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The Religion of the Ancient Celts

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Rachel Dearth
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« on: April 22, 2010, 11:42:06 am »

The Religion of the Ancient Celts
By J. A. MacCulloch
[1911]

« Last Edit: April 22, 2010, 11:42:46 am by Rachel Dearth » Report Spam   Logged

Rachel Dearth
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« Reply #1 on: April 22, 2010, 11:42:17 am »

This book, which appears for the first time on the Internet at sacred-texts.com, is one of the best scholarly treatments of the ancient Celtic religion. Written early in the 20th Century, Religion of the Ancient Celts includes extensive treatment of that perennially fascinating subject, the Druids.

There is very little documentary evidence to go on. In particular, we have no actual sacred texts of the ancient Celts, as their texts were transmitted orally only to initiates, and disappeared forever when the last Druid died. Christianity became the dominant religion in the Celtic area before the oral traditions could become written down, unlike the Vedas in India. Ancient Celtic religious beliefs must therefore be inferred from second-hand classical accounts, hints from Celtic mythology, legend and folklore, as well as archaeological and comparative anthropological evidence. MacCulloch marshals this body of evidence, extensively footnoted, so that an authoritative and clear view of ancient Celtic religion emerges.

MacCullough details the Celtic belief in reincarnation and a spectral otherworld; documents the enormous pantheon of now-obscure gods and goddesses, including many local deities; and describes totemistic and animistic beliefs. In addition, MacCulloch does not flinch (nor sensationalize) when describing the darker side of Celtic practices, including the famous 'Burning Man' human sacrifices, cannibalism and exogamous incest.

With so much spurious, flawed and poorly cited information floating around on the Internet about Celtic beliefs, it is important to review what is actually known about this subject. Hopefully putting this book online will provide some balance.

--John Bruno Hare
February 7th, 2004

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Rachel Dearth
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« Reply #2 on: April 22, 2010, 11:43:22 am »

p. vii

PREFACE

THE scientific study of ancient Celtic religion is a thing of recent growth. As a result of the paucity of materials for such a study, earlier writers indulged in the wildest speculative flights and connected the religion with the distant East, or saw in it the remains of a monotheistic faith or a series of esoteric doctrines Veiled under polytheistic cults. With the works of MM. Gaidoz, Bertrand, and D'Arbois de Jubainville in France, as well as by the publication of Irish texts by such scholars as Drs. Windisch and Stokes, a new era may be said to have dawned, and a flood of light was poured upon the scanty
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« Reply #3 on: April 22, 2010, 11:43:31 am »

remains of Celtic religion. In this country the place of honour among students of that religion belongs to Sir John Rhŷs, whose Hibbert Lectures On the Origin and Growth of Religion as illustrated by Celtic Heathendom (1886) was an epoch-making work. Every student of the subject since that time feels the immense debt which he owes to the indefatigable researches and the brilliant suggestions of Sir John Rhŷs, and I would be ungrateful if I did not record my indebtedness to him. In his Hibbert Lectures, and in his later masterly work on The Arthurian Legend, however, he took the standpoint of the "mythological" school, and tended to see in

p. viii

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« Reply #4 on: April 22, 2010, 11:43:39 am »

the old stories myths of the sun and dawn and the darkness, and in the divinities sun-gods and dawn-goddesses and a host of dark personages of supernatural character. The present writer, studying the subject rather from an anthropological point of view and in the light of modern folk survivals, has found himself in disagreement with Sir John Rhŷs on more than one occasion. But he is convinced that Sir John would be the last person to resent this, and that, in spite of his mythological interpretations, his Hibbert Lectures must remain as a source of inspiration to all Celtic students. More recently the studies of M. Salomon Reinach and of M. Dottin, and the valuable little book on Celtic Religion, by Professor Anwyl, have broken fresh ground. 1

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« Reply #5 on: April 22, 2010, 11:43:47 am »

In this book I have made use of all the available sources, and have endeavoured to study the subject from the comparative point of view and in the light of the anthropological method. I have also interpreted the earlier cults by means of recent folk-survivals over the Celtic area wherever it has seemed legitimate to do so. The results are summarised in the introductory chapter of the work, and students of religion, and especially of Celtic religion, must judge how far they form a true interpretation of the earlier faith of our Celtic forefathers, much of which resembles primitive religion and folk-belief everywhere.

