This article contains only basic information about celtic pagan traditions. If you want to learn more – read some books, or visit websites that I recommend you at the end of this text.
This topic is really long and hard to present. So if you have good knowledge about it, and you will see some mistakes – simply write to me.
Sources and historical background
The ancient Celts settled vast lands from Ireland and Britain on the north, to northern Italy, Spain and Balcans on the south. They were living in what is now called France on the west, and in part of Czech Republic on the east, and even in Minor Asia (being known there as “Galats”). They were great warriors and craftsman. But that was in VII-III B.C. In following years, they were slowly conquered by Romans, Germanic and Daco-Thracian tribes. The only free celtic lands were still lying in modern Scotland (settled by Picts), Wales and Ireland.
Celtic pagans haven’t written themselves about their beliefs. The tradition existed in word of mouth, being guarded and cultivated by druids – a rank of priests, medicals, historians, astronomers, philosophers and scientists. I will write about them in other article.
Our main sources are texts of celtic neighbors – Romans and Greeks. The second part of texts are manuscripts of Christian monks, who were recording old celtic tales. They were using a names of celtic deities and heroes, and were writing about old festivals, but in Christian vain.
Also our sources are archeology (especially useful for Gallia’s territory), linguistic, folklore and comparative mythology.
First of difficulties is that under roman occupation invaders tried to Romanize specific gods and goddesses. Also, when they were writing about celtic pantheon they were using Roman names (as an equivalent). Very often ancient classics weren’t writing about gods, that were popular on many monuments and in inscriptions.
In different part of Gallia, in Ireland and Britain names of deities were generally different. Also many deities don’t have their equivalent in other regions. Because of that, I will write only about most popular gods and goddesses. I will not write about fomoraig generation of Ireland – that is a topic for other text.
First name is always gaulish:
Teutates (bryt. Totatis, Tutatis) – is a central character in celtic pantheon. His name means all people. He’s a patron and a guardian of a tribe. He is also a god of war. Romans were comparing him to Mercury and Mars.
Lugus (irl. Lugh, bryt. Llud Llaw Ereint or Llew, Lleu) – is a god-king, and his name means flashing light. Was worshipped in every region of celtic world. He is associated with sun and warm light.
A Lugnasad festival is especially bounded with this god.
His attribute is spear.
Taranis (bryt. Taran) – or Sucellos, a god of thunder and sky, worshipped in Gallia, Britain and Ireland. His attributes are hammer, an oak and a wheel, and his name means basically Thunder or Lord of Thunder.He is similar to other thunder gods of Europe – germanic Donar/Thor, roman Jupiter, greek Zeus, slavic Perun and Baltic Perkunas.
Belenos (bryt. Beli) – a solar god, by Romans identified with Apollo. He is bounded with healing forces and life-giving power of sun.
Bounded with Beltaine and Lugnasad festivals.
Goibniu (irl. Goibniu, bryt. Govannon) – is a god-blacksmith, patron of crafts and work.
Ogmios (irl. Ogma) – is a god of eloquence and science. He was identified with Hercules, but his strength is a power of speech, not a muscle.
He is also bounded with underworld.
Cernunnos – a god with a horns of a deer, bounded with wild nature and magic.
Mothers – three goddesses, patron of wealth, fertility and maternity. Their attributes are basket of apples, baby and/or horn of plenty.
Epona – a goddess with features of mothers. She is also a goddess of death, fallen in battle and underworld.
Their attributes, beside Mothers’ ones, is also a horse.
She was known in ancient world under many names (e.g. Rosmerta).
She is quite similar to irish goddess Danu and british Riannon.
Brigantia (bryt. Brigantia, irl. Brigid) – is a goddess of poetry, healing, smith’s work. She is patron of higher dimension – as high hills, so as also high intelligence, perfection etc. By Romans she was described as Minerva.
Bodua/Catabodua (irl. Badb, also known as Morrigan) – goddess of war. She is taking fallen warriors souls to the Underworld. Her attribute is a crow.
The Irish goddess Morrigan is sometimes a name for a trio of other goddess (bounded with war) – Badb, Macha and Nemain).
31st October / 1st November – Samhain – the first day of celtic calendar. It is starting “darker” part of a year, ending a time of harvest and being a festival of spirits, forefathers and unborn children.
1st February – Imbolc – bounded mainly with goddess Brigid, it is a holyday of purification by fire and water.
30th April / 1st May – Beltaine – a holyday starting a part of “light”year. Devoted mainly to the god Belenos, and bounded with fire.
1st August – Lugnasad – a day of devoted mainly to god Lugh, and also Belenos. Bounded with a beginning of harvest, it is also a day of love and happiness.
Also, worth to check:
J. de Vries – Celtic Religion
p. MacCana – Celtic Mythology
Th. F. O’Rahilly – Early Irish History and Mythology
M.L. Sjeostedt – Gods and Heroes of the Celts
J. Wood – The Celts: Life, Myth and Art
And lots of more – english literature about Celts is huge.
Also try to read source text and legends – e.g. Mabinogion or De Bello Gallico by Ceaser.
Books for polish-speaking people:
J. Gąssowski – Mitologia Celtów
A. Bartnik – Zarys Wierzeń Plemion Celtyckich
Celtowie (z serii Mitologie Świata)
+ tłumaczenia zagranicznych książek (a sporo ich jest).