Saturday, 2 October 2010

The Celtic Pantheon

The Christian church did a thorough job eradicating traces of earlier religions. This is especially true in the case of the Celtic pagan religion. Following the Roman conquest of Gaul and Britain, the Celtic religion was marginalized and Romanized. This means that that there are few reliable historical records of it. Also, the Celtic lands, including Ireland, were among the first to be Christianized. These factors mean that the ancient pagan religion of the Celts is shrouded in mist, with only the occasional glint of sunlight.

Oddly, one gleam of light is provided by Julius Caesar, the conqueror of Gaul. In his account of his military campaigns, he mentions the Gallic religion, but putting it into Roman terms:

"They worship as their divinity, Mercury in particular, and have many images of him, and regard him as the inventor of all arts, they consider him, the guide of their journeys and marches, and believe him to have very great influence over the acquisition of gain and mercantile transactions. Next to him they worship Apollo, and Mars, and Jupiter, and Minerva; respecting these deities they have for the most part the same belief as other nations: that Apollo averts diseases, that Minerva imparts the invention of manufactures, that Jupiter possesses the sovereignty of the heavenly powers; that Mars presides over wars. To him when they have determined to engage in battle, they commonly vow those things they shall take in war…

"All the Gauls assert that they are descended from the god Dis (Pluto), and say that this tradition has been handed down by the Druids. For that reason they compute the divisions of every season, not by the number of days, but of nights; they keep birthdays and the beginnings of months and years in such an order that the day follows the night."

The question then arises which gods does Caesar mean by these Roman names? After some thought and investigation, I have come up with the following list, which equates the Roman deities to well-known Gallic deities of the period:

Mercury = Lugus
Jupiter = Taranis
Minerva = Sulis
Apollo = Grannus/ Belenus
Mars = Teutates
Dis (Pluto) = Cernunnos

These gods are also known by other names according to time and place. For example. Lugus is later the Irish Lugh and the Welsh Lleu Llaw Gyffes from the Mabinogion. Also there is some speculation that Lugus may have been a triple deity, comprising Teutates, Taranis, and Esus, who in this case would be equivalent to Mercury.

Thanks to the cultural genocide perpetrated by The Roman Empire and Christianity, it is now difficult to be sure.