GOD & the Gods: The Celts

Today, the terms Celt and Celtic are primarily associated with Ireland, but the Celtic speaking peoples originated in the Caucasus, the area between the Caspian Sea and Black Sea. The Celts and Italic speaking people derived from these Indo-European (IE) tribes who migrated westward from the Caucasus into central Europe. It’s also noteworthy that the Caucasus is located relatively close to northern Iraq where tradition holds was the site of the Garden of Eden, the Tower of Babel, and Abraham’s original homeland.

Any study of the Celts or Celtic religion is impossible without encountering numerous references to Indo-Europeans, Aryans, Indo-Aryans, Greeks, Romans, Gaul, Caesar, Pythagoras, and the Druids.

Interestingly, the Celts are related to the Indo-Aryan peoples who migrated from northern India and Iran.

It is not the intent of this writing to cover any of the goddesses or gods in any depth, that has already been accomplished by other writers. I would recommend Sarah Owen’s excellent book, Celtic Spirituality: A Beginners Guide for a concise list of the names of Celtic gods and goddesses along with a brief description of each.

The GOD of the Bible is always referenced in masculine terms such as “Abba! Father!” (Mark 14:36, Rom. 8:15, Gal. 4:6 NASB) In addition, Jesus opens His well-known prayer delivered during the Sermon on the Mount with: “Our Father who is in Heaven…” (Matt. 6:9) On the other hand, the Celts regarded the feminine nature Goddess over any masculine counterpart.1

In Christianity, believers worship or communicate with GOD “in spirit and truth,” (John 4:23) but in Celtic religion communion with the Goddess is through being one with nature.2

Edward Anwyl, a Welsh academic who specialized in Celtic languages, points out that the Celtic religion held that spirits (deities) inhabited natural objects such as trees, rivers, lakes, and mountains. He also goes on to explain that certain deities also took on the form of certain animals such as the bear, horse, and surprisingly, swine.3

Sarah Owen takes Anwyl’s animism discussion a step further when she claims that the Celtic deities were able to take on various animal forms at will, i.e., shapeshifting,4 a concept confirmed by MacCulloch.5

The Celtic priests, i.e., the Druids, especially revered trees—the oak tree in particular. Druids believed the oak tree represented death and re-birth and that “oak to be the tree of life at the centre of the earth,” and that the “oak tree was a doorway to other worlds.”6

For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. (Rom. 1:25)

The Greek philosopher Pythagoras, well known for the mathematical theory (a2 + b2 = c2) that bears his name, also believed in the immortality of the soul and in reincarnation. Given the apparent resemblance of Pythagoreanism with the druidic beliefs concerning the soul, the Druids have come to be regarded as philosophers by some.7

GOD and the Celtic gods and goddesses all share the attribute of being invisible.8

The Celtic gods and goddesses also possess the attribute of immortality9 however, by no means do any of them claim to possess the “omni” attributes, which are: omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience, these three attributes are exclusively reserved for GOD. Furthermore, none of Celtic gods or goddesses claimed to have always existed, that is, having no beginning and no end, as the GOD of the Bible has claimed. (Heb. 7:3)

The Celtic gods and goddesses were by no means chaste; they frequently mated with mortals. Goddesses preferred to mate with heroes and the gods with mortal women.10 The Tuatha Dé Dannan, a divine race of people, were believed to have descended from the Goddess Danu.11 This divine race of people possessed all the attributes discussed earlier; they were skilled warriors and magicians; they were also some new kind of hybrid beings who were immortal and yet could still be killed; they were shapeshifters and could become invisible at will.12

Owen goes on to write that the Tuatha Dé Dannan “deified” their people who had become adept scientists and engineers. These engineers are believed to be the ones most likely responsible for the design and construction of the stone circles that can be found throughout Britain today.13

