Introduction

IN all lands whither the Celts came as conquerors there was an existing population with whom they must eventually have made alliances. They imposed their language upon them — the Celtic regions are or were recently regions of Celtic speech — but just as many words of the aboriginal vernacular must have been taken over by the conquerors, or their own tongue modified by Celtic, so must it have been with their mythology. Celtic and pre-Celtic folk alike had many myths, and these were bound to intermingle, with the result that such Celtic legends as we possess must contain remnants of the aboriginal mythology, though it, like the descendants of the aborigines, has become Celtic. It would be difficult, in the existing condition of the old mythology, to say this is of Celtic, that of non-Celtic origin, for that mythology is now but fragmentary. The gods of the Celts were many, but of large cantles of the Celtic race — the Celts of Gaul and of other parts of the continent of Europe — scarcely any myths have survived. A few sentences of Classical writers or images of divinities or scenes depicted on monuments point to what was once a rich mythology. These monuments, as well as inscriptions with names of deities, are numerous there as well as in parts of Roman Britain, and belong to the Romano-Celtic period. In Ireland, Wales, and north-western Scotland they do not exist, though in Ireland and Wales there is a copious literature based on mythology. Indeed, we may express the condition of affairs in a formula: Of the gods of the Continental Celts many monuments and no myths; of those of the Insular Celts many myths but no monuments.

The myths of the Continental Celts were probably never committed to writing. They were contained in the sacred verses taught by the Druids, but it was not lawful to write them down;1 they were tabu, and doubtless their value would have vanished if they had been set forth in script. The influences of Roman civilization and religion were fatal to the oral mythology taught by Druids, who were ruthlessly extirpated, while the old religion was assimilated to that of Rome. The gods were equated with Roman gods, who tended to take their place; the people became Romanized and forgot their old beliefs. Doubtless traditions survived among the folk, and may still exist as folk-lore or fairy superstition, just as folk-customs, the meaning of which may be uncertain to those who practise them, are descended from the rituals of a vanished paganism; but such existing traditions could be used only with great caution as indexes of the older myths.

There were hundreds of Gaulish and Romano-British gods, as an examination of the Latin inscriptions found in Gaul and Britain2 or of Alfred Holder's Altceltischer Sprachschatz3 will show. Many are equated with the same Roman god, and most of them were local deities with similar functions, though some may have been more widely popular; but we can never be sure to what aspect of the Roman divinity's personality a parallel was found in their functions. Moreover, though in some cases philology shows us the meaning of their names, it would avail little to speculate upon that meaning, tempting as this may be — a temptation not always successfully resisted. This is also true of the symbols depicted on monuments, though here the function, if not the myth, is more readily suggested. Why are some deities horned or three-headed, or why does one god carry a wheel, a hammer, or an S-symbol? Horns may suggest divine strength or an earlier beast-god, the wheel may be the sun, the hammer may denote creative power. Other symbols resemble those of Classical divinities, and here the meaning is more obvious. The three Matres, or "Mothers," with their symbols of fertility were Earth Mothers; the horned deity with a bag of

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