Celtic mythology

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Celtic mythology is a collective term coined by literary studies ( philology ) and religious studies for the totality of the legendary profane (secular) and religious stories ( myths ) of the Celts , from the time before their Christianization up to the Christian Middle Ages . In contrast, the term Celtic religion means the sum of the institutions, rites or ceremonies on certain occasions dedicated to the gods or the deceased before Christianization.

There are hardly any direct written sources for the Celtic mythology of the prehistoric and ancient times, the intra-Celtic tradition in pre-Christian times almost exclusively took place through oral tradition . The accounts of ancient Greek and Roman authors, as well as the manuscripts from the British Isles written much later by Christian monks, provide further information. With the ancient authors, a clear picture is difficult because of the Interpretatio Graeca and the Interpretatio Romana (equating ancient Celtic with Greek and Roman deities).

From all these sources, which should therefore be used with due caution, it can be seen that there was no uniform mythological tradition for the Celtic space (the Celticum ). The large number of regional myths were only to a very limited extent in line with one another.

Origins and Tradition

Since there was no political or cultural unit of the Celts, the Celtic mythology also shows no unity, but is regionally different. The tradition found so far is fragmentary, since in the early Celtic times there was only an oral tradition. A written record of the traditional myths was usually frowned upon in the circle of cult personnel ( druids , druids , fathers , filid ), since this knowledge should only be made available to their adepts . Written records of the myths for the mainland celts only existed by the ancient Greek and Roman ethnographers , who, however, are shaped by the respective idol of the authors. The Graeca and Romana interpretations they used are also of little or no help here.

Monk in the scriptorium ;
William Blades (1891)

The island Celtic records from the early Middle Ages (6th to 11th centuries) by Irish and British monks, who often descended from the old druid and bard families and therefore had a close relationship with the myths of their ancestors, have been changed by the Christian view - if surprisingly cautious. In Ireland, to a certain extent, the pagan culture of memory met the Christian monastic culture of writing , which made it its task to preserve the old legends in their traditional form.

Helmut Birkhan names the following sources for research into Celtic mythology, sorted according to their reliability:

Linguistically, in Celtic mythology, analogous to the geographical division of the Celtic ethnic and language groups, several branches are distinguished:

The myths passed down in the British Isles, Ireland and Brittany describe heroes who can be traced back to original deities. Family of gods like the Irish Túatha Dé Danann have become mythical heroes in early medieval legends, who are reinterpreted in folk tales as goblins , elves and other legendary figures. In the saints are in the monastic scriptoria encounters written into (gods) with long-dead heroes of the pagan Christian saints over again. An example of this is Acallam na Senórach (“The Conversation of the Ancients”) from around 1200 AD, where a conversation between mythical heroes and Saint Patrick of Ireland (4th / 5th centuries AD) tells becomes.

The problems of the correct evaluation of this euhemerization (development of ideas of God through mythical exaggeration of historical persons) shows the legend of St. Brigida of Kildare : it is closely connected with the myths about the Celtic goddess Brigid , whereby scientists discuss whether Brigida on the one hand as historical Person or humanization of the old goddess was to be seen - or whether on the other hand Brigid had been invented as a "model" of the saints in order to devalue them in favor of the national saint Patrick of Ireland as a pagan legendary figure.

Foreign influences and interactions

"Direct connections with the Etruscans and the Scythians expanded the Celtic horizon, and with it mythology and worldview."

- Sylvia and Paul F. Botheroyd

This probably around the end of the 5th century BC. Contacts over the Alps (in Etruria around 400 BC) and on the Balkan Peninsula (in Illyria around 360 BC) were one of the triggers for the transition from Hallstatt to La Tène culture . The Celtic mythology, basically oriented towards Indo - European , was obviously influenced by this, but retained its special view of the close connection between the material world and the spiritual world beyond.

The particularly important Germanic-Celtic reciprocal influence is of an older date and only begins with the late Hallstatt period (from 6th / 5th century BC). At the time of Roman rule in the Rhineland, the Germans and Celts had been neighbors for centuries, which can be seen in the matron cults . In which direction the influence went, however, is insufficiently verifiable, since the associated myths have not been passed down and the etymology assumes both the migration of Celtic matron names into Germanic and vice versa. From the imagery of island Celtic myths and their North Germanic counterparts, it can be assumed that there was mutual fertilization and that there was also a Celtic-Germanic cultural association in the North Sea region, which promoted similarities in the formulation of the traditions. According to current knowledge, all the stories that revolve around allegiance have been taken over by the Germans from the Celtic cultural area. This can be seen, among other things, in the old Germanic word * ambaχtaz 'servant, follower', which comes from the old Celtic ambactos 'messenger, servant' (actually 'sent around').

The Celtic deity Taranis and its Germanic counterpart Thor / Donar are an example of how difficult it is to establish a context of myths . Etymologically to be interpreted as "Donner (er)" ( Welsh taran ), with the corresponding North Germanic literary myth tradition, which is missing in Celtic, it is identified with Dispater / Iuppiter by the Gauls . In the case of the matrons, the Celtic name of Ollogabiæ ('Alles Nehmende'?) Contrasts with the Germanic Alagabiæ ('Alles Giver '), whereby the Germanic name is probably the older one. The lack of traditional myths in the continental Celtic is often the reason for problematic attempts at interpretation.