Unfortunately no Celt left an account of his own religion,


p. ix

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« Reply #6 on: April 22, 2010, 11:43:56 am »

and we are left to our own interpretations, more or less valid, of the existing materials, and to the light shed on them by the comparative study of religions. As this book was written during a long residence in the Isle of Skye, where the old language of the people still survives, and where the genius loci speaks everywhere of things remote and strange, it may have been easier to attempt to realise the ancient religion there than in a busier or more prosaic place. Yet at every point I have felt how much would have been gained could an old Celt or Druid have revisited his former haunts, and permitted me to question him on a hundred matters which must remain obscure. But this, alas, might not be!

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« Reply #7 on: April 22, 2010, 11:44:09 am »

I have to thank Miss Turner and Miss Annie Gilchrist for valuable help rendered in the work of research, and the London Library for obtaining for me several works not already in its possession. Its stores are an invaluable aid to all students working at a distance from libraries.

J. A. MacCulloch.

THE RECTORY,
     BRIDGE OF ALLAN,
        October 1911.


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« Reply #8 on: April 22, 2010, 11:44:22 am »

Footnotes
viii:1 See also my article 'Celts' in Hastings' Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. iii.



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« Reply #9 on: April 22, 2010, 11:44:34 am »

CONTENTS

CHAP.
 
 PAGE
 
I.
 INTRODUCTORY
 1
 
II.
 THE CELTIC PEOPLE
 8
 
III.
 THE GODS OF GAUL AND THE CONTINENTAL CELTS
 22
 
IV.
 THE IRISH MYTHOLOGICAL CYCLE
 49
 
V.
 THE TUATHA DÉ DANANN
 63
 
VI.
 THE GODS OF THE BRYTHONS
 95
 
VII.
 THE CÚCHULAINN CYCLE
 127
 
VIII.
 THE FIONN SAGA
 142
 
IX.
 GODS AND MEN
 158
 
X.
 THE CULT OF THE DEAD
 165
 
XI.
 PRIMITIVE NATURE WORSHIP
 171
 
XII.
 RIVER AND WELL WORSHIP
 181
 
XIII.
 TREE AND PLANT WORSHIP
 198
 
XIV.
 ANIMAL WORSHIP
 208
 
XV.
 COSMOGONY
 227
 
XVI.
 SACRIFICE, PRAYER, AND DIVINATION
 233
 
XVII.
 TABU
 252
 
XVIII.
 FESTIVALS
 256
 
XIX.
 ACCESSORIES OF CULT
 279
 
XX.
 THE DRUIDS
 293
 
XXI.
 MAGIC
 319
 
XXII.
 THE STATE OF THE DEAD
 333
 
XXIII.
 REBIRTH AND TRANSMIGRATION
 348
 
XXIV.
 ELYSIUM
 362
 


 



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« Reply #10 on: April 22, 2010, 11:44:48 am »

. xiii

LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS USED IN THE NOTES THROUGHOUT THIS WORK
(This list is not a Bibliography.)


BRAND
 Rev. J. Brand, Observations on the Popular Antiquities of Great Britain. 3 vols. 1870.
 
BLANCHET
 A. Blanchet, Traité des monnaies gauloises. 2 vols. Paris, 1905.
 
BERTRAND
 A. Bertrand, Religion des gaulois. Paris, 1897.
 
CAMPBELL, WHT
 J. F. Campbell, Popular Tales of the West Highlands. 4 vols. Edinburgh, 1890.
 
    "    LF
     "    Leabhar na Feinne. London, 1872.
 
CAMPBELL, Superstitions
 J. G. Campbell, Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. 1900.
 
    "    Witchcraft
     "    Witchcraft and Second Sight in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. 1902.
 
CORMAC
 Cormac's Glossary. Tr. by J. O'Donovan. Ed. by W. Stokes. Calcutta, 1868.
 
