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.

[949] See Hartland, Science of Fairy-Tales, 84 f.

[950] Professor Rh[^y]s suggests that nudity, being a frequent symbol of submission to a conqueror, acquired a similar significance in religious rites (AL 180).  But the magical aspect of nudity came first in time.

[951] Adamnan, Vita S. Col. ii. 45.

[952] See Gomme, Ethnology in Folk-lore, 30 f., Village Community, 114.




In primitive religion the place of worship is seldom a temple made with hands, but rather an enclosed space in which the symbol or image of the god stands.  The sacredness of the god makes the place of his cult sacred.  Often an open space in the forest is the scene of the regular cult.  There the priests perform the sacred rites; none may enter it but themselves; and the trembling worshipper approaches it with awe lest the god should slay him if he came too near.

The earliest temples of the Gauls were sacred groves, one of which, near Massilia, is described by Lucan.  No bird built in it, no animal lurked near, the leaves constantly shivered when no breeze stirred them.  Altars stood in its midst, and the images of the gods were misshapen trunks of trees.  Every tree was stained with sacrificial blood.  The poet then describes marvels heard or seen in the grove—­the earth groaning, dead yews reviving, trees surrounded with flame yet not consumed, and huge serpents twining round the oaks.  The people feared to approach the grove, and even the priest would not walk there at midday or midnight lest he should then meet its divine guardian.[953] Dio speaks of human sacrifices offered to Andrasta in a British grove, and in 61 A.D. the woods of Mona, devoted to strange rites, were cut down by Roman soldiers.[954] The sacred Dru-nemeton of the Galatian Celts may have been a grove.[955] Place-names also point to the widespread existence of such groves, since the word nemeton, “grove,” occurs in many of them, showing that the places so called had been sites of a cult.  In Ireland, fid-nemed stood for “sacred grove."[956] The ancient groves were still the objects of veneration in Christian times, though fines were levied against those who still clung to the old ways.[957]

Sacred groves were still used in Gallo-Roman times, and the Druids may have had a preference for them, a preference which may underlie the words of the scholiast on Lucan, that “the Druids worship the gods without temples in woods.”  But probably more elaborate temples, great tribal sanctuaries, existed side by side with these local groves, especially in Cisalpine Gaul, where the Boii had a temple in which were stored the spoils of war, while the Insubri had a similar temple.[958] These were certainly buildings.  The “consecrated place” in Transalpine Gaul, which Caesar mentions, and where at fixed periods

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