THE ANCIENT CELTS, PAGE TWO
Farmers: For livestock, Celtic farmers relied on sheep, cattle and pigs. Pigs were
much closer in appearance to their wild ancestors and the sheep looked more like
goats. Sheep were kept for their wool to make clothes and probably for milk. The cattle,
a now extinct variety known as the Celtic Shorthorn, were quite small compared to
modern cattle. They were bred to be powerful oxen for pulling plows and heavy wagons.
Horses, mostly ponies, were raised for light draught work and for war rather than for
Many breeds of dog existed, small ones to large ones. The large ones were probably
used for hunting. Hunting was a favorite pastime for Celtic lords and the warrior elite.
Chickens and cats can be traced back to Celtic times. Donkeys and mules were not
introduced until the Roman period.
The Celts grew a number of cereals—several kinds of wheat (emmer, spelt and barley).
Beans, peas and lentils were also cultivated. Bitter Vetch, Fat Hen, Gold of Pleasure and
other plants now regarded as wild may have been cultivated, or at least collected. From
these plants and from fruits and berries, Celtic people had access to good sources of
protein, carbohydrates and vitamins.
Celtic Farms and Villages: Houses tended to be circular in Britain and Ireland and rectangular in Gaul and elsewhere. Circular
houses found in Britain very greatly in size from about 15 feet to over 50 feet in diameter. Smaller buildings may have been
components of larger buildings. These could have consisted of more than one roundhouse, with other ancillary buildings such as
cooking shacks or work sheds, plus storage facilities.
These roundhouses (even the smaller ones) offered considerable floor space under a conical thatched roof, without the need for
freestanding roof posts: the weight of the roof could be transmitted directly to wattle walls. Weatherproofed with clay daub, these
circular walls—the ring completed by the wooden door lintel—were remarkably strong. Larger houses usually had an inner post ring to
provide additional support for the long rafters. Some of the larger dwellings could have been residences of the nobility. Some walls
may have been painted with circular designs or decorated with embroidered wall hangings depicting hunting or otherworldly scenes.
Sources tell of the Gauls sitting on pelts and using low dining tables. Domestic gear that has been unearthed are drinking gear like
cups or horns, gaming counters, cooking utensils like cauldrons, and iron firedogs.
There was usually a central hearth from which hung a cauldron on an iron or bronze chain. Animal skins were used as floor coverings
and cups, bowls and other utensils would be arranged around the hearth. There might be leather or wooden chairs, a goose feather
stuffed pallet bed with woolen blankets or animal pelts. There were probably wooden chests used to store personal items. A loom
probably sat in one corner to weave clothes from wool. Meat would be hung from the rafters where the smoke from the central fire
would ‘smoke’ and preserve the meat. There were probably herbs hung from the rafters as well.
Some tribes lived in hillforts that were fortified with high walls to protect them from warring neighbors. The layout was usually the same--
just behind high walls. Some of the people lived outside the fortresses and would seek shelter inside in times of war.
Early Celtic Gods and Goddesses: The Celts were polytheistic—they believed in multiple deities. It seems likely that religious
practices took place at home as well as at shrines. There were also sacred aspects to hospitality, feast giving and the taking of oaths.
There may have been no distinct, universally worshipped Celtic deities at all, perhaps because of the diverse histories and origins of
the Celtic people.
Certain deities were associated with particular locations like certain springs or lakes, obvious sources of life.
Many deities were worshipped in triads, or were three aspects of one god, sometimes depicted as three faced. Some gods were
shapeshifters and able to adopt various animal guises at will, at least in the Irish myths. Gods and goddesses varied from place to
Andrasta (Andraste): Victory goddess of the Iceni. When Queen Boudica rose up against the Romans in AD60, she sacrificed Roman
women to Andrasta.
Artio: ‘Bear,’ a forest goddess.
Belenus (Bel or Belenos): ‘Bright’ or ‘brilliant,’ a Gaulish sun god and healer. During Roman period this god was identified with
Branwyn (Branwen): Goddess of love and the sea.
Brigid, Brigit, Brighid (Ireland), Bride(Scotland), Brigantia (Britain): Solar goddess, Goddess of fertility, blacksmithing, feminine
creativity, martial arts & healing. She is often depicted with one side of her face beautiful, the other side ugly.
Camulos: A war god (Britain and Gaul).
Cernunnos: ‘The horned one,’ lord of animals. He is shown wearing deer antlers and a torc. He holds a torc in his right hand and a
serpent in his other hand. He is associated with the ‘wild hunt’ in which spirits of the dead were carried to the Otherworld. He controlled
the culling, purifying and health of the herds.
Cerridwen: Moon goddess, goddess of dark prophetic powers, keeper of the cauldron of the Underworld, in which inspiration and
divine knowledge are brewed. Her totem animal is the sow, representing the richness of the Underworld and the terrible strength of the
Mother (Goddess). She is sometimes depicted as the Crone aspect of the Goddess.
Coventina: Goddess of rivers, abundance, inspiration and prophecy.
The Crone (The Cailleach): One of the triple goddess aspects, goddess of winter, the darkness and the waning moon.
Eostre: Goddess of Spring, rebirth, fertility and new beginnings.
Epona: Gallic horse goddess with fertility aspects. The horse was a major symbol of energy, power and fertility.
