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Thread: What do we know about Celtic pre-Christian religion?

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    Re: What do we know about Celtic pre-Christian religion?

    Sorry if this is too far off topic. I'd gladly take this somewhere else, although I'm anticipating a 'yes/no' answer..

    First I need to clear something up though. This phrasing of 'land deity' is confusing me. Sonofthewaters has stated that these are 'spirits of great heroes of that area'. I'd understood this the complete opposite way. That the local deities (predominantly male), which changed from tribe to tribe, were often immortalised heros. The spirits which were of physical features, what I'd term 'land deities', were beings in their own right. Have I got this mixed up, or are we using the terms differently?

    With that out of the way, here is my main question; It it is possible for a mortal person to become a god, does this mean my own conclusion, that there is little distinction between a deity and any other type spirit, was a view shared by your average Celt?
    夕方に急なにわか雨は「夕立」と呼ばれるなら、なぜ朝ににわか雨は「朝立ち」と呼ばれないの? ^^If a sudden rain shower in the evening is referred to as an 'evening stand', then why isn't a shower in the morning called 'morning stand'?

  2. #22
    sea witch thalassa's Avatar
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    Re: What do we know about Celtic pre-Christian religion?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jembru View Post
    Sorry if this is too far off topic.
    I think its close enough to the topic for me...


    First I need to clear something up though. This phrasing of 'land deity' is confusing me. Sonofthewaters has stated that these are 'spirits of great heroes of that area'. I'd understood this the complete opposite way. That the local deities (predominantly male), which changed from tribe to tribe, were often immortalised heros. The spirits which were of physical features, what I'd term 'land deities', were beings in their own right. Have I got this mixed up, or are we using the terms differently?
    I consider those to be cultural deities, or deified "ancestors" (though not necessarily kin) and deities of the land to be the land itself deifiend or akin to an elevated (in stature) land spirit...both of which can be found in the Roman and Greek religions (if one goes back before the time period most people are familiar with), and pretty much (at some point in the history of) nearly every PIE culture that I am familiar with.
    Last edited by thalassa; 15 Aug 2015 at 15:10.
    “You have never answered but you did not need to. If I stand at the ocean I can hear you with your thousand voices. Sometimes you shout, hilarious laughter that taunts all questions. Other nights you are silent as death, a mirror in which the stars show themselves. Then I think you want to tell me something, but you never do. Of course I know I have written letters to no-one. But what if I find a trident tomorrow?" ~~Letters to Poseidon, Cees Nooteboom

    “We still carry this primal relationship to the Earth within our consciousness, even if we have long forgotten it. It is a primal recognition of the wonder, beauty, and divine nature of the Earth. It is a felt reverence for all that exists. Once we bring this foundational quality into our consciousness, we will be able to respond to our present man-made crisis from a place of balance, in which our actions will be grounded in an attitude of respect for all of life. This is the nature of real sustainability.”
    ~~Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

    "We are the offspring of history, and must establish our own paths in this most diverse and interesting of conceivable universes--one indifferent to our suffering, and therefore offering us maximal freedom to thrive, or to fail, in our own chosen way."
    ~~Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History

    "Humans are not rational creatures. Now, logic and rationality are very helpful tools, but there’s also a place for embracing our subjectivity and thinking symbolically. Sometimes what our so-called higher thinking can’t or won’t see, our older, more primitive intuition will." John Beckett

    Pagan Devotionals, because the wind and the rain is our Bible

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    sea witch thalassa's Avatar
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    Re: What do we know about Celtic pre-Christian religion?

    to add...since I went to the bathroom and a kid sent this before I was ready...


    With that out of the way, here is my main question; It it is possible for a mortal person to become a god, does this mean my own conclusion, that there is little distinction between a deity and any other type spirit, was a view shared by your average Celt?
    The Druids (and considering they were essentially the priesthood of the Celts, probably themas well) probably believed in the immorality of the soul--Ammianus Marcellinus, compared them to the Pythagoreans, "Between them (the Bards and Ovates) came the Druids, men of greater talent, member os the intimate fellowship of the Pythagorean faith; they were lifted up by searchings into secret and sublime things, and with grand contempt for mortal lot they professed the immortality of the soul" and also (Diodorus Siculus) "The Pythagorean doctrine prevails among them (the Gauls), teaching that the souls of men are immortal and live again for a fixed number of years inhabited in another body..."

