Theses  on  Celtic  Religion 5

difficulties in the state of the sources

our prejudicial denotations

animistic component

fairy tales and legends as legitimate sources

shamanism and druidism

the stratum of divinities


polarity Death / Mothers

changes in material existence

Mabon vab Genoveva

interface of Death and Mothers

isolated themes 

the realities of the world 





Several of the similarities between druidism and shamanism which usually are not mentioned shall be pointed out here (druidism as based upon LeRoux/ Guyon­varc'h, Thurney­sen, d'Arbois de Jubainville a.o., shamanism as based on Findeisen for 20th century Siberia)

a.       Shamanism encompasses complex activities, and so does druidism in Celtic society: magician, diviner, healer, poet, teacher, philosopher, administrator – all this may be covered by the word: medium. The function of a medium is as well applied to shamans. They are magicians (wizards, conjecturers), priests, psycho­pompoi, healer, artists, seer and they are all this because of a special psychic dis­position, which makes them media.

b.      Shamans are mentally particularly active, creating even religious invocations and hymns. Up to the end of his life the shaman is expected to survey the whole of the cultural matters of his ethnic group. In consequence he knows all tales and legends of the tradition. Quite similar must have been the status of the druid.

c.       The shaman derives his existence from a holy tree or from a nest hanging in its branches. Or else he receives there his education and formation to being a shaman. In his tree he finds his refuge.       
Some examples of Celtic literary tradition:       
Someone climbs up into the tree-top and returns after having had a meeting with an eagle or another kind of bird. This motif as found in the tale of Lleu Law Gyffes of British tradi­tion is met with also in Siberian shamans' tales.
The heads of the dead lovers Baile and Ailinn appear in a tree; in a tree appear or are hanging the heads of the gods Erriapus and Esus. Otherworldly individuals sit in the tree, e.g. Suibhne, the "Irish Merlin". Here Finn meets the Red One Son of the Flashing One, who springs and guards a blackbird on the shoulder, carries a cauldron with a salmon and is accompanied by a stag. He eats nuts and apples, and from every fruit half is given to the blackbird and to the stag. Salmon and nuts are the symbol of knowledge, the cauldron, the blackbird, the apple and the stag are symbols of the Otherworld.

d.      Before stepping to an ill person's bed, the shaman receives the visit by his "spiritual girl". If she is kind and amiable towards him, he recognizes in her visit a hopeful pros­pect for a good prognostic and a successful healing, This reminds of the Celtic tale where the personified Death takes place either at the head or the foot of the ill person's bed thus per­mitting to the doctor a prognostic on the patient's dying or living.

e.       Shamanism knows the concept of Animal Mothers - maybe this is equivalent to the Old­est Animals Brythonic traditions speak of. Moreover, Celtic tradition knows mothers in a bird's shape.

f.        Cults of bear or stag are clearly connected to hunting magic, and in this respect tradi­tions of present Siberian peoples are close to those of long gone druidism. While the bear lived on only in certain personal names (the goddesses Dea Artio and Andarta; Artgenos = son of the bear, which equals the Irish Mac Mathgamhna; Art; Arthur =-matus; Math son of Mathonwy), the stag has a clear cut role in respect to Otherworld:
Stags make hunters follow them and attract them to a place which by and by changes into a part of the Otherworld. Salbhuide, the son of the king of Munster in Ireland was lost by this way as well as the Christian Saint Hubertus. Sometimes the stag drags a chariot which leads to the Otherworld and is known to us as the sleigh of Father Christmas drawn by stags or deer.      
In the course of a séance horns or antlers grow on the shaman's head and then perish. Numerous are the horned divinities of the Celts known by the name of Cer­nunnos (or Cer­vunnos? cf. Latin cervus- the stag - Celtic languages are akin to italic languages).
The horned god is often represented in a seated position like the shaman in a séance. He is accompanied by a stag or a bull or a snake. For a long period after the Neolithic up to Christian images this picture had been applied. Generally the horned god is a god of ani­mals. Saint Kornély (note the name) is a Christian guardian of the animals.
Furbaide Ferbend the Horned disposes of three horns. In the Tain Ferdach Fecht­nach the Horned represents military power. Conall Cernach, the warrior par ex­cellence, one of the ancestors of Ireland, is also associated to a snake. In Brittany, Cornik is the name of the (horned) devil, and those people who attempted to stone Saint Yves have been marked by a horn on the forehead. Cornu is the name of the demon haunting St. Patrick. In Brittany the magician Coethalec makes antlers grow on the head of his enemy, another magician. 
Prehistoric remnants indicate a transformation between stag and Cernunnos (Cer­vun­nos). The horns or antlers as well as the squatting position are suggested here as signs of an ex­ceptional (mental or psychic) condition and not an intensification, as Green preferred to say.

g.       Dismembering the shaman's body may be a prerequisite for an initiation. The severed head is put onto the end of a long staff to permit him seeing anything that is done to the body. Celts knew the cult of the head, which was separated from the body after death to permit continued life of the head; it was then often fixed to a staff.  The head of Bran and that of Conaire Mor laughed and spoke long time after the death of the body etc.          
All the shaman's bones are put to their place before his returning into life. The bones of a hunted animal may call the animal back to life, provided that the sha­man joints them com­pletely. To this Siberian tradition compare the fairy tale motive where just one lacking bone prevents calling back the brother or lover from death or spell.
Shapeshifting as well as an otherworldly journey belong to shamanism as well as to druidism.

h.       Shamans often are represented to be clothed in bird's feathers or a stag's skin. Simi­larly this is reported for British druids (e.g. for MagRuith).

i.         The staff or stick of the shaman finds its direct successor in the druidical wand and indi­rectly in the magician's wand up to our days.           
There is a description of a Siberian shaman meeting a Spirit of Possession. Two items of this description evoke the contortion of Cuchullain's face (warp spasm) as depicted in the Tain: In the moment of being possessed his hair erect and he has the feeling of being lifted up or of extending.

During their journeys shamans meet with mediating spirits. These may be identi­fied with certain beings of the druidic tradition. They are called here me­diat­ing spirits be­cause neither in shamanism nor in druidism they are gods or divini­ties, yet are supe­rior to human beings. They are remotely akin to the heroes of antique mythologies or to the angels of judeo-Christian provenance. Among them we find for example: Arawn, Keridwen, Koll mac Kollvrewy, Ferdia, Gwydion, Gwynn/Finn, Kei, Math, Midir, Myrddin, Oengus and some of the legendary druids of ancient Ireland.


Continue: the stratum of divinities