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CELTIC MYTHOLOGY - MYTHS & LEGENDS

Celtic art picture

CELTIC MYTHOLOGY

The Myths and Legends of the ancient Celts have fascinated and enthralled successive generations for more than two thousand years. For centuries these enchanting tales of magic, monsters, heroes and villains were handed down by word of mouth, often changing in the repeated tellings. Then, in the middle ages, Christian Monks, long intrigued by the stories they had heard, began to write them down in manuscript form, thus preserving these fascinating accounts forever.

The very word Celtic conjures up a mysterious world of Druids and their strange rituals, great warriors, star crossed lovers, witches and warlocks, poets and musicians.

WHO WERE THE CELTS?

The Celts were not a people for writing things down; they passed down their traditions and their history by word of mouth. You could say that we almost lost them in history. For people with such strong imagination and such a zest for life, they are remarkably elusive. Because they had no defined state or territory, we have to rely on what evidence they did leave behind in the forms of archaeological remains, and on the record that others made on their encounters with the Celts. And for the definition of a Celt we have to look to language more than physical remains, which is quite appropriate given the language of imagination they bequeathed us.

THE CELTIC PEOPLE

We start with the word Celt itself, derived from the name Keltoi, Given by the ancient Greeks to those who lived north of the Alps. The underlying link of these loosely connected people was that they spoke similar languages, from the seaboard of the Atlantic as far east as India.

Two branches of the Celtic languages remain in some form: Goidelic (or Gaelic) was spoken by the earliest Celts, sometimes called Goidels, in Ireland; Brythonic or Cymric was spoken by the Brythons or Britons. Goidelic languages southern and western Ireland; in Scots Gaelic in the Scottish Highlands and in the Hebrides; and in Manx, which is the old language of the |Isle of Man. Brythonic or Cymric survives in contemporary Welsh; in Breton, in western Brittany and in Cornish.

The people that spoke these languages were not one nation but loosely connected tribes that existed in Europe north of the Alps during the early centuries of the last millennium before Christ. These "Gauls" who spoke the Celtic language moved across Europe during the seventh and third centuries B.C. They spread west to the Atlantic, South to Spain, north into Britain and Ireland, and east to the Black sea. They drew from these directions and exerted their own influence in return.

There were close connections between Celtic people in southern Germany and tribes in northern Italy. Some tribes settled in France; others went on to the Po Valley and, at the beginning of the fourth century sacked Rome. But there was nothing concerted about these movements; they occured in successive waves of tribal restlessness. The Celtic people established no cities. Their farmsteads and small hamlets were largely made of wood, wattle and mud, easily destroyed by rival tribal raiders. They had close knit family ties that held tribes together, but they had no administrative structure or organized state that provided any kind of permanent focus. Tribes were often at war with each other; warriors hunted and went on cattle raids, while the majority farmed cattle, pigs and sheep, wheat and oats, or pursued their skills in ironwork or crafts.

These Tribes developed common characteristics of language, art and culture, social customs, economy and way of life, and they spread widely and energetically during the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. They spread without any cohesive plan of conquest, and so the evidence of their existence is varied and ill recorded. On the mainland Europe they had already lost some of their initial energy by the time the Romans pushed into Gaul and Germany, just before the time of Christ, and determinedly set out to eradicate whatever remains of the Celts they found.

They survived longest in the further corners of western Europe, in Ireland and in the extremities of Britain such as Wales, Scotland,the north of England and Cornwall in the southwest, where the Romans found it most difficult to penetrate.

Whereas on the mainland of Europe the Romans firmly stamped their mark so that it survived the fall of the classical Roman Empire, they left almost no mark on the culture and life of Britain when they finally withdrew in the fifth century A.D. It was Christian, much more than Roman, influence that overtook Celtic culture in the centuries that followed.

They survived longest in the further corners of western Europe, in Ireland and in the extremities of Britain such as Wales, Scotland,the north of England and Cornwall in the southwest, where the Romans found it most difficult to penetrate.

Whereas on the mainland of Europe the Romans firmly stamped their mark so that it survived the fall of the classical Roman Empire, they left almost no mark on the culture and life of Britain when they finally withdrew in the fifth century A.D. It was Christian, much more than Roman, influence that overtook Celtic culture in the centuries that followed.

Go on a Tour and "Capture the spirit of our Celtic Culture"





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