In the course of the oral tradition, the content of the myths on which this mythology is based changed and also took on influences from late ancient ( Roman) and early medieval (especially Viking and Anglo-Saxon ) sources. Biblical traditions (through the monastic legends recorder) or early knightly tradition (from the Matière de Bretagne ) from mainland Europe were added to the written record , which is why the island Celtic myths also offer an insight into the early and high medieval world of legends and thoughts British Isles.

Regional mythologies

"We know (at least in part) the religion of the mainland Celts, but no mythology, whereas the island Celts literarily formed the mythology at a time when the underlying religion no longer existed"

- Helmut Birkhan

Mainland Celtic area

The mythology of the mainland celts is largely lost. Motifs such as the Gundestrup cauldron or the Nautae Parisiaci (pillar of the Paris boatmen's guild) seem to be inspired by the myth of the killing of a bull, the Tarvos Trigaranus . It also depicts the victory of the god or hero Smertrios over a mythical giant snake and the felling of a tree by the god Esus . Due to the lack of ancient sources, the interpretation of the depicted scenes is extremely difficult and controversial.

An example is a depiction of the god Ogmios , on which it can be seen that chains of gold and amber extend from the tip of his pierced tongue, with which he pulls a large crowd of people behind him, whose ears hang at the other end of the chains. The people not only do not offer any resistance, but apparently happily follow their leader, who, with his head turned back, smiles at them. Lukian of Samosata reports in his work Hercules ( Ἡρακλῆς , also "The Gallic Hercules") that a "wise" Celt - apparently a druid - gave him the corresponding interpretation that this should symbolize the power of the word that people are happy to follow . It cannot be clarified whether this is actually a traditional mythological story or “just” an attempt to explain it by the Greek author or his Gallic author.

Jupiter-Taranis, rider of a giant column in Obernburg am Main

Latin inscriptions on Gallo-Roman Jupiter giant columns from the Roman provinces Germania superior , Germania inferior and northern Gaul additionally point to a Celtic myth in which the Celtic god Taranis / Jupiter fights against giants. Some Celtologists suspect a continuation of the worship of sacred trees in the columns.

The continental Celtic world of gods has been passed down almost exclusively through their recorded names, function or cult can only be insufficiently assumed through the location of the consecration stones or other artifacts . Caesar reports on a "sacred grove" ( nemetom , "the consecrated") as a cult center and meeting place during the Vercingetorix revolt (52 BC) in the area of ​​the Carnutes as the "center of Gaul". The annual druid meetings took place there.

From Brittany, known as Aremorica , there are almost no traditional myths; the few that exist relate to contacts with Wales and Cornwall, such as some later Arthurian sagas , which under the term Matière de Bretagne influenced courtly poetry in Old French and Middle High German . Although the first settlers from the British Isles apparently reached the mainland as early as the 4th century, continuous written tradition did not begin until the 14th and 15th centuries. The Breton fairy tales and folk tales can possibly go back to old legends, but there are currently no reliable sources for this. In the 12th century, twelve Breton lais (short poem in French with a Celtic theme) were collected and published by the poet Marie de France . One example of this is the Lai Lanval . It was not until the 19th century that Théodore Hersart de La Villemarqué published a collection of Breton folk tales under the name Barzaz Breiz ("Brittany poetry collection").

Asia Minor

Little is known about the myth and cult of the Galatians in Asia Minor . They held the Great Council of 300, the assembly of the representatives of the three Galatian tribes, in a drunémeton (δρυνέμετον), a "sacred grove", which was cared for by druids as a place of worship. The comparison with the Gallic grove in the Karnutenwald is obvious here. The rites that were held are not recorded, but ecstatic practices are reported by the druids . A priestly kingship is attested, there were human sacrifices , the Gallic genius cucullatus has its counterpart in the Galatian god of healing Telesphoros (“perfecter”), Zeus was worshiped under various Celtic (surnames) ( Boussourigios , “with the royal mouth”, Bennios , from Gallic benna , "chariot"). Names of the tetrarchs (tribal leaders), such as De (i) otaros , "heavenly bull" and Brogitaros , "bull of the land", indicate a bull cult and the later Galatian cybel priests were called "Gauls" (Γάλλοι) .


"Ireland went through an unbroken special development and therefore still gives us a rich treasure trove of legends, which Celtic mythology has best preserved, although it was only Christian writers from the 7th century onwards who wrote down the stories."

- Sylvia & Paul F. Botheroyd
Cú Chulainn and his charioteer ;
Joseph Christian Leyendecker (1911)

The myths of old Ireland that have been handed down in writing begin with Lebor Gabála Érenn ("The Book of the Lands of Ireland"). It was written down in its traditional version by Irish monks who tried to combine the Celtic with the Christian tradition. The Lebor describes the settlement of Ireland and was not regarded as part of the Irish cycle of legends until the 17th century, but as a work of history. Today, due to recent archaeological findings, this attitude has given way to great skepticism.

