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.
and of the dead.[553] It has been seen that the Celtic Earth-god was lord of the dead, and that he probably took the place of an Earth-goddess or goddesses, to whom the Matres certainly correspond.  Hence the connection of the dead with female Earth-spirits would be explained.  Mother Earth had received the dead before her place was taken by the Celtic Dispater.  Hence the time of Earth’s decay was the season when the dead, her children, would be commemorated.  Whatever be the reason, Celts, Teutons, and others have commemorated the dead at the beginning of winter, which was the beginning of a new year, while a similar festival of the dead at New Year is held in many other lands.

Both in Ireland and in Brittany, on November eve food is laid out for the dead who come to visit the houses and to warm themselves at the fire in the stillness of the night, and in Brittany a huge log burns on the hearth.  We have here returned to the cult of the dead at the hearth.[554] Possibly the Yule log was once a log burned on the hearth—­the place of the family ghosts—­at Samhain, when new fire was kindled in each house.  On it libations were poured, which would then have been meant for the dead.  The Yule log and the log of the Breton peasants would thus be the domestic aspect of the fire ritual, which had its public aspect in the Samhain bonfires.

All this has been in part affected by the Christian feast of All Souls.  Dr. Frazer thinks that the feast of All Saints (November 1st) was intended to take the place of the pagan cult of the dead.  As it failed to do this, All Souls, a festival of all the dead, was added on November 2nd.[555] To some extent, but not entirely, it has neutralised the pagan rites, for the old ideas connected with Samhain still survive here and there.  It is also to be noted that in some cases the friendly aspect of the dead has been lost sight of, and, like the sid-folk, they are popularly connected with evil powers which are in the ascendant on Samhain eve.


[532] Silius Italicus, v. 652; Lucan, i. 447.  Cf. p. 241, infra.

[533] Ammian.  Marcell. xv. 10. 7; Joyce, SH i. 45.

[534] Bulliot, Fouilles du Mont Beuvray, Autun, 1899, i. 76, 396.

[535] Le Braz, ii. 67; Sauve, Folk-lore des Hautes Vosges, 295; Berenger-Feraud, Superstitions et Survivances, i. 11.

[536] Hearn, Aryan Household, 43 f.; Berenger-Feraud, i. 33; Rev. des Trad. i. 142; Carmichael, ii. 329; Cosquin, Trad.  Pop. de la Lorraine, i. 82.

[537] Kennedy, 126.  The mischievous brownie who overturns furniture and smashes crockery is an exact reproduction of the Poltergeist.

[538] Dechelette, Rev. Arch. xxxiii, (1898), 63, 245, 252.

[539] Cicero, De Leg. ii. 22.

[540] Dechelette, 256; Reinach, BF 189.

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