COURCELLE-SENEUIL
 J. L. Courcelle-Seneuil, Les dieux gaulois d'après les monuments figurés. Paris, 1910.
 
CIL
 Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum. Berlin, 1863 f.
 
CM
 Celtic Magazine. Inverness, 1875f.
 
CURTIN, HTI
 J. Curtin, Hero Tales of Ireland. 1894.
 
    "    Tales
     "    Tales of the Fairies and Ghost World. 1895.
 
DALZELL
 Sir J. G. Dalzell, Darker Superstitions of Scotland. 1835.
 
D'ARBOIS
 H. D'Arbois de Jubainville, Cours de litterature celtique. 12 vols. Paris, 1883-1902.
 
    "    Les Celtes
     "    Les Celtes. Paris, 1904.
 
    "    Les Druides
     "    Les Druides et les dieux celtiques à formes d'animaux. Paris, 1906.
 
    "    PH
     "    Les premiers habitants de l'Europe. 2 vols. Paris, 1889-1894.
 
DOM MARTIN
 Dom Martin, Le religion des gaulois. 2 vols. Paris, 1727.
 
DOTTIN
 G. Dottin, Manuel pour servir à l'étude de l'antiquité celtique. Paris, 1906.
 
ELTON
 C. I. Elton, Origins of English History. London, 1890.
 
FRAZER, GB2
 J. G. Frazer, Golden Bough2. 3 vols. 1900.
 
p. xiv
 
 
GUEST
 Lady Guest, The Mabinogion. 3 vols. Llandovery, 1849.
 
HAZLITT
 W. C. Hazlitt, Faiths and Folk-lore: A Dictionary of National Beliefs, Superstitions, and Popular Customs. 2 vols. 1905.
 
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« Reply #11 on: April 22, 2010, 11:44:58 am »

HOLDER
 A. Holder, Altceltischer Sprachschatz. 3 vols. Leipzig, 1891 f.
 
HULL
 Miss E. Hull, The Cuchullin Saga. London, 1898.
 
IT.
 See Windisch-Stokes.
 
JAI
 Journal of the Anthropological Institute. London, 1871 f.
 
JOYCE, OCR
 P. W. Joyce, Old Celtic Romances2. London, 1894.
 
    "    PN
     "    History of Irish Names of Places4. 2 vols. London, 1901.
 
    "    SH
     "    Social History of Ancient Ireland. 2 vols. London, 1903.
 
JULLIAN
 C. Jullian, Recherches sur la religion gauloise. Bordeaux, 1903.
 
KEATING
 Keating, History of Ireland. Tr. O'Mahony. London, 1866.
 
KENNEDY
 P. Kennedy, Legendary Fictions of the Irish Celts. 1866.
 
LARMINIE
 W. Larminie, West Irish Folk-Tales and Romances. 1893.
 
LEAHY
 Leahy, Heroic Romances of Ireland. 2 vols. London, 1905.
 
LE BRAZ
 A. Le Braz, La Legende de la Mort chez les Bretons armoricains. 2 vols. Paris, 1902.
 
LL
 Leabhar Laignech (Book of Leinster), facsimile reprint. London, 1880.
 
LOTH
 Loth, Le Mabinogion. 2 vols. Paris, 1889.
 
LU
 Leabhar na h-Uidhre (Book of the Dun Cow), facsimile reprint. London, 1870.
 
MacBAIN
 A. MacBain, Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language. Inverness, 1896.
 
MACDOUGALL
 Macdougall, Folk and Hero Tales. London, 1891.
 
MACKINLAY
 J. M. Mackinlay, Folk-lore of Scottish Lochs and Springs. Glasgow, 1893.
 
MARTIN
 M. Martin, Description of the Western Islands of Scotland2. London, 1716.
 
MAURY
 A. Maury, Croyances et legendes du Moyen Age. Paris, 1896.
 
MONNIER
 D. Monnier, Traditions populaires comparées. Paris, 1854.
 
MOORE
 A. W. Moore, Folk-lore of the Isle of Man. 1891.
 
