"The three principal endeavors of a Bard:
One is to learn and collect sciences.
The second is to teach.
And the third is to make peace
And to put an end to all injury;
For to do contrary to these things
Is not usual or becoming to a Bard."
~THE TRIADS OF BRITAIN
At the present time, every aspect of Celtic culture is a very visible part of a multicultural world. Everyone whose family roots lie in central, western and northwestern Europe has a Celtic connection of some sort. Celtic culture is very ancient. It goes back over 2,700 years, yet it is still a living force in the modern world, through Celtic art, Celtic music, Celtic writing, and Celtic spirituality. This is because the civilization of the Celts has continued without break over the centuries. This unbroken tradition can be experienced in the oldest literature from Northern Europe, that is in the Welsh and Irish languages. The earliest Welsh and Irish writings preserve the ancient Celtic world-view that is nature venerating and poetic,where the spiritual and the material worlds come together to enrich one another.
Throughout history, the Celtic tradition and belief has not remained static, but has continuously developed and progressed in keeping with the times. In ancient days, the early beliefs of the Celts were taken over and reformed by the Druids, who in turn were influenced by Roman religion. In time, this was transformed by Crhistianity in the form of the Celtic Church, that was not a break with tradition, but a continuation of the Celtic essence in a new form.
Because what we call Celtic culture has existed for more than 2,700 years, and has ranged across much of central and northwestern Europe, it is not easy to define in simple terms. People who need clear definitions of everything find that the Celts are a difficult case. Read on for more history of their origins, society life, and spirituality.
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"The peoples known as the Celts are thought to have originated in central Europe, to the east of the Rhine in the areas now part of southern Germany, Austria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. From around 3,400 years ago, these proto-Celtic peoples expanded across the Continent, and eventually inhabited a large portion of central, western, and northwestern Europe. During the Classical periosd of Greece and Rome, Celtic culture was predominiant to the north of the Alps. Even today, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Cornwall, Cumbria and Brittany are basically Celtic in character. Despite the changes that time has brought, the influence of Celtic traditionis still fundamental."
From "The Sacred World of the Celts" by Nigel Pennick
"The Celts were a southern European people of Indo-Aryan origin who first surfaced in Bohemia and travelled west in search of the home of the sun. Science has recently established their basic blood group as 'O', in keeping with their modern descendants, which designates them as a seperate race from the aboriginals of the sourthern Indian subcontinent, where the 'B' blood group perdominates.
History tells us that there were two main Celtic groups, one of which is referred to as the 'lowland Celts' who hailed from the region of the Danube. These people left their native pastures around 1200 BC and slowly made their way across Europe, founding the lake dwellings in Switzerland, the Danube valley and Ireland. They were skilled in the use of metals and worked in gold, tin and bronze. Unlike the more familiar Celtic strain these people were an agriculturally oriented race, being herdsmen, tillers and artificers who burned rather than buried their dead. They blended peacefully with the megalithic people among whom they settled, contributing powerfully to the religion, art, and customs they encountered as they slowly spread westwards. Their religious beliefs also differed from the next group, being predominately matriarchal.
The second group, often referred to as the 'true' Celts, followed closely behind their lowland cousins, making their first appearance on the left bank of the Rhine at the commencement of the sixth century BC. These people, who came from the mountainous regions of the Balkans and Carpathians, were a military aristocracy. Reputed to love fighting for the sake of it they were frequently to be found among the mercenaries of the great armies of those early times. They had a distinct class system, the observance of which constituted one of their major racial features. These were the warlike Celts of ancient history who sacked Rome and Delphi, eventually marching victoriously across much of Europe and the British Isles.
But in spite of their martial inclinations they were also known for their qualities of chivalry, courage and dauntless bravery, their more aggressive tendencies being balanced out by a great sensitivity to music, poetry and philosophy. Unlike the lowland Celts these people buried their dead, and their elaborate religious rituals held in honour of Lugh are well recounted in the pages of the recorded past."
~From "Practical Celtic Magic" by Murry Hope
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"T he name Celt originated with the ancient Greeks, who called the barbarian peoples of central Europe Keltoi. Rather that being a broad cultural genetic 'race,' the Celts were a broad cultural-linguistic group. The area where they lived became a constantly changing collection of tribal 'nations.' The Celts were never an 'empire' ruled by one government.
The ancestors of the Celts were the people of the Urnfield culture, so-called because they buried their dead in cremation urns in flat ground. Between 1200 and 700 BC, they spread westward from their eastern European homeland into the area of modern Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and France. Here, there culture developed into a recognizably Celtic form. The earliest stage of Celtic culture is called the Hallstatt, after a village in the Austrian Salzkammergut where archeologists discovered important artifacts. At hallstatt and other places with the 'hall' (salt) name - Hallein, Helle, Schwabisch Hall - the Celts' wealth was based upon salt extraction and sale. The technology of iron, too, was embraced by innovative Celtic blacksmiths, who produced the best metal in Europe, that was in great demand outside Celtic Areas. An important two-way trade developed between the Celts and the Greeks, both in their homeland, and their colonies inwhat is now southern France.
