In the beginning . . .
Well, no one knows what actually happened in the beginning or what our ancient ancestors believed, exactly. All we can honestly do is reconstruct a lineage using similarities in art, what writing remains, and archeological artifacts.
What we can surmise is that at some point we, as humans, stopped being total savages and started paying attention to our divine inner Being. This is the point where the law of the jungle is transcended by rudimentary justice--that which seeks to keep the strong from getting over on the weak every time, though we still have a long way to go on that score.
A very interesting book on that subject is The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes. He writes a fascinating account of how it all may have happened. One particular interesting section deals with the mysterious region in our brains that seem to access verbalizations from some other consciousness. I know, that makes him sound a little like a wack-job but I assure you Jaynes is the real thing (as are all the books and authors I recommend here). To find out more about Julian Jaynes visit JulianJaynes.org*
Beyond surmising what took place at the dawn of time to start us on our long road to spiritual awareness, we can study the early records of the Celts, who as a group, would eventually play such a major influence on our Wiccan beliefs. This will be our journey then, to discover what we may of the Celts as a people and what they believed.
First, the Celts are not exclusively Irish, though the Emerald Isle is where the tradition is most celebrated. To this day, the living language of the Celts can still be heard in places like Wales, the western shores of Eire, the Scottish Highlands, western Cornwall, and Bretagne on the northwest coast of France. But the roots run far deeper.
6,000 years ago the forerunners of the Celts invented the Old Europe Script, as it is now known, to became the world’s earliest proto-language. Found largely inscribed on clay vessels, the first ever written sentence reads:
“The Bear Goddess and the Bird Goddess are the Bear Goddess indeed”.
According to Dr. Toby D. Griffin the sentence means that the Bear Goddess and the Bird Goddess have merged into a single deity. This deity later became the Greek Goddess Artemis and the Celtic Goddess Artio--from which we derive the word “art”—the Bear Goddess Herself. Some of the symbols of the Old European Script survive today as Wicca symbols.
In addition, Celtic Gods and Goddesses had their counterparts in Eos, Goddess of Dawn, Aphrodite, Goddess of Love, Zeus, Demeter, etc. It is this functional equivalency between pantheon of the ancient world promoted religions tolerance.
But the origins of the Celtic Culture go deeper still.
Where did these early Goddess worshipers come from? It’s believed that they came from a place called Circaesya: the Sea of Grass in what is now the Ukraine. This is where the name "Caucasian" originates.
Where did the Circaesir come from? Apparently, from a people called the Aesya, who gave their name to the continent of Asia, though they were not Asiatic as we now know them.
15,000 years ago, our most distant ancestors apparently had light hair and eyes.
But where did they come from?
That remains quite a mystery, since before that man apparently evolved out of Africa with dark skin, hair and eyes. There are, however, theories that implicate the "Star People" in the ancestry of the Celts. I don't know . . .
What we do know of these ancient Celtic ancestors is from what remains of their Neolithic settlements in places like Heuneburgand, in what is today Germany, Hallstatt in Austria, La Tene in Switzerland, and literally hundreds of archeological sites across Europe and the British isles.
What we know is that their lands stretched from the Anatolia in Asia Minor (Celtic Galatia) north through the Macedonian Peninsula and the Balkans, Hungary, the Ukraine and central Asia, from the Black Sea up the vast Danube River basin (where the Goddess Danu derives Her name) northern Italy, to eastern France, Spain and Switzerland north of the Alps. Later they would migrate north to the British Isles where they still live today.
In addition to what we learn for their remaining artifacts we know of them from the writings of the Mediterranean peoples, from the Greek and Roman cultures. Unfortunately, these reports were written by men who feared the Celtics and sought to destroy or enslave them.
the Greek historian Herodotus we first hear of the “Keltoi”, which
means “uncivilized” and from where the name “Celts”
may derive, though it may be they were called Celts because of their clothing (the forerunner of the Scottish kilt) which were woven in a plaid weave (also much like the kilt)
The Celts themselves may have called themselves the “Gaedheals”
The things to remember about Herodotus’ The Histories is that he never set foot in Celtic lands and probably plagiarized an earlier historian Hecataeus of Miletus, whose work has not survived. What Herodotus added was the “barbarian’ parts, in which the Celts were vilified as uncivilized.
On the other hand, Aristotle, uses them as examples of bravery in his writings. We know them from Polibius who wrote of their relentless advance on Greece, Italy and Asia Minor.
The Romans knew them and feared them for their sacking of Rome in the fourth century bce. Julius Caesar wrote of them in his Gallic Wars of first hand encounters in Gaul (France). Pliny the Elder wrote of Druid and Celtic medicine.
My personal favorite account of Celtic barbarism is from the Greek geographer Strabo who wrote that the Celts would cage their prisoners in huge wicker straw men which they would then set afire.
Again, the historical writings must be taken with more than a grain of salt. The Celts may or may not have had human sacrifices of prisoners. It was common practice of all ancient cultures. Again, no one knows for sure.
Taken together with the archeological evidence and surviving writings we begin to see a picture of the Celts as a people.
We know from their artifacts that they were skilled in metallurgy, accomplished sculptures in bronze and copper, silver and gold. Besides being the first to write, they perfected and brought into wide use the spoked wheel, they were great miners, and craftsmen, whose creations survive to this day and can be seen in museums throughout the U.K. and Europe.
We know that the Celts were fiercely independent. There was no central government, such as Imperial Rome. There was no mass communications between clans, no dictates from the emperor to the provinces. Each clan or tribe acted independently, united only by a common ideology and basic language.