The Lebor Gabála Érenn describes the sequence of settlements or conquests of the island, with six stages being distinguished: First came Cessair , then Partholon and Nemed , the Firbolg , the Túatha Dé Danann and finally the Milesians , who were the real ancestors of the Irish Gael to be named. In the form of euhemerism (exaggeration of quasi-historical persons) these figures of pre-Christian mythology are to be represented as gods, but later as historical persons. After the inferior colonists withdrew to the otherworld , to the realm of the dead, on islands far beyond the horizon, in the underground caves ( Síd ) or in magical realms below the sea, they were worshiped by humans as gods or nature spirits.

The legends of the mythological cycle tell in detail about this áes sídhe ("people of the [grave] hills"), which is mostly associated with the legends of the Túatha Dé Danann. Later legends are for example the Ulster cycle , which is mainly about the hero Cú Chulainn and the epic of Táin Bó Cuailnge ("The Robbery of Cooley "), the Finn cycle about Fionn mac Cumhaill and the legendary warrior league of Fianna , the king - or historical cycle about the later pre- and early Christian royal families of Ireland and the Imrama about journeys into the Otherworld. In all of these more recent cycles, the earlier deities have already mutated into mythical heroes with supernatural gifts.

The four main festivals of the Irish / Celtic year, Samhain (November 1st), Imbolc (February 1st), Beltaine (May 1st) and Lughnasadh (August 1st), all based on ancient myths, form an essential tradition that continues to this day and the deities closely related to it.


King Arthur, miniature in the Flores Historiarum , 13th century

The written British mythology can be divided into three groups: medieval texts in Cymrian and Breton and medieval texts in Latin or Anglo-Saxon . While for Wales, as for Ireland, the monastic manuscripts are the basis of tradition, in Scotland it is an oral tradition in the form of ballad-like songs, which were sung until the first half of the 20th century.

Prydein , known as Britus, is considered the legendary progenitor of the Britons. A tradition in the historically unreliable Historia Regum Britanniae ("The History of the Kings of Britain") by Geoffrey of Monmouth about a Britto or Brutus mentions the conquest of Britain and the battles against the indigenous people.

From Wales, the Pedeir Ceinc y Mabinogi ("The Four Branches of Mabinogi") should be mentioned, which deal with the euhemerized Welsh deities from different families of gods, in particular from the House of Dôn and the House of Llŷr , comparable to the Irish Túatha Dé Danann. The four branches are titled Pwyll Pendefig Dyfed ("Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed"), Branwen ferch Llŷr ("Branwen, daughter of Llyr"), Manawydan fab Llŷr ("Manawydan, son of Llyr") and Math fab Mathonwy (" Math, son of Mathonwy ”). British mythology as well as legends and fairy tales are to be regarded as sources of these narratives.

The early Arthurian legend is an essential part of the Welsh / British / Cornish / Breton myths, including the Y Tair Rhamant ("The three romances"), namely Iarlles y Ffynnawn ("The mistress of the well"), Peredur fab Efrawg ("Peredur, Son of Evrawg ") and Gereint fab Erbin (" Gereint , son of the heiress "), plus Culhwch ac Olwen (" Kulhwch and Olwen "), Breuddwyd Rhonabwy (" The Ronabwy's Dream "), Breuddwyd Macsen (" Macsen's Dream " ) and Preiddeu Annwfn ("The Robbery of Annwfn ") are counted. The legends of Taliesin ( Hanes Taliesin , "The Story of Taliesin" and Llyfr Taliesin "The Book of Taliesin") are also connected with it. The later Arthurian novels by the authors Chrétien de Troyes , Hartmann von Aue , Ulrich von Zatzikhoven , Wolfram von Eschenbach , Wirnt von Grafenberg , Heinrich von dem Türlin , Der Stricker and Konrad von Stoffeln , which were written from the 12th century onwards, are grouped under the term Matière de Bretagne ("Subject from Britain"), are based on this British Arthurian myth.

The Trioedd Ynys Prydein ("Welsh Triads") contain references to further, already lost myths .

Animal mythology

The fact that animals play an important role in Celtic mythology can be explained by their importance for daily life, but above all for the sacrificial ceremonies. Proof of this is the much more frequent representation in art compared to human images. Many gods and goddesses are closely related to certain animals, which is shown by animal images as an attribute of many images of gods. The myths associated with it can no longer be reconstructed in the mainland Celticum. In the island Celtic myths, animals very often play a role that triggers action.

