Celtic European Influences.
In order to fully understand Irish Celtic history we must also understand how the people of the time were influenced by fellow Europeans. For example, Julius Caesar, fuelled by propaganda, who fought the Gaul‘s (or Gallicos) of France, wrote extensively about them. Our main focus is on the Celtic Period or, as it was better known, the Iron Age and to fully understand the traditions of this age and how they came about we need to look at what was going on in other European Countries.
The Celts can be best described as a people from Western Europe who spoke a language known as Gaulish. The earliest known Celts can be traced back to 600BC and came from the small town of Hallstatt in Austria where they controlled large salt mines. The wealthy Chieftains at Hallstatt were trading salt in Europe which meant that they travelled extensively, primarily by boat, across the continent. To an extent the Hallstatt Chieftains adopted the popular Greek style of language which was a precursor to other European languages including Gaulish and Lepontic. It must also be remembered that there were basically two different types of Celt and they were known as Q-Celts and P- Celts. It seems that at some time in the past the Celts split and subsequently both were categorised primarily by the sounds they emphasis was on the P. The most common dialectics of the Celts were, Irish, Manx Welsh, Cornish, Breton, Welsh, Scottish and in the ancient world, Gaulish, Leponic and Celtic Iberian.
A Celt is normally defined by historians as someone who speaks any of the main Celtic languages of Welsh, Breton, Scottish, Gaelic, Manx Welsh, and Cornish and in the ancient world Gaulish, Leponic or Celtic Iberian. 19th Century language scholars and archaeologists mostly agree that at some stage in pre-history that the Celtic race spoke the Celtic language, used Celtic objects, lived in the French Alps from where they invaded Europe and finally settled in Ireland, Britain, Spain and France. The Archaeologist‘s definition of a Celt is someone living in the Iron Age who used objects from the continental Hallstatt or La Tène cultures, emanating from the Alps, or is buried with rituals associated with these cultures.
The Le Tène Culture in 300BC in Lake Neuchâtel, the Celts, deliberately put ornaments into the Lake in offering to the Gods. This was done in relation to pleasing g the Gods and sometimes they would destroy the ornaments perhaps as a mark of respect for the dead or some sort I of disempowerment of weaponry i.e.: bent swords or implements and tools. It must be remembered that this was a stereotypical ‘animate’ culture which meant that everything had a ‘soul’ and that the soul of the tools or weapons passed to the next world with the owner.
The Gauls and the Celts were on the move on a regular basis i.e.: Germany, Spain, Switzerland (Alps), Asia, so these tribes did not write down their own history, the people around them did. One particular tribe the Keltoi, a name of Gaulish origin would be described as ‘barbarian’ and animal like by it‘s contemporaries who deemed the Romans and Greeks as civilised and respectful. Julius Caesar names them at the beginning of his ‘De Bello Gallico’ (Gallic War). He refers to the Gauls as those who are called Celts in their own language. So, it appears, and logically so, that ‘Celt’ was a name that the Celts called themselves. The Romans were greatly disturbed by the ornaments and battle noise of the Celts. Also terrifying was the appearance and rapid manoeuvring of the naked warriors in front, men at the prime of their strength and magnificence; “The Gauls are tall with moist white flesh; their hair is not only naturally blond, but they also make artificial efforts to lighten its colour, their hair thickens until it is just like a horse‘s mane and they wear amazing clothes: tunics dyed in every colour and pin striped cloaks. The whole race, which they call both Gallic and Gallatin, is war-like, both spirited and quick to war. De Bello Gallico continues; “they worship as their divinity, Mercury in particular, and have many images of him, and regard him as the inventor of all arts, they consider him, the guide of their journeys and marches, and believe him to have very great influence over the acquisition of gain and mercantile transactions. Next to him they worship Apollo, and Mars, and Jupiter, and Minerva; respecting these deities they have for the most part the same belief as other nations: that Apollo averts diseases, that Minerva imparts the invention of manufactures, that Jupiter possesses the sovereignty of the heavenly powers; that Mars presides over wars.
To him when they have determined to engage in battle, they commonly vow those things they shall take in war. When they have conquered, they sacrifice whatever captured animals may have survived the conflict, and collect the other things into one place. In many states you may see piles of these things heaped up in their consecrated spots; nor does it often happen that any one, disregarding the sanctity of the case, dares either to secrete in his house things captured, or take away those deposited; and the most severe punishment, with torture, has been established for such a deed.
All the Gauls assert that they are descended from the god Dis, and say that this tradition has been handed down by the Druids. For that reason they compute the divisions of every season, not by the number of days, but of nights; they keep birthdays and the beginnings of months and years in such an order that the day follows the night.
The nation of all the Gauls is extremely devoted to superstitious rites; and on that account they who are troubled with unusually severe diseases and they who are engaged in battles and dangers, either sacrifice men as victims, or vow that they will sacrifice them, and employ the Druids as the performers of those sacrifices; because they think that unless the life of a man be offered for the life of a man, the mind of the immortal gods cannot be rendered propitious, and they have sacrifices of that kind ordained for national purposes.
One such historian and documenter of Celtic traditions was Julius Caesar who led the campaign against the Gauls in France. Caesar‘s writing of the Celtic religion and derives from Tacitus Germana (Chapter 43) wherein he describes two German Gods worshipped as brothers and youths – twins – as being like Castor and Polloux. These young Gods filtered through the Roman Culture. Mercury; the God plays a big part in Caesar‘s understanding of the religion of the Celts. Rome at this time worshipped stone Gods (statues) while the Celts thought that depicting these Gods in this way was not good.
The God Lugos is considered to be the God of Journeys. He was first identified in Lyon, France at a now well known Fort known as Lughduna where archaeologists found artefacts and relics associated with travelling. This is relevant because Caesar‘s description of Celtic law in relation to oaths and pledges was imperative to understanding how all contracts in Celtic law were accomplished. Interestingly, Mistletoe was a plant depicted on inscriptions and statuary associated with both the God Lugos and the Goddess Rose Mertha who is seen holding a cup, chalice which depicts Kingship or a higher force. There are a few different types of evidence that we can use to establish what Gods and Goddesses were believed in by the Celts.
Inscribed Dedications were a practise whereby people used inscriptions to write dedications to their Gods and Goddesses. This was a common practise particularly after the Romans had come and invaded the area in which such inscriptions can be found. This is interesting because it further complicates the issue in that we now also need to understand the influence of Roman Religion. However, it also gives some indication as to the influence of this, by then, advanced religion on the Celts. Along with the Romans came literacy thus empowering the written word and consequently these inscriptions began to appear. The Statuary was very much influenced by the Romans. The Celts started to produce Statues in a very classical style. The Classical Accounts were also a source of information and primarily of these classical accounts was the “Interpretatio Romanio‘ (Roman Interpretation) which was a Roman account and was therefore somewhat biased. However, it still remains a source of evidence worthy of consideration.
When we examine the Classical Accounts we discover that most of these are all based on one particular source, Roman classical writers were notorious for copying, and thus the reliability of source is considered questionable. Bad information was reported and re-reported over and over again. The final significant sources are archaeological Sites and names and place names. These would give us some hints; names of rivers, wells, shrines, towns and cities usually had suggestions of Celtic deities. Finally, it is also worth noting that, with very few exceptions, names of male Gods usually end in ‘OS‘ while Goddesses names end in ‘A‘. These are our primary sources of evidence.