and Roman mythology...

, Mars
Mars (mythology)
Mars was the Roman god of war and also an agricultural guardian, a combination characteristic of early Rome. He was second in importance only to Jupiter, and he was the most prominent of the military gods worshipped by the Roman legions...

, Jupiter
Jupiter (mythology)
In ancient Roman religion and myth, Jupiter or Jove is the king of the gods, and the god of the sky and thunder. He is the equivalent of Zeus in the Greek pantheon....

, and Minerva
Minerva
Minerva was the Roman goddess whom Romans from the 2nd century BC onwards equated with the Greek goddess Athena. She was the virgin goddess of poetry, medicine, wisdom, commerce, weaving, crafts, magic...

. Among these divinities the Celts are described as holding roughly equal views as did other populations: Apollo dispels sickness, Minerva encourages skills, Jupiter governs the skies, and Mars influences warfare. In addition to these five, he mentions that the Gauls traced their ancestry to Dis Pater
Dis Pater
Dis Pater, or Dispater was a Roman god of the underworld, later subsumed by Pluto or Hades. Originally a chthonic god of riches, fertile agricultural land, and underground mineral wealth, he was later commonly equated with the Roman deities Pluto and Orcus, becoming an underworld deity.Dis Pater...

. MacBain argues that Apollo corresponds to Irish Lugh, Mercury to Manannan mac Lir, Jupiter to Dagda, Mars to Net, and Minerva to Brigit.

See also

  • Cornish folklore
    Cornish folklore
    Cornish folklore is the folk tradition which has developed in Cornwall. There is much traditional folklore in Cornwall, often tales of giants, mermaids, Bucca, piskies or the 'pobel vean' These are still surprisingly popular today, with many events hosting a 'droll teller' to tell the stories:...

  • Fisher King
    Fisher King
    The Fisher King, or the Wounded King, figures in Arthurian legend as the latest in a line charged with keeping the Holy Grail. Versions of his story vary widely, but he is always wounded in the legs or groin, and incapable of moving on his own...

  • Hag of the mist
    Hag of the mist
    The Hag of the mist, known in Welsh as the Gwrach-y-Rhibynor the Cyoeraeth, is a hag spirit comparable to the Irish banshee. Like the banshee, the Hag of the mist is portrayed as an ugly woman, whose shriek or cry is said to forewarn of misfortune or death.Often invisible, she can sometimes be seen...

  • Táin Bó Flidhais
    Táin Bó Flidhais
    Táin Bó Flidhais, also known as the Mayo Táin, is a tale from the Ulster Cycle of early Irish literature. It is one of a group of works known as Táin Bó, or "cattle raid" stories, the best known of which is Táin Bó Cúailnge...

  • Triskele

External links