Stonehenge
Figure 1. Stonehenge

Many Celtic beliefs and traditions have been adopted by the Church for example: the Christmas tree, the Yule Log, and mistletoe. These are traditions, but what about Church teachings? Maybe the Celts had more influence on Christian doctrine than we have been led to believe. Marie-Louise Sjoestedt in her short but dense book, Celtic Gods and Heroes, writes that “the number three plays a large part in Celtic tradition.”14 The number three is important in Christian theology as well given the “notion of one God existing in multiple persons”15 is referred to as the “Trinity.” Sjoestedt goes on to write: “…the ‘triad’, a formula which combines three facts or three precepts, is a genre which dominates the gnomic literature of both Wales and Ireland, and triple personages or trios are prominent in the epic tradition of the two peoples.”16

Celtic tradition uses the terms “Threefold One” and “Triple Goddess” when referring to the nature or earth Goddess.17 The term “Threefold One” can also be understood as “Three in One.” Were the Celts influenced by Christian doctrine or was it the other way around? The doctrine of the “Trinity” is a derived teaching based on interpretation since the word itself doesn’t appear in the Bible.

Celtic beliefs and influences have not been lost on today’s pop culture either as evidenced by the following examples:

Fleetwood Mac’s hit song “Rhiannon” is named after a Celtic goddess whose name is “a corruption of Rigantona, ‘great queen’.”18

Enya (Eithne Pádraigín Ní Bhraonáin), an Irish singer, songwriter, musician and producer famous for her New-age music notably her record albums entitled The Celts and Memory of Trees.

Celtic Women, an all-female (emphasis added) Irish musical ensemble.

Earth, Wind & Fire, a popular 1970s music group. Does their name include a possible reference to “Druidic Wind?”19

Or how about The Twilight Zone episode “Mirror Image” where a woman waiting in a bus terminal has an encounter with her “doppelganger” according to IMDb. However, it could also be that the woman had an encounter with the Faery world. Owen writes that “[t]he Faery world mirrors our ordinary world. Whatever is found in one world has a reflection or polar partner in the other.”20 Was Rod Serling, the episode writer, influenced by Celtic mythology?

Celtic themes have also appeared in more recent films including: Merlin, the warrior-magician, and the legend of Excalibur in The Last Legion; and the Picts in Centurion.

Lastly, I believe many current political and social movements are rooted in the Celtic and Druidic belief system, namely globalism, feminism, and environmentalism. The relationship between feminism and environmentalism with Celtic beliefs should be obvious from the arguments cited earlier in this writing. But what about globalism? Again, Owen writes that in Celtic spirituality all are one with the elements, e.g., “oneness.”21 Even though the concept of “oneness” is primarily described as being in tune with nature, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to apply the concept to all people and geographical locations.

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Copyright 2018 Gerard Sczepura

  1. Sarah Owen, Celtic Spirituality: A Beginners Guide, (Printed by CreateSpace, 2018), 33. 

  2. Ibid. 

  3. Edward Anwyl, Celtic Religion in Pre-Christian Times, (Boston, Adamant Media Corporation, 2005), 39-41. 

  4. Owen, Celtic Spirituality, 39-40. 

  5. J. A. MacCulloch, The Religion of the Ancient Celts (p. 216). Kindle Edition. 

  6. “Nine Sacred Trees of the Druids,” Maureen McGhee, posted April, 03, 2014, https://www.maureenmcghee.com/news/2/

  7. Anwyl, Celtic Religion, 58-59. 

  8. MacCulloch, The Religion of the Ancient Celts, 216. 

  9. Ibid. 

  10. Ibid. 

  11. Owen, Celtic Spirituality, 35. 

  12. Ibid. 36 

  13. Ibid. 

  14. Marie-Louise Sjoestedt, Celtic Gods and Heroes, (Mineola, NY, Dover Publications, Inc., 2000), 17. 

  15. Gerard Sczepura, “GOD & the Gods: One God,” Theological Ruminations (blog), October 22, 2017, https://gerardsczepura.com/god-the-gods-one-god/

  16. Sjoestedt, Celtic Gods and Heroes, 17. 

  17. Owen, Celtic Spirituality, 33. 

  18. MacCulloch, The Religion of the Ancient Celts, 182. 

  19. Sjoestedt, Celtic Gods and Heroes, 11. 

  20. Owen, Celtic Spirituality, 54. 

  21. Ibid, 60-61. 

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