Lir and the Swans;
HRMillar (1905)
  • Birds probably often impressed people with their diverse abilities (flying, swimming, diving), the Celts also with their mysterious absence in the cold or warm season ( migratory birds ) - a stay in the Otherworld seemed a plausible explanation for this. Despite the connection function ascribed to them between the world and the celestial heights as well as between the elements earth, air and water, the Iron Age Celts ascribed either positive or negative forces to individual bird species. Birds of the mother goddesses were life-enhancing and healing, birds of war deities were threatening and destructive. Voluntary or involuntary transformations into bird form are also a frequent myth.
    • The eagle has been credited with being able to fly straight into the sun, therefore it is seen as a worthy companion of the main deity Taranis . In island Celtic myths, the eagle is often considered to be one of the oldest and therefore wisest creatures (as in Culhwch ac Olwen ). Llew Llaw Gyffes transforms into an eagle after an assassination attempt. In the Arthurian legend Eachtra Mhacaoimhan-iolair ("The Adventures of the Eagle Boy") an eagle saves a child at risk.
    • Owls are a symbol of the mother goddess Rigani , in island Celtic legends Blodeuwedd became an owl after she was cursed by Gwydyon .
    • The domestic chicken has been detectable north of the Alps since the late Hallstatt period. In Caesar you can read that the Britons rejected the consumption of chicken for taboo reasons. A Primer -Amulett in the form of a cock as a damage prevention spell has been in the grave of the Princess of Reinheim found. The Gallic rooster as the symbol and heraldic animal of France may have taken its place as a companion of Mercury, as it is most often mentioned in the Interpretatio Romana of Gaulish gods. For this reason, the rooster as his companion animal is also very present in depictions in what is now France. A duck with a sun ball in its beak (a common mythological motif) adorns the bow of Sequana's boat. The goose was also taboo as a food in Britain, but not in the mainland Celtic, as found in graves in eastern Czech Republic (especially common in warrior graves) prove. In Risingham ( Northumberland ) a nameless god was worshiped who had the goose as a sympathizer.
    • The crane , often in connection with the bull a popular motif on shields, helmets and weapons, is depicted in a legend about Midir in the form of the “three cranes of stinginess” (corr diúltada) , which he has to leave to the stingy Aithirne . The first one keeps shouting “Don't come!” , The second “Go away!” And the third “Past the house!” . Anyone who even looked at these three cranes could not survive a fight that day. Up until the Middle Ages, there was a strict ban on eating crane meat.
    • In the founding legend of Lyon (Lugdunum) it is reported that ravens came down from heaven and that the city was therefore given the name Lugdunum (according to pseudo-Plutarch, de fluviis 6, 14, “raven” is said to mean lugos in Gaulish ). There is no etymological confirmation for this, but the coins and some medallions in the city show a raven-like animal. On a silver bowl (beginning of the 1st century AD) the god Lugus can be seen with a raven fluttering above him. The raven oracle in a non-localized Atlantic port with the name "Two Ravens" (Δύο κοράκων) is also based on a local legend. In the island Celtic area, the raven is always associated with acts of war. The Irish goddesses of war Bodb and Morrígan as well as the war demonesses Scáthach , Uathach and Aife are accompanied by ravens or can transform themselves into such. In the Welsh legend Branwen ferch Llŷr , the names Brân Fendigeid ("Blessed Raven") and Branwen ("White Rabin") can be found. Branwen sends a trained star from Ireland to Wales with a cry for help to her brother Brân. In the myth of the two deities Nantosuelta and Sucellus, ravens may have played an important role as a link to the world of the dead. The ravens of the Tower of London are still linked to the legend today that they guard Brân's head there and protect England's existence. Since King Arthur is said to have turned into a raven after his battle death at Camlann , killing such a bird was forbidden in Cornwall until the end of the Middle Ages.
    • In many Irish legends, gods and heroes turn into swans or are transformed into such, for example Midir in Tochmarc Étaíne ("The courtship for Étaín"), Fand and Lí Ban in Serglige Con Chulainn ("Cú Chulainn's sick bed") and the children Lirs in Oidheadh ​​Chlainne Lir ("The Story of the Children of Lirs"). In the legend Aislinge Oenguso ( "Oengus' dream face") of the beloved is Oengus , COER Ibormeit a 75 swans.
Artio-Plastik, Historical Museum Bern
  • Popular as hunting game, the bear becomes a symbol of strength and a warrior. The god names Andarta , Artaius , Artio and Matunus are derived from * artos (ir. Art , kymr. Arth "bear") and * matus (ir. Math "bear"). The she-bear as a model of motherly love was brought together with the goddess Artio in her function as mother goddess. The bear is also said to temporarily stay in the Otherworld because of its hibernation in dark caves and its reappearance in spring.
  • The rabbit was by Caesar for the Britons a forbidden food such as chicken and goose. Before her revolt against the Romans, the British Queen Boudicca released a rabbit as a sacrifice for the goddess Andraste . The hare is also a symbol of the hunting goddess Abnoba . When the enraged witch Ceridwen tries to catch the little Gwion Bach (the later poet Taliesin), she turns into a dog, the boy into a fleeing hare (in the story of Hanes Taliesin , "The Story of Taliesin").
  • The deer is often depicted in Celtic art as a companion and attribute of a deity . There are also gods with deer heads or antlers, such as Cernunnos . In Ireland's Finn cycle , the main hero Fionn mac Cumhaill bears the youth name Demne ("deer calf"), his son is Oisín ("deer"), his grandson Oscar (" deer lover"). In some sagas, also outside of the Celtic, deer appear that can take on human form. The growth rhythm of the antlers from shedding in February / March to sweeping the bast in August corresponds to the sowing and harvesting of the grain; the deer antlers were therefore considered to be a symbol of fertility and life. In Wales it was said that the age of a deer is 243 years.
