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Celtic mythology is the mythology of Celtic polytheism, the religion of the Iron Age

Celts. Like other Iron Age Europeans, the early Celts maintained a polytheistic
mythology and religious structure. Among Celts in close contact with Ancient Rome,
such as the Gauls and Celtiberians, their mythology did not survive the Roman
Empire, their subsequent conversion to Christianity, and the loss of their Celtic
languages. It is mostly through contemporary Roman and Christian sources that
their mythology has been preserved. The Celtic peoples who maintained either their
political or linguistic identities left vestigial remnants of their ancestral mythologies,
put into written form during the Middle Ages.
Although the Celtic world at its height covered much of western and central Europe,
it was not politically unified nor was there any substantial central source of cultural
influence or homogeneity; as a result, there was a great deal of variation in local
practices of Celtic religion . Inscriptions of more than three hundred deities, often
equated with their Roman counterparts, have survived, but of these most appear to
have been genii locorum, local or tribal gods, and few were widely worshipped.
However, from what has survived of Celtic mythology, it is possible to discern
commonalities which hint at a more unified pantheon than is often given credit.
The nature and functions of these ancient gods can be deduced from their names,
the location of their inscriptions, their iconography, the Roman gods they are
equated with, and similar figures from later bodies of Celtic mythology.
Celtic mythology is found in a number of distinct, if related, subgroups, largely
corresponding to the branches of the Celtic languages:
Ancient Celtic religion
mythology in Gaelic languages, represented chiefly by Irish mythology
Mythological Cycle
Ulster Cycle
Fenian Cycle
Cycles of the Kings
mythology in Brittonic languages
Welsh mythology
Cornish mythology
Breton mythology
Historical sources

As a result of the scarcity of surviving materials bearing written Gaulish, it is

surmised that the most of the Celtic writings were destroyed by the Romans,
although a written form of Gaulish using the Greek, Latin and North Italic alphabets
was used . Julius Caesar attests to the literacy of the Gauls, but also wrote that their
priests, the druids, were forbidden to use writing to record certain verses of religious
significance while also noting that the Helvetii had a written census .
Rome introduced a more widespread habit of public inscriptions, and broke the
power of the druids in the areas it conquered; in fact, most inscriptions to deities
discovered in Gaul, Britain and other formerly Celtic-speaking areas post-date the
Roman conquest.
Although early Gaels in Ireland and parts of modern Wales used the Ogham script to
record short inscriptions, more sophisticated literacy was not introduced to Celtic
areas that had not been conquered by Rome until the advent of Christianity. Indeed,
many Gaelic myths were first recorded by Christian monks, albeit without most of
their original religious meanings.
Irish mythology
The oldest body of myths stemming from the Heroic Age is found only from the
early medieval period of Ireland. As Christianity began to take over, the gods and
goddesses were slowly eliminated as such from the culture. What has survived
includes material dealing with the Tuatha D Danann and the Fomorians, which
forms the basis for the text Cath Maige Tuireadh, as well as portions of the historyfocused Lebor Gabla renn . The Tuatha D represent the functions of human
society such as kingship, crafts and war, while the Fomorians represent chaos and
wild nature.
The Dagda
The leader of the gods for the Irish pantheon appears to have been the Dagda. The
Dagda was the figure after which male humans and other gods were based due to
his embodiment of the ideal Irish traits. Celtic gods were also considered to be a
clan due to their lack of specialization and unknown origins. The particular character
of the Dagda describes him as a figure of burlesque lampoonery in Irish mythology,
and some authors even conclude that he was trusted to be benevolent enough to
tolerate jokes at his own expense.
Irish tales depict the Dagda as a figure of power, armed with a club. In Dorset there
is a famous outline of an ithyphallic giant known as the Cerne Abbas Giant with a
club cut into the chalky soil. While this was probably produced in relatively modern
times, it was long thought to be a representation of the Dagda. This has been called
into question by recent studies which show that there may have been a
representation of what looks like a large drapery hanging from the horizontal arm of
the figure, leading to suspicion that this figure actually represents Hercules, with the