By the seventh century BC, the Hallstatt people had become prosperous in the salt and iron businesses. In around 650 BC, the Celts began to re-exchange raids with the Greeks and Etruscans, elements of whose culture they adopted. By adding and adapting Graeco-Etruscan elements to the Hallstatt culture, the characteristically Celtic style of art came into being. As a result of this, in northeastern France, Switzerland, and the middle Rhine, a new stage of Celtic development took place.
Archeologists call it the early La Tene period, after the definitive artifacts found at La Tene, on Lake Neuchatel in Switzerland. During the Classical period of Greece and Rome, Celtic culture was predominant north of the Alps. Celtic technicians of the La Tene period were technically superior to their Greek and Roman counterparts. Their superior weaponry, including a new type of sword, chain mail, and chariots, enabled the Celts to mount miliatary expiditions against neighboring tribes and nations, including the Greeks and Romans. Celtic fighting men had such a good reputation that they were in great demand as mercenareis. The warrior culture was at the heart of Celtic society, as the heroic sagas of ancient Ireland record.
Partly as the result of wars, many Celtic tribes migrated from one region of Europe to another. From their homeland in central Europe, the Celts spread westward into modern France and the British Isles, southwest into Iberia, southward into northern Italy, and eastward through central Europe into the Balkans and Asia Minor. Ancient tribes now thought to be Celtic include the Helvetii, who lived in the area of modern Switzerland, the Boii in modern Italy, the Averni in modern France, the Scordisci in modern Serbia, and the Belgae, who inhabited northern Gaul and southern Britain in immediate pre-Roman times.
However. After the first century BC, they were in retreat. Driven out of eastern Europe by Slavic tribes, they were vanquished in the west by superior Roman forces. First the Celts in northern Italy came under Roman rule. Then they were overwhelmed in the rest of Gaul (modern France), modern Switzerland, southern Germany, and Austria. Perhaps as the result of the Romans' pressure, many of the Belgae emigrated from what is now Belgium to southern Britain in the first century BC. Then, during the first centruey AD, most of Britain fell to the Roman conquerors. In the third century AD, the Celts of southern Germany were overrun by the conferderation of Germanic tribes called the Alamanni. Since then, many centuries have passed, with further inroads into Celtic lands by invaders, yet Celtic culture has never been eliminated from Europe and will no doubt continue to thrive well into the next millennium. Today, Celtic culture is the living heritage of Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Cornwall, the Isle of Man, and Brittany. It has also left its mark on English and French custom and tradition."
~From "The Sacred World of the Celts" by Nigel Pennick
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The Celts did not have a caste society, though there were well-defined classes. At the top was the noble class. At some periods of Celtic history, the top man was a king. Often, the king was the head man of an indivudual tribe, though in later times, nations composed of several tribes came under royal rule. In its most refined form, kingship was seen as divine - rulers were men through whom the gods spoke. Kingship was not necessarily inherited, for kings could nominate their successor. The law of royal succession among the Picts was through the mother, though invariably the monarch was male, and often the king's father was a foreighner. There were also queens, who sometimes ruled in their own right. Among them are the legendary Irish warrior queen, Maeve, and the British Boudicca, who led the rebellious Iceni against Roman rule in AD 61.
But kingship was not the only form of rule. In Gaul, before the Roman conquest, kingship was abolished by several tribes, including the Aedui, Lexovii, Lemovices, Santones, Remi, and Treviri. Instead of a king, a magistrate, the Vergobret, elected by the nobility, headed the tribe. The real power was in the hands of the noble class, whose status came from hereditary right. Noble lineages contained men of honorable origin, linked to other families through marriage alliances. They owned the land, and from their ranks came the military generals and the Druids. In Wales, this class, the cenedl, ruled util the Norman conquest.
However in Celtic society there was not a rigid class system imposed by birth. The landless commoners had the possiblility of personal advancement by making a fortune through commerce or war. Some of the lower orders who had fallen upon hard times became clients, having pledged themselves to serve a powerful nobleman. But such an obligation was different from slavery, and the commoner did not give up his rights. Caesar wrote that the object of clientage was to ensure that all common people should have protection against powerful people. Each nobleman had to guarantee that no harm should come to him supporters. If it did, he lost face, and fell in status. Clientage was a form of social welfare, with obligations on both sides. The nobleman supported the client with gifts, that required repayment by loyal service. Unlike some societies, where slavery was hereditary, and there was no chance of future generations becoming free,the Celts' slaves were captive foreigners without civil rights. They could always be freed, to become the client of the noble who had freed them.
Slaves could not fight in times of war. Other men had the right to bear arms, but not all, for some were only permitted to fight when their lives were threatened. In Gaul, it was only possible to go to war if the common people and the priesthood consented, having received favorable omens. Although there was always a commander-in-chief, wars were conducted by an assembly called the Armed Council, that had the final say on strategic matters. Several times during the Gallic War that Caesar won, the Gaulish commander, Vercengetorix, had to give account of his conduct of the war to the Armed Council.
