Theses  on  Celtic  Religion 6

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 






This old stratum of shamanism has been contaminated by the stratum of divini­ties which in itself is by no means homogeneous. 

Gods of the Celts are known to us from Gaul or Britain, or from Central Europe, all these parts having been under Roman rule or influence. From periods before the Romans were pre­sent in Central and West Europe as well as from areas out of Roman influence (Ireland) we do not know of Celtic gods, neither by prehistoric re­mains nor by any literary tradition. Did they not know gods before the Romans told them? Had they no gods of their own? The great num­ber of local deities however (several hundreds are known by name) as well as the fact that Dumézil's three func­tions can be ascribed also to Celtic gods and heroes, argue in favour of there having been Celtic gods even before Roman times. Individuals acting in medieval texts usu­ally are interpreted as 'gods'. It is however by no means clear that they are gods of that antique Mediterranean type we are acquainted with, or whether they are origi­nally heroes and ancestors belonging to a shamanistic stratum, having been inter­preted as gods not by the Celts but by the authors of the medieval texts. At least some of those divine individuals were close to animistic beings, which the Celts may have thought of having the shape of animals or the sun or shifting shapes. Diodorus reports on the Celtic leader Brennus who when coming to Delphoi in the 4th century B.C. was astonished of the Greeks imagining their deities in human shape and even carving them as such in stone and wood. 

Regionally and locally, the Celts venerated ancestors, the sun and other celestial bodies and natural phenomena. Influenced by the Romans, they began calling them gods, maybe before Cesar's invasion into what he called Gallia. Any identification of the local gods of Gaul and other regions with the Roman deities is not admissible.

Therefore, my thesis is: 

It was not before contact with Greeks and Romans, particularly not before the political domination by the latter that the Celts obtained their ensemble of gods, their Olympus.

On the other hand, they all knew of universal divinities, the Indo-European dei­ties, which have been described for the Celtic world by Rhys, De Vries, LeRoux, Gyon­varc'h and others.

This thesis explains the parallel existence of so many deities as well as the wide range of a few single gods. Furthermore, by this thesis the aspects of enigma, marvel and superstition, which already struck ancient authors, are explained as a conse­quence of the animistic, sha­manistic origins. Druids were not priests appointed to the service of a particular god; it was only in the centuries of co-existence of shamanism and Indo-European theism that they sys­tematically developed into a priestly, domi­nating caste.

No doubt, there have been processes of influence, exchange, assimilation and merging between animistic and Indo-European beliefs. The more as there was no obligatory canon and no dogmas, and as Celtic people have to be regarded as being highly imaginative.

An end was put to druidism in Britain by the Romans (destruction of the druidic centre in Mona/Anglesey) in 60 A.D. After this date, there is no trace of druids in the British Island, but there are innumerable Celtic gods! This is another hint of druidism and a belief in gods being two different institutions. The foundation of Christian monasteries brought about the end of these gods as they brought the end of druidism in Ireland and Gaul. Anyway, the old beliefs, now called heathendom (because it used to be practised on the heath, cf. Heiden­tum/Heide, paganism/pagus) did not vanish immediately and totally. Numerous are proves for a co-existence of both religions, found in the tales and legends about the saints, in Christian customs as well as in documents of Christian mission and other documents. In Gaul, they co-existed at least up to the 6th century, when the Franks arrived, in Ireland, up to the 10th century, when the Scandinavians came.


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