Stephen Reid: The Death of Culann's Dog , 1904
  • As a pet and hunting and war helper, the dog was a constant companion of the Celts. Above all, dogs were attributes of healing gods, mother goddesses and hunting deities like Abnoba. A god named Cunomaglus ("Lord of the Dogs"), who was equated by the Romans with Apollo , is found in a sanctuary in Wiltshire . In Ireland, "dog" is often a synonym for "warrior" - so Cú Chulainn means "dog of Culann" (see Macgnímrada Con Culainn , "Cú Chulainn's boyish deeds"). The faithful dog Gelert is the focus of a legend from Gwynedd (Wales).
  • The closest canine relative, the wolf , already shows this in the name: cuallaidh (Irish, "wild dog"). Similar to Romulus and Remus in the Roman world of legends, Cormac mac Airt is abducted by a she-wolf immediately after birth and raised together with her cubs. When he becomes king, he takes his wolf family to Tara at the royal court. In the story Math fab Mathonwy ("Math, the son of Mathonwys") from the Mabinogion , the brothers Gwydyon and Gilfaethwy are transformed into wolf and she-wolf as punishment and have a puppy . On the cauldron of Gundestrup a scene is shown where a god with deer antlers (Cernunnos?) Apparently prevents a wolf from pouncing on a deer; the associated legend is not known.
  • Horses play a particularly important role in Celtic mythology . According to archaeological finds, they are very common as sacrificial animals, and horses were a grave object, especially at princely burials. At the royal inauguration in Northern Ireland, according to Giraldus Cambrensis, the copulation of the future ruler with a white mare should have been an essential point of the ceremony. Horses are very often depicted on coins. The Gallic goddess Epona and her Welsh counterpart Rhiannon were closely connected to the horse cult . In Ireland, the founding legend of Emain Macha , Noínden Ulad ("The weakness of the Ulter"), is the description of a race between the fairy Macha and a horse in which the pregnant Macha wins but dies. Cú Chulainn's favorite horse Liath Macha tries to warn him of the danger of death and brings Conall Cernach to avenge his master's death ( Aided Chon Culainn , "The Death of Cú Chulainn").
  • Their important role in animal husbandry, the center of life for the Celtic farmers, corresponds to the mythological significance of the cattle , especially the bull. As sacrificial animals, their bones were often found on cult sites during excavations. In Irish mythology, the best known are the Bull of Ulster and its Connacht counterpart, Donn Cuailnge and Findbennach , the triggers of the Táin Bó Cuailnge . Their creation is told in the saga De chophur in da muccida ("Of the [metamorphosis?] Of the two swineherd").
  • After the cattle, the pigs were the most important domestic animals of the Celts, according to some island Celtic legends they are said to come from the Otherworld (see Pwyll ). They were particularly popular as grave goods for survival in the Other World, to be found as helmet decorations on warriors (for example on the cauldron of Gundestrup ) and as ornamentation on torques ("neck rings"). In the Welsh saga of the Mabinogion, pigs, especially boars, are often the trigger for wars and forays into raids. The most famous boars of Wales are the Twrch Trwyth with his sons and the Ysgithyrwyn . In Ireland, what happened around the hero bite is told in many myths, for example in Scéla mucce Meic Dathó (“The story of Mac Dathó's pig”). The magical sow Henwen throws good (wheat, barley and bees in the south) and bad (wolf, eagle and a cat monster in the north) gifts for people on her wandering through Wales.
  • The ram's head snake can be seen as a connection between two typical Celtic-mythical symbols of fertility, the ram (an early Teutates symbol animal) and the snake , the myth of which probably came from the Scythians via the Thracians to the Celts. A deity closely related to Aries was Moltinus . In the Táin Bó Froích ("Driving away the Froech cattle"), Conall Cernach's sympathy with snakes is portrayed in an episode of the plot. The cold-blooded snakes live above and below ground according to the seasons, which the Celts interpreted as symbols of the rural seasons, of life and death, and because of their moulting as a symbol of rebirth.
  • Another animal combination is the griffin motif. In the 5th century BC The griffin was adopted from the Mediterranean region in the La Tène culture. The combinations are not uniform, in Glauberg's grave it is a horse's head on a lion's body; in finds from Parsberg and Ossarn there are heads of a bird of prey with a lion's body. As a mythological meaning from the representations the guard function of the tree of life can be recognized; the griffin can be equated with the shape (predator's head, lion's claws, winged serpent body) and the mythical function of the dragon motif of the Latène period.
  • When it comes to fish , trout and salmon are particularly important for mythology. The trout is said to be unable to be fried because it immediately slips off the grill - this is supposed to explain the black stripes on some species of trout. The salmon from Llyn Llyw is one of the oldest living beings, as reported in Kulhwch ac Olwen about the liberation of Mabons ; in the metamorphoses that the longest living people go through ( Túan mac Cairill , Fintan mac Bóchra and the two swineherd in De chophur in da muccida ) there is always a salmon phase; in Macgnímartha Finn (“Fionn's youth deeds”) the young Fionn mac Cumhaill accidentally nibbles on the fried “salmon of wisdom” (eó fis) and thereby gains the secret druid knowledge. In the Navigatio Sancti Brendani ("The sea voyage [of the abbot] Saint Brendan") the largest fish in the world is called Jasconius ; Saint Brendan and his monks can land on it and walk around.