The Roman author Strabo wrote that among the Gauls there wer three groups of men who were held in exceptional honor: the Bards, the Vates, and the Druids. The Bards were the musicians, singers, and poets. The Vates were soothsayers, diviners, and natural diviners. Ancient Celtic religion, that underpinned every aspect of everyday life, was nature-venerating and polytheistic, recognizing many levels of supernatural beings and divinities, female as well as male. The Celts believed that the course of nature is the will of the Gods. Thus they venerated both local and general deities, usually in natural sanctuaries, especially shrines at ssprings, rivers, lakes, and in woodland. The Bards, Vates, and Druids had an integrated relationship with the natural world. They possessed an immense body of traditional lore, concerning nature, the seasons, astronomy, death, and transformation. Most of the ancient skills and wisdom of these men are known still, underlying contemporary Celtic spirituality, that is the synthesis of Celtic Spirituality, that is essential for a continuing, living tradition.
Clann is a Gaelic word that means children. A clan is a family, descended from some notable individual, often bearing his name. The currant clan chief, who is the prime descendant of the founder, is nominally the father of the whole clan, having moral authority over all its members. Although the clan system is Celtic in origin, the contemporary Scottish clans, who have maintained the systme in its most ancient form, are of mixed ancestry. Some Scottish clans are descended from the ancient Scots who emigrated eastward from Ireland from the sixth century onward. Others are descended from Norman, English, and Viking notables.
The community structure of the clans was formerly universal among the Celts, but this structure was gradually eroded away everywhere except in the highlands of Scotland. Strictly speaking, a clan consists of the chief's family and the branches that can prove descent from the founder through the female line. Although this is the strict familial definition of a clan, it was rarely interpreted so rigidly, and in practice the clan included every family that accepted the authority and protection of the local clan chief.
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Pagan Celtic Spirituality understood that all of existence has a cyclic nature, and that there is a direct continuity between the material world and the otherworld. Druidic teachings, that have come down to us through Welsh tradition, recognized that there is an unseen world that interpenetrates and affects the visible world. Things are just not what they seem. Everything exists on several simultaneous levels. Human beings can understand things as having three levels: the physical, the spiritual, and the symbolic. Thus, Celtic culture was integrated with nature, and expressed itself through the multiple possibilities of life itself. Celtic religion taught the reincarnation of all individual souls, and the appearance of divine beings on Earth.
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"Both classical and native sources furnish us with some first calss descriptions of the early Celts whom, it would seem, were highly distinctive in both appearance and demeanor. It is generally agreed that they wer tall and powerfully built, with blue eyes and blond or reddish hair. Diodorus Siculus describes the men as favouring moustaches to beards, while both sexes were highly conscious of their appearance and anxoius to make the most of their natural good looks, Celtic women vying with their menfolk in size and stature.
Overall we may safely say that the general impression from all sources of evidence designates the Celtic aristocratic society as being tall, physically powerful men and women with fair or reddish hair, grey-blue eyes, light skins, oval faces, and fresh complexions."
~From "Practical Celtic Magic" by Murry Hope
"The Celts were a very clean people, using soap long before the Romans did. The Celtic men and women of Britain sometimes wore swirling blue tattoos or paintings on their bodies. All Clets played lyres and harps, loved song, music, and recitation of legends and epic adventures. They used metal or ornamented natural horns for drinking.
Children took their mother's name and daughters inheirited her possessions. Virginity was not highly valued; twice the dowry was given fro a woman previously married or with children. Abortion and choice or change of mate was a woman's right.
Both sexes loved jewelry: brooches decorated with gold filigree, cuttlefish shell, garnets, lapis, and other stones; buckles of gold filigree and stones; pins and linked pins with animal-style decoration; necklaces of amber, granulation and chip carving. They wore torques, pendants, bracelets, pins and necklaces. The women sometimes sewed little bells on the fringed ends of their tunics. The elaborate intertwinings of their artwork was a guard against the evil eye or curses.
Celtic women painted their fingernails, reddened their cheeks with roan, darkened their eyebrows with berry juice. They wore their hair long and braided or piled up on the head. Their usual dress was a sleeved tunic tucked into a large, gathered, belted skirt or simly an ankle-length tunic with a belt.
Celtic man on the continental mainland wore trousers with a tunic, but in Britain and Ireland the men wore a thigh-high tunic and a cloak, the ever-present dagger or sword, and leather or fur footgear tied around the legs. Mustaches were common, and the hair shoulder length. A horned helmet indicated a powerful warrior.
in the early cultures, both men and women had huge rectangular cloaks pinned at the right shoulder. These cloaks were generally woven in bright plaids, checks or stripes. Later, they wore large hooded capes reaching to the knees.
~From "Celtic Magic" by D.J. Conway
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