The Druid priests of the Celts did not write down the stories of their gods and goddesses, but instead transmitted them orally, so our knowledge of the early Celtic deities is limited. Romans of the first century B.C. recorded the Celtic myths and then later, after the introduction of Christianity to the British Isles, the Irish monks of the 6th century and Welsh writers later wrote down their traditional stories. Here are some of these Gods. Some of them were stolen and raised to Sainthood by Catholicism in order to begin the conversion of Ireland. Those left behind (according to legend) were cast underground and turned into Leprechauns.
Gods Of The Celts.
1. Lugos: There are hundreds of inscriptions across Europe and Britain to a God known as Lugos whose name is dedicated to Contracts and Commerce and was also a God of travelling and a patron of the arts which included the art of Commerce. Mistletoe was sacred to Lugos.
2. Dis Pater (Father God or The Good God): Other Gods were descended from Dis Pater and was named by the Romans and not by the Celts. We can conclude from this that he was a teutilary or God of the Tribe‘ (Teutonic God) deity. Julius Caesar called him Dis Pater and linguists have concluded that this name is a derivative of Good Sky or Good God. This is very significant to us when we look at Irish Mythology because there is a similar God known as Daghdha, a leading mystic character in Irish literature, one of the Tua De Danaan, who was demonstrably the principal deity in ancient times.
The greatest of the Gods was Daghdha (Dagda), who had beaten off the monster Formorians when they attacked, in a mystical mist. He is usually referred to with the definitive article; namely, the Daghdha (the Daghdha). He was the founder or the father of the tribe of Tua De Danaan and so, indirectly, we can link Dis Pater as described by Julius Caesar.
This seems a logical step but is not inconclusive evidence. In fact, when we look at the Irish image of an Daghdha we see many Romanic motifs and ideas. Dis Pater is depicted in Roman accounts as an underground God and people would make Oaths or promises to him. In Roman Mythology he is sometimes associated with the Dead and the underworld. In Ireland an Daghdha was related to another God called Donn‘ (Brown or dark, or Dead) and is God of The Dead. When we look at Gods or Goddesses we find that many of them can manifest in different ways. The same God can sometimes have different names so, sometimes, we can find the same Gods with different functions.
3. Camas (Or Camulus): When we look at Continental material in relation to Camas we are still somewhat unclear as to who or what he may have been. We take our definition from Irish mythology because it is somewhat clearer and better defined.
4. Epona/Equna: She was a horse Goddess and her name would have been pronounced in two different ways. As mentioned earlier there were two different types of Celts, Q-Celts and P- Celts. The former laid more emphasis on Q and thus Epona became Equna while the reverse occurred with the P-Celts. Epona was a horse Goddess and in her depictions she is often seen riding side-saddle on a horse and holding a Cornucopia, a basket with corn coming out of it, a symbol of fertility, life, grain, fruit and drink, which featured heavily in all Mythology. It seems that Romans adopted her from the Celts probably because they were great admirers of horsemanship. She was a very popular Goddess and what is interesting here is that the Romans adopted her from the Celts whereas with other Gods the opposite was often the case. In fact, there have been statues and plaques found in Rome depicting Equna and in many cases these artefacts are found in stables.
5. Matres (The Mothers): A triple Goddess (Trinity) and depictions in the classical style show three women side by side and is clearly Romano-Celtic (deeply influenced by Roman Celts) in design. However, regardless of the style of the depiction, it is still generally agreed that the Celts worshipped Matres long before they ever encountered the Romans. Not a lot is known about the Matres but they were depicted as triple Goddesses and this idea of triple form (or trinities) is something that crops up in Celtic mythology regularly. In the statues the three women are often sitting down while one on left, often bare breasted, is holding a baby, the one on the right is holding loaves, bread or cakes, the one in the centre is holding a scroll of some kind perhaps depicting knowledge. The Matres may very well be a tripe-form of three Goddesses, it could be one or all of them but it is not really known if this is, in fact the case.
6. Brigantia (The Exalted One) – St. Bridget: Under the Interpretatio Romana where she was referred to as Victoria and they see her as dictatorial because she ensured victory to warriors. There were tribes known as Brigantes who mostly came from France and Britain arrived in Ireland in the 2nd Century. They were the followers of the Goddess Brigantia. Most of the information we know about her comes from the Irish material to do with St. Bridget. It is thought that the St. Bridget that we know was a follower of Brigantia; she may have been a priestess of the Goddess who later converted to Christianity and is now more famous for bringing this new cult of Christianity to Ireland. We know that Brigantia was worshipped in Gaul, Britain and Ireland and possibility as far as the Iberian Peninsula as well. We do find coins and artefacts depicting her image in many parts of Europe. There are a few place names that remember her name including Brigantio in Hungary. Brigantia was also a Goddess of healing, of blacksmiths and is very much steeped in folklore and tradition. She is also very much associated with Poetry and Poets who were deemed to be very important people who could see into the mystical world. Their poetry was a mystical language and they spoke the language of the Gods.
