Ancient Celtic Religion

Ancient Celtic Religion

When thinking of Celtic religion, the first
thing that comes to ones mind is generally Druidism, and maybe even Stonehenge.

There were many other components to religion in Celtic society before the

Common Era, and they were integrated within the daily life, and still remain
part of the culture. The sources available are mostly second hand or legends
that have become christianised over time, but we can still learn a lot
about their beliefs, and how they were intertwined with daily life.

The people who lived 25,000 years ago
were in awe of nature. They believed that each aspect of nature, such as
rain, rivers; thunder and all other natural evens were personified with
their own "deity". This assigning of Gods to naturally occurring events
is called "Animism". The ancient people believed that a God controlled
the rain, a different God controlled the wind and most importantly, a God
controlled the hunt. Archaeological evidence suggests our ancestors made
use of what is called "sympathetic" magick. To have a successful hunt,
the tribe would make a life-like version of the animal they hoped to kill,
and would act out the hunt. They believed that this would positively affect
the real hunt. Among animism and sympathetic magick, there was also a Goddess
of fertility.

There was a high mortality rate and to
procreate, the fertility of women and men was extremely important. The

Goddess represented childbearing, fertility of people, the earth and animals,
and She was as important as the other Gods were.

There is also evidence that our ancestors
had a great belief in life after death, and an example is gravesites of
the Gravettians (22,000 - 18,000 BCE). This culture would bury the deceased
in full clothing, sometimes with his/her dog, and with everything else
one might need in the afterlife, a tradition similar to that of the Egyptians.

Individuals were also frequently buried under the family's hearth, so that
the deceased might remain close. Thus, we see early evidence of religion-magick
or Witchcraft.

The Druids were the priests or ministers
of religion among the ancient Celtic nations in Gaul, Britain, and Germany.

Information respecting them is borrowed the Greek and Roman writers, compared
with the remains of Welsh and Gaelic poetry. The Druids combined the functions
of the priest, the magistrate, the scholar, and the physician. Their role
in Celtic life is comparable to an Egyptian Priest. The Druids taught the
existence of one god, to whom they gave a name "Be'al," which Celtic antiquaries
tell us means "the life of every thing," or "the source of all beings,"

Their supreme deity was associated with the Sun. Fire was regarded as a
symbol of the divinity. The Latin writers tell that the Druids also worshipped
many inferior gods. They used no images to represent the object of their
worship. They didn't meet in temples or buildings of any kind for the performance
of their sacred rites. A circle of stones (each stone generally of very
large size) enclosing an area of from twenty feet to thirty yards in diameter,
was what they considered their sacred place. The most celebrated of these
now remaining is Stonehenge, on Salisbury Plain, England.

These sacred circles were generally placed
near some stream, or under the shadow of a grove or wide-spreading oak.

In the centre of the circle stood the Cromlech or altar, which was a large
stone, placed in the manner of a table upon other stones set up on end.

The Druids had also their high places, which were large stones or piles
of stones on the summits of hills. These were called Cairns, and were used
in the worship of the deity under the symbol of the sun.

The Druids observed two festivals in each
year. The former took place in the beginning of May, and was called Beltane
or "Fire of God." On this occasion a large fire was kindled on some elevated
spot, in honour of the sun, whose returning beneficence they thus welcomed
after the gloom and desolation of winter. The other great festival of the

Druids was called "Samh'in," or "Fire of Peace," and was held on Hallow-eve,
(first of November) which still retains this designation in the Highlands
of Scotland. On this occasion the Druids assembled in sober conclave, in
the central part of the district, to discharge the judicial functions of
their order. All questions brought before them for judgement. Judicial
acts were combined certain rituals, especially the lighting of the sacred
fire, from which all the fires in the district, which had been extinguished
beforehand, were relighted. This usage of kindling fires on Hallow-eve
lingered in the British islands