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Author Topic: Pan-Celtic deities?  (Read 6696 times)
Collinsky
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« Topic Start: March 03, 2009, 02:44:16 pm »

I've heard some gods and goddesses described as pan-Celtic deities, meaning (one assumes) that they were included in the pantheons of most Celtic peoples (Welsh/Scottish/Irish/Breton).

Are there true "pan-Celtic" god/desses? Which ones can be considered that way, and which others are truly specific to a particular people under the Celtic umbrella?

I grew up reading so many of the myths, legends, and folk tales of Ireland, but undertaking a serious study of the gods and goddesses is bringing up a lot of murky territory and questions!

Thanks!!
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« Reply #1: March 03, 2009, 03:18:07 pm »

Are there true "pan-Celtic" god/desses? Which ones can be considered that way, and which others are truly specific to a particular people under the Celtic umbrella?

A general answer is there *probably* are some true pan-Celtic deities, Brighid and Lugh, to name 2 examples.  The problem is that different geographical areas or groups of people might have used different names to refer to the same deity.  So, the question is whether a goddess known as Brighid in Ireland is actually the same goddess as the one known as Bride in Scotland, or Brigantia in Britain, or Brigindu or Bricta in Gaul (I think I got the geographical connections right).  Most academic writers do seem to note that these groups of deities are cognates.  However, many of the people who actually worship or have relationships with these deities often maintain that they are different Beings with similar names and associations.

IMO, the truth is probably somewhere between those two poles.  Some are different deities and others are the same Being known by different names.

(BTW, I tend to use Brighid for examples because I'm far more familiar with Her than any other deity.)

As with pretty much everything related to Celtic deities, we just don't have enough concrete information to be definitive about questions like this.  Most of our info comes from the histories and lore recorded centuries after Ireland was Chrisitanized, and/or archeological study of artifacts, only some of which have inscriptions describing who is represented.   There are literally hundreds of deity names that only appear in 1 reference or inscription.  That doesn't necessarily mean that those god/desses were marginalized; it only means info on them didn't survive to reach us or hasn't been unearthed yet.
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« Reply #2: March 03, 2009, 06:34:08 pm »

As with pretty much everything related to Celtic deities, we just don't have enough concrete information to be definitive about questions like this.  Most of our info comes from the histories and lore recorded centuries after Ireland was Chrisitanized, and/or archeological study of artifacts, only some of which have inscriptions describing who is represented.   There are literally hundreds of deity names that only appear in 1 reference or inscription.  That doesn't necessarily mean that those god/desses were marginalized; it only means info on them didn't survive to reach us or hasn't been unearthed yet.
Yeah, that.  Especially complicated in considering pan-Celtic anything - there's a lot we don't know about what peoples might be under that "Celtic umbrella"; if there's no (or too little/vague) surviving evidence of the language of a people, there's no way to tell if what they spoke was of the Celtic language family.

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« Reply #3: March 03, 2009, 08:01:02 pm »

I've heard some gods and goddesses described as pan-Celtic deities, meaning (one assumes) that they were included in the pantheons of most Celtic peoples (Welsh/Scottish/Irish/Breton).

Are there true "pan-Celtic" god/desses? Which ones can be considered that way, and which others are truly specific to a particular people under the Celtic umbrella?

I grew up reading so many of the myths, legends, and folk tales of Ireland, but undertaking a serious study of the gods and goddesses is bringing up a lot of murky territory and questions!

Thanks!!

Murky is an understatement.  The reasons are pretty simple: if you don't write sacred stuff down, there's nothing for future generations to read to tell them.  The Celts, as a whole, were not big on writing things down.  Everything was passed orally from one generation to the next.  Interrupt the flow of training and you lose the myths, the history, the knowledge that was considered far too sacred to be committed to writing.

That's exactly what happened with the Celts.  The Irish were the last to be interrupted in the passage of knowledge, thanks to their isolation, but by about 500CE Roman style writing takes over and the training of Druids and bards in the lore peters out.  By the time the stories of the gods and goddesses were inscribed they'd been reduced to a handful comparatively and then they got a good veneer of Christianity slapped on for good measure. 

Hence, what we know isn't much.  What we can surmise is greater, but still not so much.  Everything else is educated guesswork based on reconstruction of the past via etymology, archaeology and piecing the bits we have together from other cultures who had contact.
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« Reply #4: March 03, 2009, 11:42:54 pm »

I've heard some gods and goddesses described as pan-Celtic deities, meaning (one assumes) that they were included in the pantheons of most Celtic peoples (Welsh/Scottish/Irish/Breton).

Are there true "pan-Celtic" god/desses? Which ones can be considered that way, and which others are truly specific to a particular people under the Celtic umbrella?

