MuLti Faceted ReLigion
We have already seen that while some Celtic deities were worshiped throughout the Celtic world, others only appealed to certain regions. The Celts worshiped places as well as gods, seeing supernatural elements in everything around them; animals and trees, hills and rivers. While the main group of Celtic deities could be identified as having Roman counterparts, other aspects were unique, and ultimately influenced that nascent monotheistic religion, Christianity.
Below: Stone sculpture of a two-headed god c.4th century bc. found at Roquepertuse in France.
i he regional aspect of Celtic worship was | significant, because of the 400 named Celtic gods, only 100 are mentioned more than once, and many were therefore worshiped in a small and clearly defined area. For example, the Gallic goddess Sequana was worshiped in what is now the French province of Burgundy, but was largely unknown elsewhere. She has been identified with only one shrine, as has Sulis from western England. Some gods clearly had regional variations, based on the same identifiable figure. Others were delineated by tribal or geographical boundaries, such as Lenus, the god of the Treveri (centered around the modern German town of Trier). Another was the god worshipped by the Remi in northern Gaul, in the region around modern-da) Reims, who was portrayed as a triple-faced bearded god, although his purpose or name has not yet been identified.
One peculiar aspect of the Celtic deities is that many were portrayed as triune or triple-faced divinities, having three forms or faces, and even three names. Consequently many representations of Celtic gods are depicted with three heads or faces. Examples include a janiform bust found in the Celtic sanctuary of
Roqepertusc in France, and dating from the third century BC, and similar examples from Leichlingen in Germany (fourth century BC) and Reims in France (second century BC).
Three was viewed as a sacred number, as it was by other Indo-European religions, but beyond that, the exact significance of these heads has been lost. Three divisions (earth, fire, and water; body, soul, and spirit; heaven, sea, and underworld) have been a constant in religious belief for as long as can be determined. The Holy Trinity is an obvious Christian parallel.
A belief in the afterworld
Spiritual power could be found in the every day landscape, flora, and fauna surrounding the Celts. The god Vosegus occupied the Vosges mountains in central Gaul, while others arc reflected in the names of springs, rivers, woods, or even marshes. These topographical spirits were often associated with the fertility of the land, and the annual farming cycle. They were worshiped during times of planting, harvest, or drought, and the Celtic farmers who relied on the goodwill of the deities gave votive offerings to them on a regular basis. It is likely, although as yet unproven, that many of Gaul's votive centers were linked to the worship of particular deities. This also applied to areas where human sacrifice was practiced.
Celtic religion was based on a moral system of right and wrong, or good and evil. Certain Christian notions such as predestination or universal sin were unknown to the Ancient Celts, and each individual was responsible for his or her own fate, albeit influenced by the gods. While the druids officiated worship and sacrifice, they were also the spiritual advisers to the community, not simply the interpreters of a fixed set of religious values. From Irish sources it is clear that the Celtic religious ideal was to live in harmony with their surroundings, to accept their own virtues and faults, and to accept that birth and death were part of a divine plan for mankind. Moral weakness, lack of courage, and evil actions were seen as sins that could earn divine retribution, while truth was portrayed as a virtue.
One problem with any interpretation of Celtic belief is that it is either portrayed through the eyes of Roman or Greek outsiders,
or through the works of the much later Irish chroniclers. Later still, Christian influences distorted the Celtic religious system, and adapted old Celtic beliefs into the Christian doctrine as a means of encouraging the conversion of those who adhered to the old ways. Following the widespread adoption of Christianity the remaining Celtic peoples of Europe abandoned their polytheistic practices, but by examining the roots of many early Christian practices we can find the last vestiges of the old Celtic religion as it was once practiced throughout the pre-Christian (and pre-Roman) Celtic world.
Above: In this statue of an unknown Celtic deity, carved from chalkstone. representations of three other Celtic gods appear carved on this reverse side. Dated c.ad 30-40, it was found at Saintes. Charente-Maritimes, France.
Reims • • Trevl (Trier)
' OfiCADCS IHSULAt (Orkney Islands)
The Celtic British Isles showing territories of the Celtic tribes at about ad 44. and the basic structure of Roman Britannia to ad 120.
■ major Roman center or fort o Roman or tribal civic center
_ major roads
— minor roads PIC T S Celtic tribe
— site of Antonine Wall ad 142 site of Hadrian's Wall ao 117
Pons Aellut Newcastle)
/ Ratae lonls O
Durobrlvae ftochuatr, nta Belgarum inchostt'i
mcvsKstiMorww ^ Portus itlu»
MARE BR'TANNIC^ J
^S^Jft^Sfcl 11 Chapter5
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