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.


The ritual of the Midsummer festival did not materially differ from that of Beltane, and as folk-survivals show, it was practised not only by the Celts, but by many other European peoples.  It was, in fact, a primitive nature festival such as would readily be observed by all under similar psychic conditions and in like surroundings.  A bonfire was again the central rite of this festival, the communal nature of which is seen in the fact that all must contribute materials to it.  In local survivals, mayor and priest, representing the earlier local chief and priest, were present, while a service in church preceded the procession to the scene of the bonfire.  Dancing sunwise round the fire to the accompaniment of songs which probably took the place of hymns or tunes in honour of the Sun-god, commonly occurred, and by imitating the sun’s action, may have been intended to make it more powerful.  The livelier the dance the better would be the harvest.[930] As the fire represented the sun, it possessed the purifying and invigorating powers of the sun; hence leaping through the fire preserved from disease, brought prosperity, or removed barrenness.  Hence also cattle were driven through the fire.  But if any one stumbled as he leaped, ill-luck was supposed to follow him.  He was devoted to the fadets or spirits,[931] and perhaps, like the “devoted” Beltane victim, he may formerly have been sacrificed.  Animal sacrifices are certainly found in many survivals, the victims being often placed in osier baskets and thrown into the fire.  In other districts great human effigies of osier were carried in procession and burned.[932]

The connection of such sacrifices with the periodical slaying of a representative of the vegetation-spirit has been maintained by Mannhardt and Dr. Frazer.[933] As has been seen, periodic sacrifices for the fertility of the land are mentioned by Caesar, Strabo, and Diodorus, human victims and animals being enclosed in an osier image and burned.[934] These images survive in the osier effigies just referred to, while they may also be connected with the custom of decking the human representatives of the spirit of vegetation in greenery.  The holocausts may be regarded as extensions of the earlier custom of slaying one victim, the incarnation of a vegetation-spirit.  This slaying was gradually regarded as sacrificial, but as the beneficial effect of the sacrifice on growth was still believed in, it would naturally be thought that still better effects would be produced if many victims were offered.  The victims were burned in a fire representing the sun, and vegetation was thus doubly benefited, by the victims and by the sun-god.

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