    (quotes from The Earth, The Gods and The Soul: A History of Pagan Philosophy...by Brendan Myers, a Pagan and philosopher)


    I'm not precisely sure how being a deified hero in actuality would work with reincarnation.
    “You have never answered but you did not need to. If I stand at the ocean I can hear you with your thousand voices. Sometimes you shout, hilarious laughter that taunts all questions. Other nights you are silent as death, a mirror in which the stars show themselves. Then I think you want to tell me something, but you never do. Of course I know I have written letters to no-one. But what if I find a trident tomorrow?" ~~Letters to Poseidon, Cees Nooteboom

    “We still carry this primal relationship to the Earth within our consciousness, even if we have long forgotten it. It is a primal recognition of the wonder, beauty, and divine nature of the Earth. It is a felt reverence for all that exists. Once we bring this foundational quality into our consciousness, we will be able to respond to our present man-made crisis from a place of balance, in which our actions will be grounded in an attitude of respect for all of life. This is the nature of real sustainability.”
    ~~Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

    "We are the offspring of history, and must establish our own paths in this most diverse and interesting of conceivable universes--one indifferent to our suffering, and therefore offering us maximal freedom to thrive, or to fail, in our own chosen way."
    ~~Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History

    "Humans are not rational creatures. Now, logic and rationality are very helpful tools, but there’s also a place for embracing our subjectivity and thinking symbolically. Sometimes what our so-called higher thinking can’t or won’t see, our older, more primitive intuition will." John Beckett

    Pagan Devotionals, because the wind and the rain is our Bible

  4. #24
    Member SonoftheWaters's Avatar
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    Re: What do we know about Celtic pre-Christian religion?

    Quote Originally Posted by thalassa View Post
    Are you trying to say that the Romans didn't have deities of the land? Because that isn't true for the whole history of Roman religion.
    By all means no, I am saying the concept of deity for a Celt and for a Roman were complete different, if you study the folklore enough you begin to get a better feel for how the Celts looked at deity. It is oddly more comparable to how Catholics view saints then the Romans viewed gods.

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    Re: What do we know about Celtic pre-Christian religion?

    Quote Originally Posted by thalassa View Post

    I'm not precisely sure how being a deified hero in actuality would work with reincarnation.
    This works pretty well for my own view of the spirit, but I'd be willing to wager a substantial amount of money, that my view of spirit from the point of death, is completely different to how Celtic societies, or any polytheistic society ever viewed it.
    夕方に急なにわか雨は「夕立」と呼ばれるなら、なぜ朝ににわか雨は「朝立ち」と呼ばれないの? ^^If a sudden rain shower in the evening is referred to as an 'evening stand', then why isn't a shower in the morning called 'morning stand'?

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    Member SonoftheWaters's Avatar
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    Re: What do we know about Celtic pre-Christian religion?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jembru View Post
    Sorry if this is too far off topic. I'd gladly take this somewhere else, although I'm anticipating a 'yes/no' answer..

    First I need to clear something up though. This phrasing of 'land deity' is confusing me. Sonofthewaters has stated that these are 'spirits of great heroes of that area'. I'd understood this the complete opposite way. That the local deities (predominantly male), which changed from tribe to tribe, were often immortalised heros. The spirits which were of physical features, what I'd term 'land deities', were beings in their own right. Have I got this mixed up, or are we using the terms differently?

    With that out of the way, here is my main question; It it is possible for a mortal person to become a god, does this mean my own conclusion, that there is little distinction between a deity and any other type spirit, was a view shared by your average Celt?
    Quote Originally Posted by thalassa View Post
    I think its close enough to the topic for me...