7. Ogmios: (Ogmios Herakles) – God of Eloquence – Was said to be very strong and associated with Hercules. His name comes from ―Leading One‖ because he could lead people around with words or the Golden Chain which was a chain of Gold from the tip of his tongue to the ears of a merry band of his followers which implied that he may have had a amazing word power. Being that public speaking was the only real form of communication having a Golden Tongue may very well have given one enormous power. The Irish equivalent to Ogmios was Ogham who it is believed brought writing to Ireland and the first Irish Alphabet was known as Ogham‘s Alphabet. Ogmios was said to be physically very strong and the Romans associated him with the God Hercules. He is depicted carrying a club, as did Hercules, and he sometimes was described as bald and his name Og came from the Celtic word Leading One. In an oral culture – public speaking was of paramount importance and the fact that we find a God dedicated to oral power is important.
8. Taranis – (Thunder God as with Jupiter) – Taranis was a merciless God who required sacrifice. He is not a very well known Character but is mentioned by Roman Poets who depict him as merciless. In the 9th Century a trio of Gods, of which Taranis is one, Asos and Toutates the others, were appeased by human sacrifice. We know little about Asos while Toutates was a God of Tribal protection and in Interpretatio Romano he was associated with Mars. He was a Teutonic God (Germans in pre-history but referred to as Teutonics because they lived in Tribes). He may very well have had some sort of war function as well.
9. Cernunnos: (Horned God) –His named only once on the Pillar of The Stone Men. He is very much associated with animals and holds a Torc in his right hand and about him is a purse, usually overflowing with money, which implies he is a God of wealth. In Irish mythology he is linked with Derg, a God of poetry and wisdom and wild deer but the evidence for this is pretty scant.
10. Maponos: (P Celts: Maponos/ Q Celts: Maqungs) – Mostly found in Britain and has its origins in Gaullist French tradition. There is not a whole lot of information about Maponos but what we do know is that he is a youthful God mostly associated with the God Apollo and that his name suggests that he may have been a divine Son. When we look at other similar son images in Irish mythology we see that there are parallels in the figure of the divine son. According to a sacred 12 line prayer text known as Chamalieres found in France the ancient Gauls regularly prayed for help to Maponos.
11. Rosmerta: This Goddess is often shown embracing a Cornucopia or a purse with coins coming out of it or a petera (plate) with food on it and she is a God of fertility and abundance, as is the case with most female deities, she is also best known as a carer of people. There are many examples of inscriptions where people literally wrote to her for their requests. Her name in Gaulish means the great provider or carer. People often wrote to both Mercury and Rosmerta so, if we take Mercury as being another Gaulish God then it may be safe to assume that both these Gods appeared together.
12. Sucellus: Is related to other Gods in European mythology and is known as a good Striker. He is often depicted with a massive hammer perhaps symbolising hard work, blacksmithing, axe wielding or some such activity. Perhaps a working class God and seems to be adored by ordinary working people in farming, forestry and, interestingly enough, alcohol. He is not associated in any way, like Thor, to Thunder, as the hammer may suggest but what we do find is that he is more than likely in some way connected to a Roman God named Sylvanus who was a God of forestry and wild places and both these Gods are interlinked in the Interpretatio Romano.
13. Nanto Suelta (Nantosuelta): In Gaulish religions she is a Goddess of Nature, the earth and fire. Her name means the sun worn valley and she was a Goddess of fertility and abundance. Her imagery shows her surrounded by greenery, trees and fine-looking meadows. In general she is associated with fertile places.
14. Esus: His name means the Lord and is most often portrayed as a woodman, forester or lumberjack. He was associated with strength and would give strength to those who prayed to him. In Interpretatio Romanio he is most associated with Mercury or Mars. He is interesting in that he was one of the Gods that appeared to be worshipped with human sacrifice.
15. Tarous Trigaranus: We don‘t really know much about this God. Esus seems to be somehow connected to Tarous Trigaranus and this has been established through imagery whereby both Gods are depicted falling trees or depicted as lumberjacks or woodsmen.