I grew up reading so many of the myths, legends, and folk tales of Ireland, but undertaking a serious study of the gods and goddesses is bringing up a lot of murky territory and questions!

Thanks!!
Pan-Celtic also includes Gaul. The main ones I can think of are Lugh/Lugus, Brighid/Brigantia/Brigdu, Epona, Ogam/Ogmios.
Here is an article that might interest you, I found this sometime last year. It is titled The Gods of Gaul and the Continental Celts
http://www.worldspirituality.org/gods-of-gaul.html
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« Reply #5: March 04, 2009, 01:50:48 am »

There are literally hundreds of deity names that only appear in 1 reference or inscription.  That doesn't necessarily mean that those god/desses were marginalized; it only means info on them didn't survive to reach us or hasn't been unearthed yet.
A thought which is more for my amusement than anything else: What if some of these artistic depictions the archaeologists are talking about (not just the Celts, but definitely including them) are not really gods at all, but regular Joes, or king or something?  What if there was somethign we didn't know, and there were artists who were paid to represent regular people, and when we find these artifacts, we just presume they must be gods?  When we don't have much information about a culture, we can't know whether only having one instance of a name occurring means the others were lost, or whether there was only ever one to begin with.
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« Reply #6: March 04, 2009, 08:14:17 am »

Here is an article that might interest you, I found this sometime last year. It is titled The Gods of Gaul and the Continental Celts
http://www.worldspirituality.org/gods-of-gaul.html

Just FYI, this is a chapter from the book The Religion of the Ancient Celts, by J.A. MacCulloch.  It's copyrighted 1911.  I'm only mentioning this because it's always good to know the age of material you're reading, so you can judge how reliable the theories are.

It's been a long time since I read this one, so I don't really remember much about it.  Guess it's time to re-read it.   Cheesy
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« Reply #7: March 04, 2009, 11:43:21 pm »

Just FYI, this is a chapter from the book The Religion of the Ancient Celts, by J.A. MacCulloch.  It's copyrighted 1911.  I'm only mentioning this because it's always good to know the age of material you're reading, so you can judge how reliable the theories are.

It's been a long time since I read this one, so I don't really remember much about it.  Guess it's time to re-read it.   Cheesy
Cool, thanks, I didn't know that. My main interest in Celtic Paganism is with the Gauls and there is so little information out there about the Gauls and their religion and spirituality, so I take the information from where I can. I wonder if I could find a copy of that book. I don't know if it is reliable information or not, but it would probably be an interesting read in the least... and perhaps I could scrape at least some knowledge from it.  Grin
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« Reply #8: March 05, 2009, 12:30:24 am »

Cool, thanks, I didn't know that. My main interest in Celtic Paganism is with the Gauls and there is so little information out there about the Gauls and their religion and spirituality, so I take the information from where I can. I wonder if I could find a copy of that book. I don't know if it is reliable information or not, but it would probably be an interesting read in the least... and perhaps I could scrape at least some knowledge from it.  Grin

I've actually seen quite a bit of info on the Gaulish Celts.  (I have a huge library of books on various aspects of Celtic culture.)  If you're looking for any specific info, let me know and I'll try to dig up what I can.

As for the book:  I bought a used copy from one of the sellers on Amazon.  (That's how I've bought virtually all of my books.)  I don't remember how much it cost, but it was probably pretty inexpensive or I wouldn't have bought it.   Wink
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« Reply #9: March 05, 2009, 11:45:17 am »

Are there true "pan-Celtic" god/desses? Which ones can be considered that way, and which others are truly specific to a particular people under the Celtic umbrella?

This brings up a lot of interesting questions although, sadly, very few answers. We can surmise that the Celtic people came from a "common ancestor group" based on the similarity of their languages, art, culture, deity forms, etc. (in fact we can argue that for all Indo-European peoples). If this is true and this common ancestor group had a certain amount of Deities that traveled with them when they moved to new areas (mostly Gods that dealt with the sky, law, society, war etc. and some Goddesses like those associated with the hearth and the underworld) at what point do these descendent Deities become separate beings?

For instance if you and I are part of a large proto-Celtic tribe and we all worship the same Deities, at some point our leaders decide to split this tribe, each taking the Deities with us. Hundreds of years later when our language has changed, the mythologies have changed, perhaps even ritual forms have changed is the Thunder God we each worship still the same Deity or has time and worship created two wholly separate Beings? If they are separate where is the dividing line? How much time needs to pass and how different do our understandings have to be before they become separate beings? 

If they are different faces of the same Being how far back do we go? There is a list of Deities that can be reconstructed into Proto-Indo-European, do we go back that far? And if so does that mean that Daghda , Jupitor, Taranis, and Thor are also different faces to the same being?