    I consider those to be cultural deities, or deified "ancestors" (though not necessarily kin) and deities of the land to be the land itself deifiend or akin to an elevated (in stature) land spirit...both of which can be found in the Roman and Greek religions (if one goes back before the time period most people are familiar with), and pretty much (at some point in the history of) nearly every PIE culture that I am familiar with.
    It is actually very on topic because it goes to how the Celts view deity and this is highly important to understanding the concepts Celt Faith.

    The form of land deity you are thinking of does exist but is more a Roman/Grecian concept of a land deity then a Celtic one.

    To get a better idea of this let me tell you one of the old legends(I apologize my memory is going faulty on the specific name of the saint, so for reference, you can find the story in "The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom by Caitlin and John Matthews" with the original referenced story.)

    There was a saint that wanted to create a monastery on a remote island. He was told by the locals that the spirits of the land would not allow him too, for the island was cursed. Believing that he could succeed were others failed he setup camp and began building. Nothing went wrong on the first of building and the saint thought surely the lands spirits will can do nothing. When the workers left for the night, all was well. However when the saint and the workers returned in the morning all the work they had done the day before was gone as if they had done nothing. The saint walked the island, exorcising evil spirits from island and praying for three days to rid the island of evil so that he may build the monastery. After completing this, we returned with the works for another day of building. Again after the builders and saint left for the day all was well and again upon returning all the work that they had done was wiped away as if they had done nothing the day before. The saint once again spent three days on the island attempting to rid the island of the spirits and again for the third build day the process repeated itself. After the third time, the saint went to the local druid and asked what he could. The druid told him that he couldn't build there until a willing person took up guardianship of the land. The saint asked how this could be done and the druid told him that he must bury alive a willing person to become the guardian of the island to appease the land. The saint ferreted over this for many days, when one day his brother came to him and said he would be willing to do this as long as the didn't actually bury him just cover him up. The saint taking to the idea accepted his brothers idea and they went back to the island and dug a large hole big enough for his brother to be comfortable and covered the whole so it would appear as if he was buried alive. The saint went back to work on the monastery and after the first day of building everything was still standing, the same for second and again the same for third. Upon the third day, the saint said to himself that surely he could recover his brother now. So the workers help the saint to uncover his brother and upon doing so his brother leaped out of the hole and said two things. The first was "I've seen hell and it's not all that bad" the second was never recorded, however upon hearing the second comment the saint and workers pushed the saints brother back into the hole and this time actually buried him alive. To this day the spirit of the saints brother guards the island and monastery.

    This land guardian is what the christian monks confused as land deity when writing the history of the Celts.

    - - - Updated - - -

    Quote Originally Posted by thalassa View Post
    to add...since I went to the bathroom and a kid sent this before I was ready...


    The Druids (and considering they were essentially the priesthood of the Celts, probably themas well) probably believed in the immorality of the soul--Ammianus Marcellinus, compared them to the Pythagoreans, "Between them (the Bards and Ovates) came the Druids, men of greater talent, member os the intimate fellowship of the Pythagorean faith; they were lifted up by searchings into secret and sublime things, and with grand contempt for mortal lot they professed the immortality of the soul" and also (Diodorus Siculus) "The Pythagorean doctrine prevails among them (the Gauls), teaching that the souls of men are immortal and live again for a fixed number of years inhabited in another body..."

    (quotes from The Earth, The Gods and The Soul: A History of Pagan Philosophy...by Brendan Myers, a Pagan and philosopher)


    I'm not precisely sure how being a deified hero in actuality would work with reincarnation.
    To the Druids, the soul is immortal, this is correct. To a Druid you die in this world and are born in the next and vis verses.

    There were three levels of Druids, Bards = Historians, Ovates=Priest, Druids=Ambassadors, now this is the generic version and each group contain a lot more sub-groups but this gives you a good idea.

