Getting to the bottom of things
In pre-Roman Britain, both wells and pits held significant
religious meanings. They were closer to the underworld and
thus allowed for communication.
Don't get stuck on ceremony
A Celtic site in Milton revealed an apparently ceremonial stick
with a flat, bronze arrow head-like top with oval ends on the
bottom. Each oval end had a ring, possibly to hang bells from it.
There is definitive evidence of human sacrifice; both as an offering
and to use entrails for divination purposes: The Lindow Man,
found in a bog, had mistletoe in his stomach.There were bodies
found in Danebury which had been weighted down by stones.
A young man buried under the rampart of South Cadbury was
crammed in and face down; this implies a foundation offering.
Sheela-na-gig - is a female Celtic goddess who appears at many
sites. Her symbolism represents both creation and destruction.
Probable Sites of Ancient Ceremony:
Cerne Abbas Giant - is carved into the ground in a 1ft x 1 ft
trench. He is 180 ft long by 167 ft wide, is holding a long club
and sports a detailed phallus and testes. The idea of this as a
center for fertility rites is strengthened by the fact Maypole
dances were held in an area just north of the giant's arm. No
one knows exactly when the image was first cut into the ground.
Isbister - is a Neolithic Site in Orkney 10 white-tail sea eagles
were entombed with the 340 skeletons. (Scotland)
The shaft well at Ashill in Norfolk - it is made of wood, is
under 4 sq ft but 40 ft deep. The top half of the well contained
Samhain ware (Roman pottery), bones, wicker and wooden
baskets, iron ware, etc. Below that were urns put there in
layers surrounded in hazel leaves and nuts. Early Irish folklore
states a relationship between a religious significance to hazel
(Coll in Old Irish) and it's association with sacred wells.
Emain Macha - also known as Navan Fort although it was
probably a circular temple. It is associated with King
Conchobar and most likely connected with other sites in the
area. It seemed to have been used for tribal gatherings and
festivities as well as religious activities. The whole structure
was set on fire possibly to call the gods during a time of war.
Herbs and their Powers
The name comes from the Old English for "Special Twig". According to Pliny
the Elder, the Druids used this poisonous plant and its deadly berries
- it was harvested from oak trees with golden sickles on the 6th day of the (new) moon, after covering the ground with a white sheet to prevent the trimmings from touching the ground. This would make them lose their power
- a sacrifice had to be made in exchange for the power of the harvested plant
- it was used in human sacrifices
- the evergreen part of the plant symbolized fertility since it lived through winter (and the fertility aspect is what is probably reflected in the kissing under the mistletoe custom)
- it was hung over doorways to protect against evil
Hazel leaves and nuts are venerated in Celtic society. They are associated
with wisdom, and when thrown down a sacred well allow sacred salmon to
eat them. This is why the salmon represents wisdom as well.
Water, Water, Everywhere
- Rivers are associated with fertility to the ancient Celts. A perfect example come from the mating of the Morrigan and the Dagda, during which Morrigan had a foot of either side of the river bank
- Not coincidentally, rivers are also associated with Mother-Goddesses as can be seen from names of multiple British rivers the Braint at Anglesey and the Brent at Middlesex, both named for Brigantia/Brigit; the Clyde for Clota and the Severn for Sabrina. Ireland also has examples including the Boyne for Boand and the Shannon for Sinann
- There are also wells throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland which are names for local goddesses/fairies
- According to early Irish legends, the feast of Samhain (Nov 1) is to be celebrated by lake shore
- The numerous find in bogs and pits probably ties into this water worship as sacrificial offerings
- Water, pits, wells seem to be entrances to the otherworld, a belief not confined to this region. In fact, it's even in the Old Testament.
- Water is strongly connected to the gift of "sight", or an ability to see and understand things from the other world.
- The river Boyne was to have magical. In fact the river's source was thought to be an well of the Otherworld, Segais. This makes the river the origin of all wisdom and occult knowledge. In fact the well was said to be surrounded by Hazel trees whose nuts fell into the well. Some say annually, others every seven years
The Sun was also worshipped in both Neolithic and Celtic Society. How can we tell?
- The Dagda may well have been a sun god - although some scholars do believe he has a sky god. He was the most prominent of the Irish gods.
- St. Patrick wrote in his Confessio "The splendor of the material sun , which rises every day at the bidding of God, will pass away, and those who worship it will go into dire punishment"
- Newgrange and Stonehenge are aligned for the Winter Solstice sunrise
- Dowth, which is located near Newgrange, is aligned for the sunset on the Winter Solstice
- The Hall of Tara, which in the literature is the seat for the Ulster kings, is aligned with the Newgrange to mark the position of the midday sun, according to Martin Brennan in The Stars and the Stones.
- Aonach was an ancient Irish festival marking the sun's full cycle at 365 days.
Head of the Class
There seems to be a particular reverence for the human head: Bran's was cut off and lived beyond his body, Cu Chulainn collected them from those he conquered in battle and placed the heads on stones, and hero Conall Cernach bragged of sleeping every night with a head under his knee. Irish sources refer to the making of brainballs, where the brain was extracted and mixed with lime and hardened to become cement-like.
Power of the Celtic Goddesses
- In "The Book of the Taking of Ireland" (Labor Gabala Erenn) the goddesses Eriu, Banba and Fotla are triple territorial goddesses whose names are attached to the land. The goddesses must either be worshipped or destroyed to take over the land
- A recurrent theme in Welsh mythology is that the women names and arms their children.
- The goddess Medb (or Maeve) holds dominance over all men and is reputed to have an insatiable sexuality.
The traditional practice of tying knots
of red ribbon onto children's clothing
will protect them from harmful magic
may have its roots in early Celtic
Walk like a...Celt
In Celtic processions, it is believed that
people always walked clockwise or
deiseal. To walk a procession
counterclockwise or tuathal would
have been ominous.
The Druid's Glass
Pliny the Elder tells us about this
amulet. It was a necklace worn by
Druids. It had an oval, colored ball of
crystal, formed from serpents in
summer. It was used specifically for
Symbol of the Cauldron
The cauldron must have been a potent
symbol, because it shows up in
different Celtic myths with different
functions. To the Dagda, it produced
an unending supply of food, Goibniu's
was used for an unending supply of
beer yet Bran's cauldron allowed the
dead to be resurrected, but without a