Like I said, lot of interesting questions, but very few answers. I tend to lean towards the former though I have yet to deduce when the divide takes place.   
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« Reply #10: March 05, 2009, 12:30:13 pm »

Sorry, I left the Gauls out! It wasn't intentional.  Smiley

A general answer is there *probably* are some true pan-Celtic deities, Brighid and Lugh, to name 2 examples.  The problem is that different geographical areas or groups of people might have used different names to refer to the same deity.   <SNIP>
As with pretty much everything related to Celtic deities, we just don't have enough concrete information to be definitive about questions like this.  

Thanks! I suppose that Brighid is kind of proof that there ARE pan-Celtic deities, IMO. The thing that prompted the question was reading somewhere that Cernunnos was pan-Celtic, and that was really what got me wondering. Because I may love Cernunnos, but I don't think he's in the Gaelic pantheon at all. Celtic, but certainly not pan-Celtic. Unless there's something I'm just not seeing.

The lack of concrete information is to be expected, but does tend to leave lots of questions. I kind of like that, though. LOL


Like I said, lot of interesting questions, but very few answers. I tend to lean towards the former though I have yet to deduce when the divide takes place.  

Ah, yes -- interesting questions! With the merging and splitting and merging of peoples, it does become difficult to know which deities are truly separate, and which are different names for the same god. I believe* there are some who speculate that there was an originating PIE pantheon that branched out as the languages and peoples did. That is something that there may be new convincing arguments for and against, until the sun burns out, and we will probably just never know.

*Meaning I read it somewhere but have no hope of citing sources at this stage.   Wink
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« Reply #11: March 05, 2009, 01:29:28 pm »

Like I said, lot of interesting questions, but very few answers. I tend to lean towards the former though I have yet to deduce when the divide takes place.

Since we're speculating, it may be that the divides aren't human inspired to begin with.

Say the gods' peoples have become more numerous, and the gods themselves don't want to look after so many.  Their children are called in, or younger gods called up from the minors.  The known gods then split the tribes and the new ones go out under the old one's names, so that the people don't get all confused with both territory and deity splitting at the same time.

Over time, the new/unfamiliar gods teach the people their real names and agendas and slowly drop their impersonations.  They don't have to be vastly different from the old, being of the same families or godly societies to begin with, but the differences are real and important, and cause or align with differences between the new tribes and the old.

The people can still communicate, and the overlap is enough that many of the traditions, rituals, prayer formats, etc. still work between tribes. 

With this model, hard polytheists can stay hard, and soft polytheists can legitimately 'connect' later deities to earlier.  Since we can't know for sure at this state of our development, (even though most of us feel some certainty in our hearts that our own view is correct), and we don't really know how god societies are organized outside of the guesses/poetry of the story tellers and priests, I think this has as much chance of being valid as any human-as-instigator theory.

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« Reply #12: March 05, 2009, 01:33:37 pm »

Say the gods' peoples have become more numerous, and the gods themselves don't want to look after so many.  Their children are called in, or younger gods called up from the minors.  The known gods then split the tribes and the new ones go out under the old one's names, so that the people don't get all confused with both territory and deity splitting at the same time.

Over time, the new/unfamiliar gods teach the people their real names and agendas and slowly drop their impersonations.  They don't have to be vastly different from the old, being of the same families or godly societies to begin with, but the differences are real and important, and cause or align with differences between the new tribes and the old.

This reminds me of how the Dread Pirate Roberts recruits his successors (in The Princess Bride).   Cheesy

Seriously, though, I really like this explanation.  And I agree that we should not assume that the kinds of limitations humans have on their identities, relationships, etc. apply to the gods too.  Just because I can't be in more than one place at a time doesn't mean a god can't.
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« Reply #13: March 05, 2009, 01:49:09 pm »

I think this has as much chance of being valid as any human-as-instigator theory.

Interesting take. I really like this model... it makes as much or more sense than a lot of other ideas.

This reminds me of how the Dread Pirate Roberts recruits his successors (in The Princess Bride).   Cheesy

 Cheesy Good call!!
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« Reply #14: March 07, 2009, 02:06:01 pm »

Say the gods' peoples have become more numerous, and the gods themselves don't want to look after so many.  Their children are called in, or younger gods called up from the minors.  The known gods then split the tribes and the new ones go out under the old one's names, so that the people don't get all confused with both territory and deity splitting at the same time.

I have to admit I never thought about it from that perspective but that makes sense to me. I guess it is a matter of perspective. Is it the Gods themselves which encourage the split or the people (or maybe both)?
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