    The fixed number of years concept, I have not found in reference to nor I have I been able to find the ultimate end game to the cycle in the Celt faith, though I know there was one; the same applies on how one goes from a everyday hero to a land deity, though I have found enough references in enough folklore to be that this is how 'most' the "gods" of the Celts became gods.

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    Re: What do we know about Celtic pre-Christian religion?

    The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom by Caitlin and John Matthews is an interesting book but I do not think it is historically accurate. The druids were the religious leaders who were in direct opposition to the Christians and who ultimately were removed. It was the fili or filidh (poets, teachers, counselors, associated with legal issues and maybe even involved with magic) who passed the information down which would be written into the account by monks in the Irish tales and gave use what we know about pre-Christian Gaelic Celtic beliefs and myths. The problem is that in writing the tales the monks clearly modified the tales or even confused the information not to mention that the fili had and oral culture which after the loss of the druids influence may have combined different beliefs. There was also increasing influence from the continent which may have altered some of the myths too. I believe the monks in part created this family of the Tuatha De Danann connecting multiple gods and goddesses of different clans or tribes in an effort to describe the pre-Christian gods and goddesses as a family as seen in the Roman concepts at the time of Caesar entering the British Isles.

    There is a very interesting study of the Norse gods and goddesses in a symposium and later book 'Old Norse Religion in Long-Term Perspectives'. They use literature, history archeology and linguistics to show how Norse Religion changed over time and how it was influenced but other cultures especially Roman and Christian. The Norse mythology written in Iceland (as Celtic in Ireland) was written by Christians who attempted to preserve what they understood. What the book (with multiple authors looking at different aspects) shows is the original Norse beliefs and practices changed over time. By the year 1000 we again have a very organized view of the Norse gods and goddesses having similarities to the late Roman presentation. I am not that familiar with Roman or Greek beliefs beyond the organized an late presentation but I agree with Thalassa that Greek and Roman beliefs changed over time which as I learn more about other religions is a normal aspect of religion. Thus even when we discuss Celtic beliefs there may be differences based on time. That's why I say Dagda is more ancient a concept than Lug and not from Lineage. I still believe that each clan/tribe had a god and goddess associated with their own location rather that each tribe picking out one of the family of the Tuatha De Danann. Anu is clearly associated with one area of Ireland where Macha or at least one of the Machas is associated with another. Each river is associated with a different goddess. I believe he monks and maybe even the later fili connected them into a family. Another reason for this may have also been a genealogical reason to trace ancestry and try to connect it as much as possible to the mythical past and in that case the family presentation is more helpful. The older pre-Christian beliefs appear more nature based where nature had both the natural and the supernatural in a close proximity. Later pre-Christian becomes more focused on the heros both of the tribe and outside the tribe.

    The connection of the gods and goddesses being connected with the land certainly does not die out with Christianity but lives on in the folklore which clearly continued on even becoming incorporated into he evolving Christianity if Ireland. The spirits of the land change no longer seen as the gods and goddesses but become the spirits of the sidhe, The fairy folk. The fairy mounds (mounds of the sidhe) which were divided between the gods/goddess change to be the otherworld which became the fertile ground for the Romantic restoration of the pre-Christian beliefs.

  8. #28
    sea witch thalassa's Avatar
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    Re: What do we know about Celtic pre-Christian religion?

    Quote Originally Posted by sionnach View Post
    The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom by Caitlin and John Matthews is an interesting book but I do not think it is historically accurate. The druids were the religious leaders who were in direct opposition to the Christians and who ultimately were removed. It was the fili or filidh (poets, teachers, counselors, associated with legal issues and maybe even involved with magic) who passed the information down which would be written into the account by monks in the Irish tales and gave use what we know about pre-Christian Gaelic Celtic beliefs and myths.
    I second this...


