Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Celts, Their History and Impact

The Celts And History

Who were the Celts? This question is both simple to answer, and nearly impossible.
The Celts were a diverse group of peoples who all shared a common faith, with some regionalization of the faith.
That's the simple answer.
What follows is what I have gleaned from my research of the Celts.
First off, much of what we know wasn't written down by the Celts, but rather by the Romans and others who they encountered over their territories, so there are apt to be some inaccuracies. That said, we do know a good deal about them.
The Celts were a deeply spiritual people, their faith being animistic as well as polytheistic. They saw all things through a spiritual light. There are indications of a belief in reincarnation, of an afterlife and of a destiny for all souls.
In life, they were artists, musicians, farmers, hunters and most of all, warriors. War was commonplace for most of the Celtic tribes, and that legacy lives on in their descendants.
Ireland, or more properly, Eire (which is said something akin to "air-uh"), is truly the last stronghold of their beliefs in the world, though it too succumbed to the waves of Christianity that overtook the older ways. Eire held fast to much of her mythos, transforming it into terms that the Church could overlook, such as the transformation of the goddess Bridget into a saint. Some things, such as the faerie folk, diminutized greatly, from a people much like ourselves in size to tiny folk, and leprechauns lost a lot of their powers to the changes made in order to appease the Church. The assimilation of the Christian ethos in Eire seems to have happened rather more organically than it did in many other places, as the flavor of the Church in Ireland isn't like that anywhere else on Earth. Far more of the older ways were and are accepted, or at least tolerated, than is seen elsewhere.
The Celts encompass a lot of different peoples. Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales, France and many parts of the European continent were at one time or another under their control. They were named Celtic, which translates to "strangers", by the Romans, if memory serves me. They were considered barbarians.
War was one of the things that the Celtic tribes all seemed to be forever engaged in. They were known to be savage and brutal warriors on the battlefield. Many painted themselves with blue paint, making themselves appear frightening and strange. They were also known to charge into battle nude.
Though there was a division of life based upon gender, there were some measures of equality. Women were able to own property, a rare thing during that time, and really, up until recently. They could become Druids, and often held positions of great power. While there were both male and female gods, the goddesses appear to have been more commonly worshiped by the population as a whole in most groups.
This equality led to some interesting practices not seen in most other cultures. For instance, the handfasting practices. Marriages were dissolvable, and the use of the "year and a day" contract allowed a couple to determine compatibility without fear of being trapped in a marriage that wasn't suitable. There were 10 'classes' of marriage (9 actually described) in the Irish Brehon laws. Concubinage (bigamy) was also legally acknowledged. As I understand it, children remained with the father and were considered to belong to the father's lineage, but I don't think we can assume that the Irish laws were pan-Celtic. Children were commonly fostered, however, and set up life-long bonds of obligation between children and foster-parents, and often very close bonds of companionship between fosterlings. Interestingly some of the myths (particularly in the Welsh material) imply that it was the mother's right to grant a son a name and arms, and that only she could do so, though I do not believe this appears in the law-codes and may be a indication/remnent of a much early practice.
One of the things that bound all of the diverse cultures of the Celts together was their calendars, including the Gaulish Coligny calendar. The Gaulish calendar is thought to be the oldest solar/lunar ritual calendar that dates from the end of the 2nd century CE.
Who Were The Celts - A History
Celtic Guardians courtesy of Esta Weiss, Pagan and Proud of It Art