The Ancient Celts


In ancient times, mountain ranges served as a natural barrier between much of Europe and the Mediterranean lands, and forests covered much of the continent's surface. During the first millennium BCE, the peoples of the central and western forests were discovered and named Keltoi by the Greeks, who had known them since the middle of the first millennium BCE. They were later referred to as Gauls by the Romans. Celtic tribes had migrated outward from the deep woods of the upper Danube during the previous millennium, gradually moving northwest into Britain and Ireland and southwest into the Iberian Peninsula. 

Celts, also known as Galatians, were also found in central Anatolia, where it is thought that they originated. The numerous Celtic tribes spoke a variety of dialects and never united to form an empire or a unified society. People who invaded a country may have assimilated elements of the local culture, appropriating sacred sites or even certain religious practises from the peoples who lived there. Scandinavian and German settlers intermarried with Celtic people, who held several mythological beliefs in common with them, including an apparent reverence for the: and thunder as divine powers. Because the ancient Celts did not have a written language, what is known about them comes from the writings of Greeks and Romans who lived later in history. Because they were polytheists, the ancient Celts revered and infused divinity into all of nature, which they considered to be sacred and imbued with divinity. 

Gathering in the sugar cane on carts drawn by pairs of oxen in ancient Celts
Gathering in the sugar cane on carts drawn by pairs of oxen in ancient Celts

Despite the fact that as many as four hundred Celtic deities have been named (usually in Latin), the majority of them were local gods, they worshipped a large number of them. The names Belenus and Grannus, both of whom the Romans identified with Apollo, are the most frequently encountered. The god Cernunnos was a stag with horns, and it is possible that he was a god of animals or a god comparable to the Greek Pan. Sucellus wielded a hammer and was revered as a god of agriculture, forests, and intoxicating liquor. The most important Celtic deity was Lug Lámfota, also known as Lug of the Long Hand, who appears in rock carvings in Sweden. Lugh, or Lug as the name is also spelled, was a god of the sun, light, and harvest who lived in ancient Ireland.


Other ancient Celtic deities included a god of healing, a goddess of abundance, and the most famous goddess, Epona, who was depicted mounted on a mare in her most famous representation. Known as the goddess of mares and foals, Epona was also revered as a protector of mounted warriors and travellers travelling by horseback. Epona is also revered as a goddess of fertility and rebirth. The ancient Celts did not build temples because their sacred sites were located outdoors, often along rivers or beside springs, and in sacred groves, particularly among oak trees, according to legend. Burial fields were also considered sacred places by the Celts, and researchers have been able to distinguish different phases of ancient Celtic culture based on the types of graves and burial customs that have been discovered. One of the most important periods is the Tumulus culture of central Europe, which existed between 1600 and 1200 BCE and was characterised by burials in long mounds, known as tumuli. 

The Urnfield culture then developed, lasting until the eighth century BCE and extending from the Baltic Sea to the eastern Mediterranean region. This phase is distinguished by the presence of cemetery fields filled with buried urns containing cremated remains. Warriors with a reputation for being fierce fighters led the Celts in battle, who were ruled by a noble class and led the Celts in battle. Warriors were selected as candidates for Celtic priesthood, and they were required to complete several years of education and training before being ordained. Druids were a priestly class that possessed great authority and had the ability to overrule chiefs and kings, even to the point of putting an end to conflicts and ordering reconciliation. Druids were sages and skilled healers who believed in the existence of an immortal soul and the possibility of reincarnation. A variety of meanings for the term "druid" can be traced back to Latin and Greek ("son of the oak") as well as Proto-Celtic ("steadfast and wise seer"), Old Irish and modern Irish ("magician"), and modern Gaelic ("seer of the future") ("enchanter").


In the words of Julius Caesar, who encountered druids in Gaul and Britain at the end of the first millennium BCE, they knew "a great deal about the stars and celestial motions, and about the size of the earth and universe, and about the essential nature of things, and about the and authority of the immortal gods; and these things they teach to their pupils." Druids were a religious sect that practised astronomy and astrology. In time, classical writers began to compare the druids to astronomers such as the Chaldean astronomers of Babylon and the Pythagoreans, who lived in the sixth century BCE and were known as "those who study everything." 

The teachings and practises of the druids may have been derived from much older cultures, particularly in Britain, Ireland, and western France, where they exerted the greatest amount of influence. The possibility that they performed religious rites at older sacred sites, such as Stonehenge, has been raised by some researchers. Since at least the time of Julius Caesar, who believed that the best druid teachers could be found in Britain, the question of where and how druids were trained has been debated; however, given their purely oral traditions, it appears certain that druidical teaching relied heavily on memorization, as Caesar also reports. 

The druids' education was essential in the training of minstrels and bards, and it was passed down from generation to generation.