There are, of course, many more Gods but these seem to be the ones that had widespread following and were believed in by lots of different tribes. There were also lots of local Gods that would be purely belonging to a given tribe. There are over two hundred different deities recorded but these seem to be the most widespread and consequentially influential Gods.
The Irish evidence and international evidence as to how life must have been, not only for the Celts resident in Ireland, but also for international Celts living across Western Europe is mostly based on mythology. The international evidence can show us, for example, what kind of religion the Celtic speaking people of Europe believed in. The first thing we must do is define what exactly we mean by the word ‘Celts’, what exactly is a Celt? It is after all, a rather complex term worthy of close analysis.
We need to understand the Celtic societies all across Europe, not only in Ireland, but also in France, Spain and Germany. Looking at the Gods and Goddesses of the Celtic tradition we can ascertain many of the religious beliefs of the Celtic peoples. One of the areas most fruitful in our understanding of the Celts is archaeology where we can find physical examples such as Temples, ritual objects, and statues, and other types of artefacts and burial places, which can tell us a little bit about the religious beliefs of these people.
It must be said from the outset that there is not a lot of archaeological clues but the few we have available to us are worthy of close analysis. One needs to also look at history which includes pseudo history, tribal names and place names. This ‘pseudo history’ came about long after events took place and, with the passing of time, stories became somewhat romanticised or, depending on the agenda of the storyteller, would have a political or religious spin to it. Tribal names and place names can tell us a lot about certain different cults and figures. However, our primary source is Mythology.
There are four main cycles in time to be concerned with when trying to understand the Celts but when we talk about some of these cycles we have a problem in that the information available to us was, more than likely, prepared long after events actually took place. In many cases, evidence suggests, that such stories were relayed thousands of years later. In fact, some of the mythology available only came to us in the medieval period. But the fact is that the mythology survived in medieval manuscripts for the most part and modern scholars have broken it up to four different strands. Four different areas of mythology which are known as the Mythological cycle, the Ulster cycle, Fenian cycle and the Historical cycle.
The mythological cycle, which is mainly based on the contents of a book known as ‘The Book Of Invasion’ which was not really a history book but it discusses at great length the different tribes, one after another, which came to Ireland until eventually the final wave of invaders arrived to conquer the land, the Gael, who became the masters of the Ireland. One of the most important tribes to arrive prior to ‘The Gael’ was a tribe known as the ‘Tuatha De Danaan’ who were presented in ‘The Book Of Invasion’ as a group of magicians or magical figures whereas, in reality, they were a pantheon of Gods.
The ‘Ulster Cycle’ concerns a warrior and aristocratic society in the province of Ulster and is supposed by historians to have taken place around C.1 CE. It is primarily concerned with a mystical King known as Conchobhar MacNeasa (one who is desirous of warriors) and the various different peoples of his kingdom and rival kingdoms as well. There is a single story that is very important to this cycle and is known as the Brown Bull of Cooley. This tale is significant because it introduces a character known as Cu Chulainn who single handedly defends the province of Ulster against a great army. In any study of Irish Mythology one should be concerned not so much with the stories themselves but with the symbolism used in them. One should try to understand from where these symbols came and what is their true meaning or substance in history. For example, Cu Chulainn probably represents the warrior cult that came to Ireland from parts of Liverpool in the 1st century CE and the Kings may have represented a phase of kingship in Ulster in the centuries BCE. In short, if we break open the stories we can see clues to the realities of history within their meaning. We should never take the stories at face value. We could always examine them and try to find out that‘s underneath.
The next wave is known as the Fenian Cycle has a lot to tell us about certain cult figures. These stories are basically about Fionn Mac Cumhaill and the Fianna (Young Hunters). The story of the Salmon of Knowledge tells us of Fionn sticking his thumb into a salmon and tasting the juices thus gaining great knowledge. This can be interpreted as the salmon, having it‘s origin in the mystical world, and Fionn acquiring mystical knowledge by tasting the juices, and is therefor in some way super powerful. There are many stories in the Fenian Cycle of Fionn and the Fianna going to the mystical world and fighting supernatural warriors and it is from such stories that we can acquire a greater knowledge of how the Celts may have lived and what beliefs they may have had.
The historical cycle is also known as the cycle of the King‘s because it mainly deals with kingship, how King‘s are viewed, what powers King‘s had in both mortal and spiritual worlds. There are lots of stories of Kings taking trips to other worlds or encountering visitors from other worlds who were to bestow the role of Kingship upon them. It‘s all essentially political propaganda but these stories can tell us a fair amount as well about the Druids and the Druidic rituals.