Esus: ‘Lord.’ He is connected to a lost myth involving the cutting down of trees and to the totem animals of three cranes and a bull.
Could he have been the Celtic Jesus, a god who was sacrificed? Maybe he is connected to the ‘oak king,’ the sacrificial son or consort
of the Goddess who reigned for a year and then was sacrificed.
Latis: Goddess of water and beer.
Lenus: Healer god of the Treveni.
Lugh: Sun god, god of war, magic and good harvest. He is the hero of the Tuatha de Danaans who fights against the Formorians and
kills his own grandfather, Balor, who was the Formorian king.
Morrigan (Phantom Queen): Goddess of war and vengeance, magic and prophecy. Usually seen in the guise of a crow or raven near
battlefields. Sometimes she would appear as an old woman washing the bloody clothes of a warrior who was going to die. In one tale,
she (death goddess) mates with the Dagda (god of life) on Samhain, representing the great universal forces at work.
Sequana: Goddess of the Seine. Her totem bird was the duck.
Sucellus (Sucellos): The ‘good striker,’ hammer god related to the Irish deity, the Dagda.
Sulis (Sul, Sulis/Minerva): Goddess of the spring at Aquae Sulis (Bath).
Taranis: ‘The thunderer,’ an enigmatic sky god. He carries a wheel and a thunderbolt and is associated with the Roman Jupiter and the
Teutates: ‘God of the tribe,’ perhaps the title of many different gods.
The Triple Goddess: The maiden, mother and crone—birth, life and death or moon, creator, destroyer. This title has been given to
more than one goddess. Perhaps the Celts saw all goddesses as having different aspects.
Vasio: God of the Gallic Vocontii, at Vasio.
Here are some other gods and goddesses associated with the Celts:
Amaethon (Welsh): God of agriculture, master of magic.
Arawn (Welsh): God of the hunt and the Underworld.
Arianrhod (Welsh): Star and sky goddess, goddess of beauty, full moon and magical spells. Her name means ‘silver wheel’ and she is
a goddess of time, space and energy. As a weaver, she has control of human lives and of creation itself.
Badb (Irish): Goddess of war, death and rebirth. Her name means 'raven,crow.' May be part of a triad with Morrigan.
Cailleach (Scottish, Irish, Welsh): Goddess of weather, earth, sky, seasons, waning moon and winter. Associated with the Crone
aspect of the Triple Goddess.
Cliodna (Irish, Scottish): Goddess of beauty and other realms.
Creide (Irish, Scottish): Goddess of women and faeries.
The Green Man (Welsh): God of the woodlands, fertility.
Morgan Le Fay (Welsh): Goddess of death, fate, the sea and curses. May be associated with Morrigan, the war goddess. Morgan Le
Fay appears in the legends of King Arthur as his half-sister, but in some stories she is the Faery Queen and goes by the names of
Morgana or Morgaine.
Oghma (Scottish, Irish): God of communication, writing and of poets.
Rhiannon (Welsh): Goddess of birds, horses, enchantments, fertility and the Underworld.
Skatha (Welsh) or Scathach (Ireland): Goddess of the Underworld, darkness, magic, prophecy and martial arts. In Ireland, she ran a
martial arts school on the Isle of Skye and young warriors of the Celtic lands traveled to her school. She is credited with teaching
Cuchulainn his impressive fighting skills.
Celtic Festivals: Evidence found in Ireland suggests that the Celts annually celebrated four main festivals, each associated with
fertility and the changing seasons. Along with reflecting seasonal cycles of the farmers and herders, these festivals also relate to
politics and religion of the community. Celts loved to attend feasts and festivals where they could show off their vast wealth and the
warriors could brag about their great valor on the battlefield. One ancient Celtic custom was for two warriors to fight over the hero’s
portion of a pig at the feast. Pigs (boars) were held in high regard by Celts because they represented immortality.
Imbolc: Celebrated on February 1st, linked to the lactation of ewes. In Ireland, sacred to the goddess Brigid.
Beltaine: Celebrated on May 1st, connected with the sun’s warmth and the fertility of crops and cattle. It is not known if it was
celebrated outside Ireland, but it was perhaps associated with the sun god Belenos, who was worshipped in Gaul, Italy and the Alps.
Lughnasa: Celebrated on August 1st, Harvest festival associated with the Irish god, Lugh. A major festival was held in Lugdunum,
‘stronghold of Lugh,’ (Lyon) on that day.
Samhain: Celebrated on November 1st, the most important festival, marking the start of the Celtic year and the beginning of winter.
Celebrated on the eve and day of November 1, it coincides with the modern Halloween, the barriers between the world of the living
and that of the gods and the dead (Otherworld) were thin. Irish tales tell of living heroes visiting the realm of the dead.
The echo of these fiercely proud people lives on in spirit. I can imagine them in their brightly colored cloaks tending to everyday life. I
can hear dogs barking and children at play, the strong smells of farmland animals permeating the air. I can picture the women tending
to their looms, weaving clothes and the men tending to the farm. I can picture the warriors hunting to keep their warrior skills sharp
and from the druids, I feel the power that surrounded them with their wisdom and mystique. I can picture the white robed druids
chanting in the mist-filled oak grove, moonlight splashing down through the trees, illuminating the forest in silver light.
They were truly a magical people.
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