Myth and fact entwined

Successive invaders have been identified with Celtic migrations by the Belgae, the Gauls, and the Dumnonii peoples. These early settlers were followed by the semi-legendary Tuatha De Danann, the tribes of the goddess Danu. The Tuatha conquered the Fir Bolg, then the Fomori with the help of the god Lugh, and established themselves as the dominant people of Ireland. Later Christian writers have added the Milesians as a sort of intrusion, to give the Irish Celts some classical respectability. In a climactic battle between the Tuatha and their enemies, the chroniclers introduce the whole pantheon of Celtic gods, by describing what they could do to influence the course of the battle.

Some of the gods listed in these early Celtic myths are exclusive to Ireland and Wales. For instance, Oengus Og (Angus Og) was meant to be a child of the goddess Dana, and is associated with eternal youth. Unlike the principal gods of the Celtic world, these more regional gods were linked to specific geographical locations. Manannan mac Lir came to Ireland over the sea, and has been linked to the Isle of Man. Me has also been linked to the Welsh Manawydan fab Llyr mentioned in the epic mythological tale the Mabinopon, and may therefore represent the Irish Sea itself.

It is harder to separate Welsh mythology from Christian invention, since most works of Welsh literature were recorded much later than their Irish counterparts. They represent in part the views of the early medieval Celtic church, so the influence of the Celtic gods has been replaced by a greater emphasis on the use of magic, and there is a more clearly defined line between the human and the supernatural

t is necessary to understand that a certain amount of rewriting took place to make the older myths support the framework of new Christian belief, and since much of Irish and Welsh literature available to us comes from the Celtic Church, the re-invention may at times be quite extensive. This was probably confined to references to older Celtic gods; their spiritual power was stripped away to portray them as beings who were not worshiped or sacrificed to, but who dwelt in the world of the supernatural.

Many of these gods can also be traced through archaeological remains and through Roman descriptions. For example, Dagda, father of the gods, is mentioned in Irish myth as well as in pre-Roman sources. Lugh, the sun god was also worshiped throughout Europe, and he was linked to prowess in battle, through the use of magical weapons. Numerous others indicate a common thread between Irish mythology and the gods of the La Tene civilization.

These early myths describe how the Celts arrived in Ireland, depicted as a series of in\-asions. In Ireland, the Lebor Gabdla (Book of Invasions) describes these in

The Book Invasions

Isle of Man

Greece •eece"

Tuatha

How the Celts arrived in Ireland, according to the Lebor Gabala (Book of Invasions).

Gauls

ALBION

GAUL

SPAIN

worlds. Whatever the origin, these Celtic myths provide us with an insight into the belief system of the early Celts, and even though they might be tinged by later Christian influences, they are still the best source of information on Celtic belief.

Facing: God with tore and wild boar. Gallo-Roman, 1st century ad, from Euffigneix, France.

Right: A Gallo-Celtic statue of a demon eating humans, from the 1st century bc.

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Responses

  • Lysana
    You made a standard mistake. Lugh is not a solar entity. In Ireland he is associated with thunderstorms, and he has no solar aspect in the Gaulish inscriptions, either.
    8 years ago

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