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CELTIC-L  December 1996

CELTIC-L December 1996

Subject:

Celtic Religion - what information do we really have - Part 3

From:

Raimund Karl <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

CELTIC-L - The Celtic Culture List.

Date:

Mon, 2 Dec 1996 19:26:58 +0000

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (164 lines)

Now, as the next step, let us take a look what we know about the
Celtic gods from the evidence we have.

CELTIC RELIGION - WHAT INFORMATION DO WE REALLY HAVE

One of the most often cited statements about Celtic gods is that we
have over 300 of their names that came down on us, while we know
actually almost nothing about their functions. With this statement,
usually the idea is transferred that the Celts had an unbelieveable
large pantheon which consisted mainly of local gods and demigods,
with only a few if at all gods in common. However, this is probably a
misinterpretation due to lack of knowledge.

THE SYSTEM OF THE CELTIC PANTHEON

A number of differing theories have been issued about how the Celtic
(and, most often the common IE pantheon) might have been structured.
The main theories follow the Dumezilian system, which postulates a
tripartite structure where one part of the gods is the "warriors",
one the "agroculturalists", and one the craftsmens" gods as the
common system behind the IE panthei. However, this system has been
often questioned. One of the most interesting new interpretations is
the theory lately issued by Garrett Olmsted (The Gods of the Celts
and the Indoeuropeans, Archaeolingua vol.6, Budapest 1994). He keeps
the tripartite system, but offers a new interpretation of the
functions of the gods of the different parts in assigning them to
three mythical "realms" which he, for simplicity, calls Upper, Middle
and Lower Realm (which is probably best visible in the Norse
mythologies with Asgard, Midgard and Niflheim as Upper, Middle and
Lower Realm and in the Vedic System which says that 11 gods dwell in
the heavens, 11 on earth and 11 in the water), which however could be
called Sky, Earth and Water. A good hint at such a system could be found
in the diverse kinds of offerings used by the Celts: Cremation as sacrifices
to the Upper Realm gods, Burying in the Earth as sacrifices to the
gods of the Middle Realm and Deposition in Water as sacrifices to the
Lower Realm gods.

THE NAMES OF THE CELTIC GODS

Well, I already mentioned that we have over threehundred names for
Celtic gods. Lugos, Toutatis, Taranis, Cernunnos, Esus, Sequana,
Brigantia, Epona, Matrona, Noreia, Eriu, Govannon, Belenos, Mabon and
so on. It has been, for a long time, considered that the Celtic
pantheon was regionally split up, that Noreia was a tribal godess for
the Norici, Sequana a tribal godess for the Sequani, Eriu a tribal
godess for the Erenn. This also seems to be true, but only to a
certain extent. As far as we can say by now, the Celtic gods had a
lot of variants, the most we can find here are local but it is also
possible that some were functional. This is nothing surprising in
fact, if we look at other IE pantheons we find that most gods in most
pantheons have numerous, local and functional, bynames and names. The
Greek god Zeus had multiple names, as is true for all the other greek
gods. Iuppiter is also known to us as Dispater, and under numerous
other names. The Hindu gods all have multiple names. The same is true
for the Germanic gods. And if we look at the gallo-roman inscription
in which most of the Celtic god names have been brought down to us we
find, not really surprising, that Mars is mentioned with over 50
Celtic godnames, as Mars Toutatis, Mars Ambiorix and others, while
Apollo is going along with Grannos, Belenos and others, while Taranis
and others are atrributed to Iuppiter.
Given this, it is most likely that the names of the Celtic gods that
came down on us, are, for the most part, the local and/or functional
bynames of gods whose "real" names probably were kept secret or which
blend in with the bynames. Only two gods can be identified almost
everywhere, being the god Lugos (Irish Lugh, Welsh Llew), whose name
we find from Spain to Germany and probably even further east, and the
mother godess (matrona), of which we know her functional name, i.e.
mother, (old Gaulish matrona, Welsh Modron), and to which a number of
the female names we have can be atrributed (Sequana, Noreia,
Brigantia and probably as well Eriu and Boand, and additionally we
have some "mothergodesses of places" like the Matronae Lugdunensis or
the Matronae Treverorum).