Plant mythology

Druids with wreaths of oak leaves harvesting mistletoe; Joseph Martin Kronheim (1810–96)

According to Pliny the Elder, probably based on a report by Pomponius Mela , the oak mistletoe (Loranthus europaeus) was the most sacred plant of the Druids, as was the tree on which it grew. On the sixth day after the new moon , she was cut in compliance with certain regulations:

“Mistletoe, however, is quite rare to find and when it is found it is harvested with great solemnity, especially on the sixth day of the moon (which is where the months and years begin) and after the thirtieth year of a period, because then Has power in abundance and not just half. […] A priest in a white robe climbs up the tree and cuts the mistletoe with a falce aurea [golden sickle or hip]. "

Since the oak mistletoe did not exist in Britain at this time, the druids of the island probably used the white berry mistletoe (Viscum album) , which, in contrast to the relatively ineffective oak mistletoe , has a narcotic and antispasmodic effect. Pollen grains of this poisonous plant were actually found in the intestines of the bog corpse " Lindow-Mann ".

Already in the name of the druid, according to Pliny the Elder, to the ancient Greek word δρῦς ( drys , "oak") and in the Galatian Drynemeton (Celtic dru-nemeton , "oak grove") mentioned by Strabo , the oak appears as an important mythical symbol . As the bearer of the sacred mistletoe, the oak was also considered sacred and, according to reports of ancient authors, oak leaves were the headdress for humans and animals in sacrificial acts and other ceremonies. According to the Bernese Lukan Scholien , the consumption of acorns by the druid leads to a glimpse into the future. In the island Celtic area, however, according to traditional legends, the oak had no special meaning. The Cymrian name of the druids, derwydd , von derwen , derw ("oak", "oak") suggests a certain meaning.

The apple, which is said to have come to the people from there, was seen as a symbol of the Other World. Geoffrey of Monmouth names the mythological island of Avalon in his Historia Regum Britanniae (1135) in Latin Insula Avallonis ; in his Vita Merlini , written in 1150, the place is called Insula Pomorum ("apple island"). Avalon comes from kymrisch abal ("apple") or aball ("apple tree"). This island plays an important role in the Arthurian myths .

A legend from Tara tells that a giant named Trefuilgid scattered five berries in Ireland. From them the five sacred trees of Ireland would have sprung, which are cited in a Dindsenchas saying: The tree of Ross ( yew ), the trees of Dathis, Tortus and Uisneach ( ash ) and the tree of Mugnas (oak). In Wales, medieval scribes recorded the old legend that the yew tree lived to be 19,683 years old, making it the longest-lived creature in the world.

Thing animation

Granting a "soul" to things that are dead in themselves is a frequent occurrence in Celtic mythology, and this is passed down in some island-Celtic legends. The stone Lia Fáil in Emain Macha proclaims the legitimacy of an Irish king with a loud cry; together with the cauldron of the Dagda , the spear of Lugh and the sword of the Nuada described below, it is one of the "four treasures of the Túatha Dé Danann", all of which have a life of their own independent of the owner or user. This collection of objects can be compared with the "thirteen treasures of the island of Britain" (Tri Thlws ar ddeg Ynys Brydain) , which include Arthur's cauldron (see below), sword, shield, ship, etc. The animated miracle harp of Dagda returns after its robbery by the Fomoren King Bress of its own accord into the hands of its owner, whereby it incapacitates the enemy warriors with soporific melodies and even kills you. In addition to the Lia Fáil , the two stones Bloc and Blugne are also able to recognize the right king by voluntarily granting him passage. During the king's test in Conaire Mór , the two stones first move apart, then the Lia Fáil roars his name and finally the king's chariot, which throws off anything unlawful, lets him get up and the two horses, which otherwise buck, pull him into the royal residence .

Kettle Myths

Pryderi and Rhiannon caught in the cauldron;
Albert Herter (1898)

The cauldron played an important role as a mythical device for the Celts and partly for the Teutons and is present in many legends. In the mainland Celtic area, cauldrons are often archaeologically verifiable as grave goods, and any associated myths have unfortunately not yet been discovered. In the early medieval literature of the island celts, a kettle with wonderful properties is a recurring motif. There are three types of miracle cauldrons: the cauldron of wealth and abundance, the cauldron as booty from the otherworld and the cauldron of healing or rebirth.

The “Good God” Dagda, a member of the Túatha Dé Danann, has a kettle that donates inexhaustible food. In Aided Chon Culainn ("The Death of Cú Chulainn"), Cú Chulainn is forced by witches, in violation of his geis (taboo), to eat from their cauldron in which they had cooked dog meat.

In the Mabinogion, too, cauldrons are mentioned as an essential prop of the plot. In Branwen ferch Llŷr there is a cauldron that can revive fallen warriors in battle and that is destroyed by efnisia . In Manawydan fab Llŷr , Pryderi and Rhiannon are held in a magic cauldron. In Culhwch ac Olwen , the cauldron that can distinguish between good and bad is the target of King Arthur's raid. Preiddeu Annwfn also deals with the robbery of a cauldron from Annwn (the otherworld), which is heated by the breath of nine virgins . From the youth of the poet Taliesin (Hanes Taliesin) it is reported that he received his gift of poetry from Ceridwen's cauldron.

All of these legends can definitely be seen as literary predecessors of the stories about the Holy Grail .

Neopagan reception and literature

The incomplete source of Celtic mythology favors a speculative and imaginative interpretation in Neopaganism (neo-paganism) and its versions of Celtic Neopaganism , modern druidism , the anti- patriarchal Wicca cult and others. Also authors such as James Macpherson (" Ossian "), Iolo Morganwg ("Barddas") and, more recently, Rudolf John Gorsleben ("High Time of Mankind. The World Law of Three"), Martha Sills-Fuchs ("Return of the Celts ”), Robert Graves (“ The White Goddess ”) or Ingeborg Clarus (“ Celtic Myths ”) have contributed to this through their works.