    The problem is that in writing the tales the monks clearly modified the tales or even confused the information not to mention that the fili had and oral culture which after the loss of the druids influence may have combined different beliefs.
    But not so much this, and I think "There was also increasing influence from the continent which may have altered some of the myths too. " is ultimately unimportant, because I think there was a lot more interchange between cultures before this point anyhow--- I don't think cultural exchange ultimately matters when it comes to authenticity because the religion (any religion) is not static. It changes with the people...it has to, or it becomes irrelevent. There is nothing that makes this less authentic than it would have been 200 years or 2000 years prior. (sorry if I seem to be harping onthis point, I just think it crucial for people to take it into account)

    I'm of the opinion (based on copious research over the years) that the early Irish monks are more accurate than most contemporary Pagans (who may or may not be swayed by teir own issues and biases) give them credit for. There is too much that they didn't censor that they should have, if they were truly concerned with being good Christians. The Irish monks had incredible leeway, they wrote in their own language (not Latin), and they did so before their culture shifted from pre-Christian ideals, which is why it (while not wholly unaltered) a pretty darn good source of information.
    “You have never answered but you did not need to. If I stand at the ocean I can hear you with your thousand voices. Sometimes you shout, hilarious laughter that taunts all questions. Other nights you are silent as death, a mirror in which the stars show themselves. Then I think you want to tell me something, but you never do. Of course I know I have written letters to no-one. But what if I find a trident tomorrow?" ~~Letters to Poseidon, Cees Nooteboom

    “We still carry this primal relationship to the Earth within our consciousness, even if we have long forgotten it. It is a primal recognition of the wonder, beauty, and divine nature of the Earth. It is a felt reverence for all that exists. Once we bring this foundational quality into our consciousness, we will be able to respond to our present man-made crisis from a place of balance, in which our actions will be grounded in an attitude of respect for all of life. This is the nature of real sustainability.”
    ~~Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

    "We are the offspring of history, and must establish our own paths in this most diverse and interesting of conceivable universes--one indifferent to our suffering, and therefore offering us maximal freedom to thrive, or to fail, in our own chosen way."
    ~~Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History

    "Humans are not rational creatures. Now, logic and rationality are very helpful tools, but there’s also a place for embracing our subjectivity and thinking symbolically. Sometimes what our so-called higher thinking can’t or won’t see, our older, more primitive intuition will." John Beckett

    Pagan Devotionals, because the wind and the rain is our Bible

  9. #29
    Member SonoftheWaters's Avatar
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    Re: What do we know about Celtic pre-Christian religion?

    Quote Originally Posted by sionnach View Post
    The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom by Caitlin and John Matthews is an interesting book but I do not think it is historically accurate.
    I would agree that it is not 100% historically accuate but that doesn't change that the myths and legends that they used are real.
    The reference for my beliefs are based upon the these myths and legends

    Quote Originally Posted by sionnach View Post
    'Old Norse Religion in Long-Term Perspectives'
    I will need to look for this and pick up a copy.

    **Ok, I was trying to respond to the rest of this but someone forgot to send out the maintenance notice and apparently no can understand that there is maintenance every Sunday and I keep getting interrupted.

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    Re: What do we know about Celtic pre-Christian religion?

    I would point out that when we talk about myths they are subject to many variances over time and place. If we want to prove they are real, then real in what sense?

    History is what myth isn’t. What history tells is true or else it would not be history. What myth tells is in some way false or else it would be history. Yet even within mythology there are graduations of credibility. (And this comes from Ken Dowden, The Uses of Greek Mythology, Routledge, 2000 - and he is, historically speaking, very reliable).

    Forgive me for seeming a bit pedantic, but at this point it's worth looking at the word ‘Myth’ and what it really means. Back in the days of Homer, at the beginning of Greek literature, a mythos was not necessarily false. Later, by around the 5th century BCE, mythos was usually applied to fiction. (Logos was used then for non fiction).

    By the mid 80's BCE, mythos was translated in Latin by fibula (which is where the words fable and indeed fib come from).
    Basically we can say that myth deals with how a lost and powerful past created the present, i.e. it tells us about gods, heroes, beginnings and explanations.

    However, the word legend comes from the Latin word, legenda, meaning ‘things to be read’ and includes stories based on real characters. Over time these stories developed to make them more significant and interesting for each new audience.
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