Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Celtic Mysteries: The Ancient Religion

Book Review: Celtic Mysteries: The Ancient Religion by John Sharkey (Sacred Library of the Imagination 1985)

This was mostly a picture book of Celtic artifacts but also about 80 pgs of text. Many artifacts are from the British Isles, Gaul (France), Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Iberia (Spain), Switzerland, Galatia (Turkey), Slovakia, Hungary, and other areas where Celtic peoples lived or migrated through. Time period is from the La Tene period (500-100 BC) to the early days of Christianity in the 600s AD as well as literature of the Middle Ages derived from oral tradition.

Topics covered are the tales of the wonder voyages – of Bran, Mael Din, and Brendan the Christian monk. Voyages to strange island realms are depicted such as the Land of Promise, the Many-Colored Land, or the Land of the Young. The Voyage of Bran is one where a he and his comrades visit various lands/realms but when they return home no one knows them but the people in his old home refer to an ancient story of the Voyage of Bran. Aye, the Sea God Mannnan mac Lyr is known as the Lord of Illusions. His bag is said to contain the treasures of the world.

Christianity arrived early in the Celtic lands – not long after it did in Rome. Particularly – an early form of monastic Christianity became established. The Roman period is covered with Gallo-Roman art and amalgamation of deities. The Celts did not have a great amount of statuary until the arrrival of the Romans. Stone carvings of Hercules, Minerva, Janus, Cernunnos, and other Roman and Celtic hybrid deities are depicted. The magnificent Book of Kells – artwork by early Christian monastics preserved ancient Celtic artwork – and knotwork. The pre-Celtic standing stones and various phallic stones, intricate Celtic Crosses, and depictions of a curious goddess of birth and death called Sheel-a-na-gig are there too.

Since the Celts were originally nomadic tribes they did not have rigid deities and temples other than those of sacred natural features such as groves of great trees, springs, rivers, hills, and such. The Celts were not without brutality. They were headhunters – both for psychological effect and the magic power associated with heads. Human sacrifice was practiced perhaps in offering to a fertility god called Crom Cruach. It was said of the Celts that they thought nothing of death and would sometimes fight one another to the death in unplanned contests that came up during feasting. It was actually thought of as doing an honor to the victims by sacrificing war slaves.

The god Ogmios was equated with Hercules. Not so much a warrior as Hercules though – he was an old man and considered a god of eloquence and wit in speech and perhaps the originator of the Druid Ogham script based on the 8 noble trees – birch, alder, willow, oak, rowan, hazel, apple, ash and the 8 peasant trees and the 8 shrub trees. Apparently there was a rite where the tongue of one representing Ogmios was connected by thin gold and amber chains to the ears of others who danced around him and praised him. The father-god of the Tuatha de Dannan – Daghda - was also associated with Hercules and was depicted with a club and/or a mallet. He was associated with fertility. The Daghda was the father of the Goddess Brighid – associated with sacred fire, healing, poetry smithery, and springs.

Regarding the -Colloquy of the Two Sages- likely a ritualized word-play-debate among Druid initiates there is the observation: “Riddles and sophisticated word-play are a reminder of the origin of all sacred mysteries: Breath, or the Word itself. Significantly, such verbal duels are common in cultures where shamanism survives; two men rouse each other to a pitch of intense excitement so that the older man can make the tribal prophecy.”

The tribal ritual cycle of the Celts was of 4 great festivals held 9 months apart for a 36-month cycle. Of course most know the 4 highpoint festivals equated with the witches sabbats. Places of magick power were natural features and communal tombs and large stone dolmens.

Actually, I found this book in the bathroom one day and the rest is hist.

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