The works of the named authors - with the possible exception of James Macpherson and Ingeborg Clarus - are summarized by Birkhan under the term "fictional literature and science". He describes the authors' intention as

“[...] 'fictional science'. When viewed correctly, such works do not primarily depend on the scientific truthfulness of the statements, but on the originality of the invention, the gain in pleasure (recognition) and the aesthetics of the argument. "

Macpherson's "Ossian" (original title: The Works of Ossian, Son of Fingal , from 1760) is based on a deliberate deception of the reader, as the author claimed to have owned this text as an original in the Scottish Gaelic language. In fact, he put it together from elements of the Finn cycle and back-translated the supposed originals from English into Gaelic, with which he achieved a tremendous success in the age of romantic literature . This led to a high level of interest in the ancient Celtic myths, which, however, did not protect against misinterpretations and previously non-existent classifications, which continue to this day, especially in neo-pagan circles.

In "Barddas" ("Poetry", "Poetry", from 1862) by Iolo Morganwg (Edward Williams), a work he wrote under the pseudonym Llewellyn Sion, the author claims that during the reign of Emperor Macsen Wledig (335– 388) the bards would have been given special priority in their support. King Arthur wanted to counteract the subsequent decline of bardism by founding his round table in the 6th century, which was therefore actually 'an arrangement of the arts, sciences, usages and privilegy of the bards' . Williams also invented a pseudo runic script called Coelbren y beirdd ("Loose woods of the bards") in this context ( Barddas , pp. 55–167), which is still used by the Neudruids as a "traditional written form".

Rudolf John Gorsleben linked in “The High Time of Mankind. the world law of three or: originating - being - passing away in original language - original - original belief drawn from the runes "(1930) Germanic traditions with Christianity and uses Celtic terms for them, which he uses linguistically freely associative (" Gaul "to" Galilee ”,“ Druid ”to“ Troy ”(a school of poets [sic!]), The island“ Iona ”becomes“ Zion ”).

In Martha Sills-Fuchs' work "Return of the Celts" (1983), the author dispenses with comprehensible information on time and place as well as all attempts to provide evidence. The core of the statements are different "ages", the Celts (which they equate with the Indo-Europeans) appeared in the "Taurus Age" (4000–2000 BC), in the following "Aries Age" their peak has already been passed (archaeologically, however, this corresponds to the Hallstatt period , the beginning of the Celtic era in Central Europe). The Christmas tree decorations are made from the torques , the poppy seed pastries of Bohemia and the Austrian Waldviertel , the home of Sills-Fuchs, are recipes that have been handed down directly from the Celts.

Robert (von Ranke-) Graves suggested a certain form of Celtic reception in the second half of the 20th century. His book “The White Goddess” (1948) soon became a standard work for esotericists and representatives of matriarchal theory , and he is also considered the creator of the New Celtic tree and plant myth . He takes the view that an "old European white goddess of birth, love and death" is the basis of all goddess figures of the individual mythologies. In doing so, he relies on a misinterpreting speculative etymology, based on the island Celtic traditions.

Ingeborg Clarus tries to reduce the island Celtic myths in her book "Keltische Mythen" (1991) in part to the war between the sexes in the course of the replacement of matriarchy by patriarchy among the Celts, which she advocated as a theory.

Faulty interpretations of Celtic myths can also be found outside of organized neo-pagan groups. Birkhan calls the underlying idea "Keltenfascinosum", which tries to give a sentimental, neo-romantic answer to the question "Where do we come from?" Means to an end include pseudo-etymologies, for example: the name of the archaeologically interesting calendar mountain near Mödling is derived from an invented Celtic word † kal for “mother's belly; Security ”, the Gaisberg in the south of Vienna to an equally invented † gais for“ hallowed place, taboo zone ”, where apparently a sound connection with the old Irish geis (taboo, see above under“ Mythical Practices ”) was sought and found - but geis works , also geiss , in old Celtic * gʷed- , old Irish guidiu ("I ask") back. The limestone rocks of natural origin on the Gaisberg were therefore declared "Druid stones". An example from plant mythology is the so-called " Tree of Life Circle in the Sky " in Vienna / Döbling .

Fantasy and pop culture

In the fantasy novels by JRR Tolkien ( The Lord of the Rings , from 1969) , Marion Zimmer Bradley ( The Mists of Avalon , 1983) , Joanne K. Rowling ( Harry Potter , from 1998) , Lloyd Alexander ( The Chronicles of Prydain , from 1964) and other authors, Celtic myths combined with Germanic mythology can be recognized as the basis of the imaginative stories.

In the comic series Asterix (original title Astérix le Gaulois , from 1959) by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo , Celtic mythology can sometimes be found, especially the cauldron, the golden hip and the mistletoe hunt of the druid Miraculix (original name Panoramix ) or the Gauls' concern that them "the sky rest on the head" (see list of deities in the Asterix comics )

The fantasy comic series Slaine (from 1983) by Pat Mills , which combines strong references to Celtic legends with a very free variation of the same, should also be classified here. The novel and film character Conan by Robert E. Howard strays even further from its mythological / Celtic roots, all that remains is the use of a few names and terms.