skin of the Nemean lion over his arm and carrying the club he used to kill it. In Gaul,
it is speculated that the Dagda is associated with Sucellus, the striker, equipped
with a hammer and cup.
The Morrgan
The Morrgan was a tripartite battle goddess of the Celts of Ancient Ireland. She was
known as the Morrgan, but the different sections she was divided into were also
referred to as Nemain, Macha, and Badb, with each representing different aspects of
combat. She is most commonly known for her involvement in the Tin B Cailnge.
The god appearing most frequently in the tales is Lugh. He is evidently a residual of
the earlier, more widespread god Lugus, whose diffusion in Celtic religion is
apparent from the number of place names in which his name appears, occurring
across the Celtic world. The most famous of these are the cities of Lugdunum,
Lugdunum Batavorum and Lucus Augusti . Lug is described in the Celtic myths as
the last to be added to the list of deities. In Ireland a festival called the Lughnasadh
was held in his honour.
Other important goddesses include Brigid, the Dagda's daughter; Aibell, ine,
Macha, and the sovereign goddess, riu. Notable is Epona, the horse goddess,
celebrated with horse races at the summer festival. Significant Irish gods include
Nuada Airgetlm, the first king of the Tuatha D Danann; Goibniu, the smith and
brewer; Dian Cecht, the patron of healing; and the sea god Manannn mac Lir.
Welsh mythology
Less is known about the pre-Christian mythologies of Britain than those of Ireland.
Important reflexes of British mythology appear in the Four Branches of the
Mabinogi, especially in the names of several characters, such as Rhiannon, Teyrnon,
and Bendigeidfran . Other characters, in all likelihood, derive from mythological
sources, and various episodes, such as the appearance of Arawn, a king of the
Otherworld seeking the aid of a mortal in his own feuds, and the tale of the hero
who cannot be killed except under seemingly contradictory circumstances, can be
traced throughout Indo-European myth and legend. The children of Llr in the
Second and Third Branches, and the children of Dn in the Fourth Branch are major
figures, but the tales themselves are not primary mythology.
While further mythological names and references appear elsewhere in Welsh
narrative and tradition, especially in the tale of Culhwch and Olwen, where we find,
for example, Mabon ap Modron, and in the collected Triads of the Island of Britain,
not enough is known of the British mythological background to reconstruct either a
narrative of creation or a coherent pantheon of British deities. Indeed, though there

is much in common with Irish myth, there may have been no unified British
mythological tradition per se. Whatever its ultimate origins, the surviving material
has been put to good use in the service of literary masterpieces that address the
cultural concerns of Wales in the early and later Middle Ages.
Remnants of Gaulish and other mythology
The Celts also worshipped a number of deities of which little more is known than
their names. Classical writers preserve a few fragments of legends or myths that
may possibly be Celtic.
According to the Syrian rhetorician Lucian, Ogmios was supposed to lead a band of
men chained by their ears to his tongue as a symbol of the strength of his
The Roman poet Lucan mentions the gods Taranis, Teutates and Esus, but there is
little Celtic evidence that these were important deities.
A number of objets d'art, coins, and altars may depict scenes from lost myths, such
as the representations of Tarvos Trigaranus or of an equestrian Jupiter surmounting
a snake-legged human-like figure. The Gundestrup cauldron has been also
interpreted mythically.
Along with dedications giving us god names, there are also deity representations to
which no name has yet been attached. Among these are images of a three-headed
or three-faced god, a squatting god, a god with a snake, a god with a wheel, and a
horseman with a kneeling giant. Some of these images can be found in Late Bronze
Age peat bogs in Britain, indicating the symbols were both pre-Roman and widely
spread across Celtic culture. The distribution of some of the images has been
mapped and shows a pattern of central concentration of an image along with a wide
scatter indicating these images were most likely attached to specific tribes and
were distributed from some central point of tribal concentration outward along lines
of trade. The image of the three headed god has a central concentration among the
Belgae, between the Oise, Marne and Moselle rivers. The horseman with kneeling
giant is centered on either side of the Rhine. These examples seem to indicate
regional preferences of a common image stock. MacBain argues that Apollo
corresponds to Irish Lugh, Mercury to Manannan mac Lir, Jupiter to Dagda, Mars to
Net, and Minerva to Brigit.
See also
Cornish mythology
Fisher King
Hag of the mist

Tin B Flidhais
Celtic Christianity
de Vries, Jan, Keltische Religion .
Duval, Paul-Marie, Les Dieux de la Gaule, new ed. updated and enlarged .
MacCana, Proinsias. Celtic Mythology. New York: Hamlyn, 1970. ISBN 0-600-00647-6.
Mac Cana, Proinsias, The Learned Tales of Medieval Ireland, Dublin Institute for
Advanced Studies : ISBN 1-85500-120-9.
MacKillop, James, Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1998. ISBN 0-19-280120-1.
Maier, Bernhard, Dictionary of Celtic religion and culture, Boydell & Brewer 1997
ISBN 978-0-85115-660-6.
O'Rahilly, Thomas F. Early Irish History and Mythology .
Rhys, John, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by Celtic
Heathendom 3rd ed. .
Sjoestedt, M. L., Gods and Heroes of the Celts. 1949; translated by Myles Dillon.
repr. Berkeley, CA: Turtle Press, 1990. ISBN 1-85182-179-1.
Stercks, Claude, lments de cosmogonie celtique .
Vendrys, Joseph, Ernest Tonnelat, and B.-O. Unbegaun Les Religions des Celtes, des
Germains et des anciens Slaves .
Wood, Juliette, The Celts: Life, Myth, and Art Thorsons Publishers : ISBN 0-00764059-5.
Danilo Pennone I Celti, miti e leggende, Stile Regina Editrice, 1990.
External links
: a detailed description of the Gundestrup cauldron
Myths and legends from Celtic Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Brittany.