NUTT-MEYER
 A. Nutt and K. Meyer, The Voyage of Bran. 2 vols. London, 1895-1897.
 
p. xv
 
 
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« Reply #12 on: April 22, 2010, 11:45:12 am »

O'CURRY, MC
 E. O'Curry, Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish. 4 vols. London, 1873.
 
    "    Ms. Mat.
     "    MS. Materials of Ancient Irish History. Dublin, 1861.
 
O'GRADY
 S. H. O'Grady, Silva Gadelica. 2 vols. 1892.
 
REES
 Rev. W. J. Rees, Lives of Cambro-British Saints. Llandovery, 1853.
 
REINACH, BF
 S. Reinach, Bronzes Figurés de la Gaule romaine. Paris, 1900.
 
    "    Catal. Sommaire
     "    Catalogue Sommaire du Musée des Antiquités Nationales4. Paris.
 
    "    CMR
     "    Cultes, Mythes, et Religions. 2 vols. Paris, 1905.
 
RC
 Revue Celtique. Paris, 1870 f.
 
RENEL
 C. Renel, Religions de la Gaule. Paris, 1906.
 
RHŶS, AL
 Sir John Rhŷs, The Arthurian Legend. Oxford, 1891.
 
    "    CB4
     "    Celtic Britain4. London, 1908.
 
    "    CFL
     "    Celtic Folk-Lore. 2 vols. Oxford, 1901.
 
    "    HL
     "    Hibbert Lectures on Celtic Heathendom. London, 1888.
 
SÉBILLOT
 P. Sébillot, La Folk-lore de la France. 4 vols. Paris, 1904 f.
 
SKENE
 W. F. Skene, Four Ancient Books of Wales. 2 vols. Edinburgh, 1868.
 
STOKES, TIG
 Whitley Stokes, Three Irish Glossaries. London, 1862.
 
    "    Trip. Life
     "    The Tripartite Life of Patrick. London, 1887.
 
    "    US
     "    Urkeltischer Sprachschatz. Göttingen, 1894 (in Fick's Vergleichende Wörterbuch4).
 
TAYLOR
 I. Taylor, Origin of the Aryans. London, n.d.
 
TSC
 Transactions of Society of Cymmrodor.
 
TOS
 Transactions of the Ossianic Society. Dublin, 1854-1861.
 
Trip. Life
 See Stokes.
 
WILDE
 Lady Wilde, Ancient Legends and Superstitions of Ireland. 2 vols. 1887.
 
WINDISCH, Táin
 E. Windisch, Die altirische Heldensage Táin Bó Cúalgne. Leipzig, 1905.
 
WINDISCH-STOKES, IT
 E. Windisch and W. Stokes, Irische Texte. Leipzig, 1880 f.
 
WOOD-MARTIN
 Wood-Martin, Elder Faiths of Ireland. 2 vols. London, 1903.
 
ZCP
 Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie. Halle, 1897 f.
 


 

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Rachel Dearth
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« Reply #13 on: April 22, 2010, 11:45:27 am »

p. 1

THE RELIGION OF THE ANCIENT CELTS.
CHAPTER I.
INTRODUCTORY.
To summon a dead religion from its forgotten grave and to make it tell its story, would require an enchanter's wand. Other old faiths, of Egypt, Babylon, Greece, Rome, are known to us. But in their case liturgies, myths, theogonies, theologies, and the accessories of cult, remain to yield their report of the outward form of human belief and aspiration. How scanty, on the other hand, are the records of Celtic religion! The bygone faith of a people who have inspired the world with noble dreams must be constructed painfully, and often in fear and trembling, out of fragmentary and, in many cases, transformed remains.

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« Reply #14 on: April 22, 2010, 11:45:37 am »

We have the surface observations of classical observers, dedications in the Romano-Celtic area to gods mostly assimilated to the gods of the conquerors, figured monuments mainly of the same period, coins, symbols, place and personal names. For the Irish Celts there is a mass of written material found mainly in eleventh and twelfth century MSS. Much of this, in

p. 2

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