See also

Portal: Mythology  - Overview of Wikipedia content on the topic of mythology


Web links

Commons : Celtic Religion  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Bernhard Maier: Lexicon of the Celtic religion and culture. P. 245.
  2. ^ Ingeborg Clarus: Celtic myths. Man and his otherworld. P. 11 f.
  3. ^ Bernhard Maier: Lexicon of the Celtic religion and culture. Pp. 245, 274.
  4. a b c d e f Helmut Birkhan: Kelten. Attempt at a complete representation of their culture. P. 431 f.
  5. Ray Dunning: The Celts. P. 77.
  6. Helmut Birkhan: Celts. Attempt at a complete representation of their culture. P. 778 f.
  7. Ray Dunning: The Celts. P. 92 f.
  8. Lisa M. Bitel: St. Brigit of Ireland: From Virgin Saint to Fertility Goddess on archived copy ( memento of the original from March 3, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. [26. September 2006] @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / monasticmatrix.org
  9. ^ A b c Sylvia and Paul F. Botheroyd: Lexicon of Celtic Mythology , foreword p. 8 f.
  10. Helmut Birkhan: Celts. Attempt at a complete representation of their culture. P. 85 f.
  11. Helmut Birkhan: Celts. Attempt at a complete representation of their culture. P. 130 f.
  12. Helmut Birkhan: Celts. Attempt at a complete representation of their culture. P. 320 f; 517 f; 937; 1040
  13. CIL XIII, 7280 Mainz-Kastel : Olloga / biabus / Apiuva / Messo [r]
  14. CIL XIII, 8529 Offenbach-Bürgel : Matroni [s] / Alagabiabus / Iul (ia) Pusua / pro se et Iuli (i) sf (iliis) / Peregrino / Sperato / Severo / v (otum) s (olvit) l ( ibens) m (erito)
  15. Helmut Birkhan: Celts. Attempt at a complete representation of their culture. P. 518.
  16. Wolfgang Meid: Celtic religion in the testimony of language , p. 25.
  17. ^ Bernhard Maier: Lexicon of the Celtic religion and culture. Pp. 153, 246 f.
  18. Helmut Birkhan: Celts. Attempt at a complete representation of their culture. P. 564.
  19. ^ Sylvia & Paul F. Botheroyd: Lexicon of Celtic Mythology , p. 261.
  20. ^ Bernhard Maier: Lexicon of the Celtic religion and culture. P. 182.
  21. Caesar, De bello Gallico . VI, 13th
  22. Helmut Birkhan: Celts. Attempt at a complete representation of their culture. P. 753.
  23. Helmut Birkhan: Celts. Attempt at a complete representation of their culture. P. 265 f.
  24. ^ Bernhard Maier: Lexicon of the Celtic religion and culture. P. 52.
  25. Ray Dunning: The Celts. P. 96.
  26. ^ Titus Livius , Ab urbe condita XXXVIII, 47.
  27. Helmut Birkhan: Celts. Attempt at a complete representation of their culture. P. 146 f., 626, 747.
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  34. ^ Bernhard Maier: Lexicon of the Celtic religion and culture. P. 313.
  35. a b c d e f g Sylvia & Paul F. Botheroyd: Lexicon of Celtic Mythology , p. 346 f.
  36. ^ Caesar, De bello Gallico V, 12.
  37. ^ Bernhard Maier: Lexicon of the Celtic religion and culture. P. 158.
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  50. ^ Bernhard Maier: Lexicon of the Celtic religion and culture. P. 174.
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  52. Giraldus Cambrensis: Topographia Hibernica 3.25.
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  54. Helmut Birkhan: Celts. Attempt at a complete representation of their culture. P. 714.
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  62. ^ Sievers / Urban / Ramsl: Lexicon for Celtic Archeology. A-K and L-Z ; Pp. 439, 693.
  63. ^ Sylvia & Paul F. Botheroyd: Lexicon of Celtic Mythology , p. 126 f.
  64. Carl Selmer: Navigatio Sacti Brendani Abbatis. Publications on Medieval Research Volume IV, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame Campus / Indiana 1959.
  65. ^ Bernhard Maier: Lexicon of the Celtic religion and culture. P. 235.
  66. Pliny the Elder: Naturalis historia XVI , 95.
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  70. Helmut Birkhan: Kelten, attempt at an overall representation of their culture. Pp. 523, 843, 920.
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  76. ^ Bernhard Maier: Lexicon of the Celtic religion and culture. P. 150.
  77. ^ Ingeborg Clarus: Celtic myths. Man and his otherworld. P. 316 f.
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  79. Helmut Birkhan: Nachantike Keltenrezeption. P. 571.
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  84. Helmut Birkhan: Nachantike Keltenrezeption. P. 566 ff.
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  86. Helmut Birkhan: Nachantike Keltenrezeption. P. 586, note 3.
  87. 335 BC When asked by Alexander the Great , a Celtic envoy said what he feared most: "Not you, but that the sky could collapse." Conchobor also means: "But if the firmament does not fall, [...]" ; Helmut Birkhan: Celts. Attempt at a complete representation of their culture. Pp. 131, 782.
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