GODS AND THEIR FUNCTIONS

Now lets take a look at the more important godly functions

THE SKY FATHER

More or less, the Skyfather is the god we are used to refer to as
"the head of the pantheon". This god is probably derived from a
common IE god named *Dieus-pater, translated as "Skyfather" -
and is quite easily detectable in Greek Zeus Pater, Iuppiters
byname Dispater and the the Vedic Dyauspita. In the Celtic
World this function is most probably fulfilled by the Ollathair
(Great father), the Dagda, whereby the Ollathair seems to be a
reminiscent of the *Dieus-pater, although its best cognate is found
in the Germanic Odin "Alfodr".
The function of this god is that he is, usually, the progenitor of all
other gods together with the Earth Mother. Depending on the religion
this god is also the head of the pantheon, or at least his
father or grandfather and often also the god of thunder and
lightning.
It seems that this deity is the Dagda in the Irish mythology, while
in Gaulish mythology he seems to have been called Taranis ("the
Thunderer, a cognate term to the Germanic Thorr from the IE root
*tn-ro-s).

THE CONTROLLER OF THE LOWER REALM AND HIS CONSORT

This god usually is the one who is in charge of the otherworld and/or
who is ferrying the dead to there. The Gaulish name for this god is
"Sucellos" (the good striker), and he is equalled by Greek, Etruscan
and Roman Charon. He is usually depicted with a great hammer and a
dog by his side, and has a consort called Nantosuelta (either
translated as "sun-warmed valley", or as "who makes the valley
bloom", the second being suggestive of the Irish Bla/thnat, probably
meaning "Little flower", and Welsh Blodeued "Flower-faced"). We also
see here a close parallel to the consort of Hades, Persephone. The
dog which resides beside Sucellos usually could be an equivalent to
the Greek Cerberos, the Hell-Hound. Equivalents in the Irish legend
can be found in the Relationship between Curoi Mac Daire and
Blathnath (Cu Roi actually meaning "Hound of the Plain"), especially
given the fact that Curoi also appears as the churl in the beheading
game in the quarrel about the heroe's portion in Fled Bricrenn, parallels
can also be found in the Welsh Mabinogi in the story about Llew and
Blodeued. The apparent similarity of Arawn from Annwn with his
beautiful wife and his red-eared dogs to the position of Sucellos is
also worth a note.

DAYTIME AND NIGHTTIME CONTROLLER OF THE UPPER REALM

The upper realm control seems to have been split to be fulfilled by
two gods, characteristically one of them is One-eyed, the other
one-handed. This is true for Vedic Va/runah and Mitra/h as well as
for the Germaic pair Odin and Tyr.
The Celtic equivalents for those gods are quite apparent. If we look
at Cath Maige Tuired, one of the most important texts for Irish
mythology, we see Lugh, the one skilled in all arts, as closing one
eye while cursing the enemy Fomorians, and the equaling of Lugh with
Gaulish Lugh is not only apparent but unavoidable, as Caesar tells us
that the Gauls credited Mercurius (whith which Lugos is equated by
the Romans) with the invention of all arts. As Lugh`s name is
probably derived from a Celtic root *lug with the meaning "burn,
enflame", we can possibly see the daytime Upper realm controler in
him. If we add to this the festival of Lughnasad we could assume that
he was also the controller of the summer half of the year. His mythical
twin, the one who was the ruler before Lugh, is in Cath Maige Tuired the
(formerly) onehanded Nuadu, which we have equalled in the British
deity Nodens. In the Gaulish Context this deity seems to have been
identified both with Mercurius and Mars by the Romans, thus being
more or less the "kings god" and the "god of the tribe". Here we
probably would have to set most of the Mars-connected gods like
Toutatis, Vellaunos.

THE YOUTHFUL-SAVIOUR-CHAMPION

Another function is the one of the youthful-saviour-champion. This
role is fulfilled by Cuchullin in the Irish texts, and mixes to a
certain extent with the function of the Nighttime Upper Relam
controller. This god is the warrior champion of the tribe, probably
also the god to whom the diverse known Celtic warrior bands (like the
Gaesates) would pray. He is the one who protects the cattle of the
tribe, the one who goes into battle frenzy, who fights naked. His
Gaulish equivalent probably would be Esus.

_______________________________
I stop here for today, as I have to go to watch Dragonheart. I'll
continue this as soon as possible (probably tomorrow) with the
female godesses and some other gods that still are missing.
RAY
________________________________
To be continued ...

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