27 апреля 2013

Celtic Myths

Prior to Roman or Christian influence the Celts preferred to pass on their sacred teachings and myths orally. After the coming of Christianity in the fifth century onwards, the monks recorded the myths, and it is thanks to them that so many survive today.

One might expect Christian monks to have qualms about recording pagan tales, but this does not seem to have been the case. St Patrick, who brought Christianity to Ireland in 432, had his doubts about the old stories until he received a vision in which he was told to respect and record them.


Some of the myths have been Christianized, especially those recorded in Wales. However, a particular feature of Celtic myths may have prevented this from happening more often: namely, the way in which deities have been euhemerized (given human form), so that, unlike the Greek myths, they are not obviously of a religious nature.

The god Lugh

We can see this ‘euhemerization’ clearly in the case of the god Lugh, who gives his name to the Irish summer festival of Lughnasadh. In the earliest Irish myths he is clearly a deity. As such, he offers himself as the saviour of the Tuatha dé Danann, the predecessors of the Milesians or Gaels. Seeking entry at the palace of King Nuada of the Silver Hand, at Tara, he announces each of his skills in turn – ‘Blacksmith, warrior, musician, poet, scholar …’. Each time he is refused entry, until he points out that no one else combines all these skills in one person, as he does. In the Mabinogion, the main source of British myths, Lugh has become the much more human Lleu Llaw Gyfes, nephew (and possibly son) of the magician Gwydion. He is skilled, and protected by charms, but he is not obviously a god: in fact at one point he appears to be mortal.

The Dagda, father of the gods

Lugh shares some characteristics with the Dagda, a larger-than-life figure prominent in myths of the Tuatha dé Danann. Like Lugh, he is powerful and omnicompetent. Yet he is often represented as a rather comic figure whose short tunic fails to cover his buttocks, and whose huge club has to be carried on wheels. He has great magical powers, and he possesses a harp which comes to him when he calls, and a cauldron of abundance which restores dead warriors to life (but without powers of speech, perhaps in case they say too much about the afterlife).


Powerful though these gods were, the Celtic goddesses were perhaps even more so. They were closely associated with the land, and in this identification they sometimes seem to be aspects of a single all-embracing Goddess. Their link to the seasonal cycles, to fertility and death, may partly account for the fact that a single goddess often takes three forms, or aspects – usually maiden, mother and crone.

Celtic goddesses could be life-giving and sustaining, but were also, in their dark aspect, associated with sex and death, which in Celtic terms are part of the round of life. The most powerful Irish example is the red-haired shape-shifting Morrigan, said to have coupled with the Dagda.

Sources of the myths

The surviving Celtic myths come from Scotland and Ireland, which were at one time closely related, from Wales (though many of these originated orally further east), and from Brittany. No myths survive from Romanized areas, such as Gaul on the Continent. They do not appear to have been written down in Latin.

The greatest body of myth comes from Ireland, which was untouched by the Romans, although much of its mythic material was destroyed by Viking marauders.

In these videos, if you are interested, you may see how Christy Kenneally explores the vibrant and mystical world of the Celts, examining the early settlements in Central Europe, and their later emergence in Wales and Ireland.

 These videos were taken from the THE LOST GODS channel on YouTube

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