The Religion of the Ancient Celts eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 382 pages of information about The Religion of the Ancient Celts.

These show that the idea of transmigration may not have been foreign to the Celtic mind, and it may have arisen from the idea that men assumed their totem animal’s shape at death.  Some tales of shape-shifting are probably due to totemism, and it is to be noted that in Kerry peasants will not eat hares because they contain the souls of their grandmothers.[1228] On the other hand, some of these survivals may mean no more than that the soul itself has already an animal form, in which it would naturally be seen after death.  In Celtic folk-belief the soul is seen leaving the body in sleep as a bee, butterfly, gnat, mouse, or mannikin.[1229] Such a belief is found among most savage races, and might easily be mistaken for transmigration, or also assist the formation of the idea of transmigration.  Though the folk-survivals show that transmigration was not necessarily alleged of all the dead, it may have been a sufficiently vital belief to colour the mythology, as we see from the existing tales, adulterated though these may have been.

The general belief has its roots in primitive ideas regarding life and its propagation—­ideas which some hold to be un-Celtic and un-Aryan.  But Aryans were “primitive” at some period of their history, and it would be curious if, while still in a barbarous condition, they had forgotten their old beliefs.  In any case, if they adopted similar beliefs from non-Aryan people, this points to no great superiority on their part.  Such beliefs originated the idea of rebirth and transmigration.[1230] Nevertheless this was not a characteristically Celtic eschatological belief; that we find in the theory that the dead lived on in the body or assumed a body in another region, probably underground.


[1193] For textual details see Zimmer, Zeit. fuer Vergl.  Sprach. xxviii. 585 f.  The tale is obviously archaic.  For a translation see Leahy, i. 8 f.

[1194] IT i. 134 f.; D’Arbois, v. 22.  There is a suggestion in one of the versions of another story, in which Setanta is child of Conchobar and his sister Dechtire.

[1195] IT iii. 245; RC xv. 465; Nutt-Meyer, ii. 69.

[1196] Stowe MS. 992, RC vi. 174; IT ii. 210; D’Arbois, v. 3f.

[1197] IT iii. 393.  Cf. the story of the wife of Cormac, who was barren till her mother gave her pottage.  Then she had a daughter (RC xxii. 18).

[1198] Nutt-Meyer, i. 45 f., text and translation.

[1199] Ibid. 42 f.

[1200] Ibid. 58.  The simultaneous birth formula occurs in many Maerchen, though that of the future wife is not common.

[1201] Nutt-Meyer, i. 52, 57, 85, 87.

[1202] ZCP ii. 316 f.  Here Mongan comes directly from Elysium, as does Oisin before meeting S. Patrick.

[1203] IT iii. 345; O’Grady, ii. 88.  Cf.  Rees, 331.

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