An introductory Guide to Celtic Paganism

“Tús maith leath na hoibre”

“A good start is half the work.” – Irish Proverb

DISCLAIMER

The “Pagan Pathways” series was inspired by a good friend who needed a little help understanding the fundamentals of Slavic Paganism. I wrote that article as part of my obligation to the spiritual community & also because this friend is totally worth helping. I had some really great success with the first article and that acknowledgement from the community inspired me to create more of them.

I’m not a scholar on every subject. I’d be lying if I told you that you can’t find better material out there, because there is a plethora of information available on these subjects. These articles are for beginners. People who are searching or looking to get a foot in the door to a specific path. It’s also for seasoned folks to help them find new resources! It’s my dream to expand on each of the topics listed in brief in these articles to provide even more perspective on these magnificent cultures. Thank you for reading and as always, please let me know what you think in the comments!

CELTIC PAGANISM

Who were the ancient Celts?

Some time around 540 B.C.E, the ancient Greeks encountered a tribal society somewhere along the coast of Southern France. The Greeks, unimpressed with their habits, described this warrior class as “barbarians” and named them the Keltoi.

Keltoi or “Celt” is now the name we use to describe the non-unified people of Wales, Britain, Ireland, Scotland, France, and parts of Spain. These diverse individuals left us no written history as much of their tradition was orally passed down between the generations. Our accounting of the Celtic people come from the detailed reports from societies such as the Romans, Greeks, and even visitors as far as ancient Persia.

It is thought the Celtic people evolved as a culture as early as 1200 B.C.E. They never saw their tribes united under a single state or ruler until sometime after the decline of Paganism and the rise of Christianity. They were a hierarchical society, lead by warriors of great martial prowess on the battlefield. To the Celts, action was everything and talk meant very little – unless it was the tale of a great champion or of a God.

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POPULAR CELTIC DEITIES

  • The Morrigan – The Morrigan is perhaps the one of the most tremendous deities you could encounter. To the Celts, She is the great “Sovereign Queen,” and rules over warriors, death, and challenge. She can be a Goddess associated with discord, however, it could be noted that the Chaos She spawns is summoned to invoke the best of ourselves. As a death Goddess, She is exceptionally blunt and forthright in what She expects of Her devotees.

She was the dominant Great Goddess of what was known as the Copper Age (Chalcolithic age, mid 5th century, BCE) and transitioned into being known as a Goddess associated with ravens, the color black, death, and war sometime later. She has a triple aspect to Her. She is known by Badb, Nemain, and Macha. The Morrigan is not death, rather, She is the Guardian of death and transforms human souls into something else. Whether that “something else” is greater or lesser than life, is up to the devotion of that individual.

  • Lugh – Perhaps one of the most relatable and interesting Gods of the Celtic pantheon. Lugh is the Master of All, the ultimate “Jack of All Trades.” His name is the source of where we get the term “Lughnasadh” – one of the 8 holy sabbats of the modern Pagans. He is known as a solar god, a possible relation to Apollo through the name Lugus in Greek. He is sometimes associated with Mercury or Hermes due to his transformative nature and His great intelligence.

Lugh is associated with crows, the lynx, and the hound. He holds in his possession a great invincible spear which never misses it’s mark. This spear, made of rowan and having 30 rivets of gold attached to it, is one of the highly prized treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Not only a warrior, the multifaceted Lugh was a great ruler, a smith, a wright, a physician, and hunter to name a few of His many talents. He was loved by the ancient Celts because He often demonstrated the ability for great compassion and understanding as well as an unwavering braveness.

  • Brigid – Pre-Christian Ireland loved the Goddess Brigid. Associated with poetry, healing, the element of fire, the direction of the south, childbirth, smiths, and the cauldron, Brigid is one of the ultimate mother Goddesses of the Celtic people. If you’re new to Paganism, you might know her as “Saint Brigid” from the Catholic faith. This is because the fiery power that Brigid had over the people was so strong it could not be dowsed by religious conversion. Her name means “the exalted one,” and with good reason. Brigid was able to conquer all.

She is the daughter of Dagda (a chief) and wife of Bres (a warrior). So much lore and tradition revolve around Brigid that it is said she leans over every baby’s cradle. She is known as the fiery arrow or sacred flame of Ireland. You can even find an incarnation of Her in New Orleans Voodoo (there is also representation in Haitian Vodou) known as Manman Brigit, the only white lwa (intermediary) in the pantheon who is the wife of Baron Samedi (lord of the dead.) Her sacred day is celebrated through the modern Pagan sabbat of Imbolc or Ewe’s Milk.

  • Cernnunos – Cernnunos is the Horned Lord of the Forest in the Celtic pantheon. An antlered God representing raw masculinity, protection, power, and a strong connection to the natural world. He is known as “The Horned One” and “The Master of the Hunt” and is at least one source of how the Christians decided to depict Satan in their mythology. Cernnunos is no dark lord of evil, however. He is the protector of the forests and all that lies within these sacred places of nature.
  • Danu – The Goddess Danu is considered to be the oldest of all the Celtic deities. She associated with faeries and their lore and is the mother who birthed all things into existence. She is also associated with the winds, childbirth, creation, old Magick, fertility, great hidden wisdom,

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HOLIDAYS & SYMBOLISM

The ancient Celts likely had more holidays than we know about since their traditions were orally handed down to each generation. Here are a sampling of such festivals and sacred symbolism to help you have a basic understanding of their traditions.

Celtic traditions were heavily tied to the land, their pastoral relationship with this land, and the success of agricultural ventures.

  • Imbolc (February 1st) The beginning of Spring. This time is held sacred to the Goddess Brigid and her devotees. Imbolc is also known as “Ewe’s Milk” because this is the time when the sheep began to drop their lambs. The cycle of renewal was closely tied to what was happening in the natural world.
  • Spring Equinox (March 21) – A time of balance between the light and the dark, usually occurring between March 21-23. It is also known as Alban Eiler. A special time for magick & ritual to take place since day and night seemed to stand in perfect harmony with one another.
  • Bealtaine (May 1st) – A time for bonfires, the coupling of humans in sexual union, marriages, and high faerie activity. This is the time when children are conceived and the earth is again renewed. Fertility and sacred sexuality were heavily celebrated as well as many offerings given to the earth to ensure great agricultural success.
  • Summer Solstice (June 21st) – A time to banish evil spirits from the land and the dwelling of people by lighting of sacred “Bone fires.” It was also a time to honor the light which brought life to the crops and vitality to the people. It is also known as the celebration of Litha.
  • Lughnasadh (August 1st) –
  • Autumn Equinox (September 21st) –
  • Samhain (November 1st) –
  • Winter Solstice (December 21) –

SYMBOLISM

  • Brigid’s cross
  • Triskele
  • The Green Man
  • The Awen
  • The Shamrock
  • The Dara Knot
  • The Celtic Tree of Life
  • The Claddagh

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CELTIC MAGICK & PRACTICES

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CONCLUSION


HELPFUL VIDEOS

MUSICAL SAMPLES

SUGGESTION READING MATERIAL

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