The Religion of the Ancient Celts eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 445 pages of information about The Religion of the Ancient Celts.

[522] See Frazer, Kingship; Cook, Folk-Lore, 1906, “The European Sky-God.”  Mr. Cook gives ample evidence for the existence of Celtic incarnate gods.  With his main conclusions I agree, though some of his inferences seem far-fetched.  The divine king was, in his view, a sky-god; he was more likely to have been the representative of a god or spirit of growth or vegetation.

[523] Strabo, xii. 5. 2.

[524] Plutarch, de Virt.  Mul. 20.

[525] Cicero, de Div. i. 15, ii. 36; Strabo, xii. 5. 3; Stachelin, Gesch. der Kleinasiat.  Galater.

[526] Livy, v. 34; Dio Cass. lxii. 6.

[527] Ancient Laws of Ireland, i. 22; Diog.  Laert. i. proem 1; see p. 301, infra.

[528] Pliny, xvi. 95.

[529] P. 201, infra.

[530] Cf. the tales of Gawain and the Green Knight with his holly bough, and of Gawain’s attempting to pluck the bough of a tree guarded by Gramoplanz (Weston, Legend of Sir Gawain, 22, 86).  Cf. also the tale of Diarmaid’s attacking the defender of a tree to obtain its fruit, and the subsequent slaughter of each man who attacks the hero hidden in its branches (TOS vol. iii.).  Cf.  Cook, Folk-Lore, xvii. 441.

[531] See Chap.  XVIII.



The custom of burying grave-goods with the dead, or slaying wife or slaves on the tomb, does not necessarily point to a cult of the dead, yet when such practices survive over a long period they assume the form of a cult.  These customs flourished among the Celts, and, taken in connection with the reverence for the sepulchres of the dead, they point to a worship of ancestral spirits as well as of great departed heroes.  Heads of the slain were offered to the “strong shades”—­the ghosts of tribal heroes whose praises were sung by bards.[532] When such heads were placed on houses, they may have been devoted to the family ghosts.  The honour in which mythic or real heroes were held may point to an actual cult, the hero being worshipped when dead, while he still continued his guardianship of the tribe.  We know also that the tomb of King Cottius in the Alps was a sacred place, that Irish kings were often inaugurated on ancestral burial cairns, and that Irish gods were associated with barrows of the dead.[533]

The cult of the dead culminated at the family hearth, around which the dead were even buried, as among the Aeduii; this latter custom may have been general.[534] In any case the belief in the presence of ancestral ghosts around the hearth was widespread, as existing superstitions show.  In Brittany the dead seek warmth at the hearth by night, and a feast is spread for them on All Souls’ eve, or crumbs are left for them after a family gathering.[535] But generally the family ghost has become a brownie, lutin, or pooka, haunting the hearth and doing the household work.[536]

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The Religion of the Ancient Celts from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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