We know that they did not generally seek war, as did the Romans. Though they were fierce fighters they would often choose to move on instead of defend a territory. The history of the Celts is one of migration, which we will not go into here. This makes their history extremely difficult to follow as they intermingled with the peoples of a new territory rather than subjecting them to the yoke. (For further study of Celtic history see bibliography)
We know their leaders rose to the rank of chieftain by courage and valor. Nor did they retain their position long without support of the clan, the loyalty of the people. In addition to leadership, the chieftains were also responsible for the customary feast, so essential to the Celtic way of life. Here all would gather to drink wine and wheat beer and eat roast pork off the spit. Here the chieftain sat at the center of a round table, often surrounding a caldron flanked by men and women of distinction in order of their importance (which may have been the source of King Arthur’s Round Table).
Essential to the social order at the feast was the “Hero’s Portion”. This was the right of the chieftain to claim the choicest cut of meat for himself. However, this was also a time a usurper could challenge the chieftain for his portion and, in the bargain, the leadership of the clan. When this happened, combat would ensue on the spot with the loser often forfeiting his life. In later Irish literature the stories of Bricriu’s Feast and Datho’s Pig tell of just such occurrences.
Usually, peace prevailed and the feast was marked with nothing more violent than bombastic good cheer. Here the bards would regale the clan with the great heroic songs and sagas of old, some of which survive today in Irish literature. Here the future of the clan would be planned; here boy met girl.
In appearance, the Celts were tall of stature, fair and ruddy of complexion with great fierceness in their eyes—the women no less than the men. Queen Boudicca was said to be terrible of aspect with a raucous sounding voice and a great mass of bright red hair that fell to her knees.
However, over the vast lands of the Celts regional variations flourished. Tacitus wrote of several distinct characteristic appearances of the Britons alone: the inhabitants of Scotland with reddish hair and large limbs, the southern Welsh with swarthy faces and curly hair, to name just two.
Men commonly wore short beards while their chieftains shaved their cheeks but let their mustaches grow over their lip. Both men and women wore their hair long while shaving the rest of their bodies. In addition to their natural light hair color, “. . . they continually wash their hair with lime-wash and draw it back from the forehead to the crown to the nape of the neck,” wrote Julius Caesar of the Britons, “with the result that their appearance resembles that of satyrs or of Pan, for there is so thickened by this treatment that it differs in no way from a horse’s mane.”
Women used mirrors as well as tweezers for plucking stray hairs. They also used makeup, as is mentioned indirectly by the Roman poet Propertius who chides his mistress for painting herself “like a Celt”.
Their religion, unfortunately, is largely a mystery to us. We know the Druids where the priests and judges, teachers and magicians of their clans, though little of their rites and ceremonies remain--this because their knowledge was passed down orally, as was their sacred law. What we do know is that theirs was a religion of unity with nature. The spirits of tree and river, rock and sky where ever-present.
We know of the three Goddesses, the Trinity, who appear in various forms throughout Celtic lands. In Briton the names of the three Mother Goddesses of fertility and plenty are often Morrigan, Macha, and Bodb. Brigit, the bride, also has three aspects.
We know of Morrigan, the Great Queen, or Morrigna, as the Goddess Trinity is known collectively, who is always a personification of the Ancient Fertility Goddess in a direct matriarchal lineage from the dawn of time. Ironically, besides the bringer of life She also is known as Panic, the Raven of Battle, bringer of fear and irrationality, who can undermine the courage of men in times of crisis and sometimes delights in doing so. The image on the right is actually a tattoo, in keeping with the tradition of the Celts.
Male gods too sometimes occur in threes. There’s Lugh and his two brothers or Dagda’s associated with other names, but the male Celtic Deity is usually that of male competence, each the ideal of male strength and accomplishment for a particular clan--this too a reflection of the Horned God of ancient times. (see the Gods and Goddesses of the Wiccan Pantheon).
The Celts believed, as do we of Wicca, that life occurs in the Power generated between the male and female energies. On the holiday of Samhain (Halloween), the God Dagda and the Goddess Morrigan, as ancient fertility goddess, are reunited, thus overcoming the forces of war and chaos while at the same time insuring that the balance of nature has been restored and fertility of the land and its people is renewed.
The religious ceremonies themselves generally occurred in nature. Their invocation prayers, incantation and dance were held in sacred groves deep in the sanctuary of the primeval forest. The Roman poet Lucan writes:
“And there were many dark springs running there,
And grim-faced gods uncouthly hewn by the axe
From the untrimmed tree-trunk rotted to whiteness . . .”
Pliny records one sacred rite:
“They prepare a ritual sacrifice and feast under
and lead up two white bulls whose horns are bound
for the first time on the occasion.
A Druid attired in a white vestment ascends the tree
and with a golden pruning hook cuts the mistletoe
which is caught in a white cloth.”
Ceremonies could also be held in the open in fields or on hillsides, as is the custom for the night of Beltane when the sacred fires are lit to welcome and hasten the season of birth. And of course, sacred temples like Stonehenge and dozens of other surviving to this day throughout the Celtic lands
Water rising up from the earth in a well or spring or a deep shaft dug into the earth was often considered sacred, as it came from the Earth Mother Goddess. At these sites rituals were performed to petition the Goddess’s favor in exchange for a sacrifice, which was often thrown down a shaft or into a well.
The Celts believed, as do we, that the balance of Nature must be maintained. If a favor was granted something must be sacrificed in return. This belief continues in the majority of magyc spells found here and elsewhere.
This is the tradition we follow in Wicca in the direct line of Goddess and God worship in harmony with nature.
However, the route briefly presented here is just one way by which we may have come to be Wiccans. Most of the way is unknown and probably will never be known of our ancient origins. Theirs was a living religion of the flesh and blood, of the earth, the water, air and fire. They would not have seen their belief as a separate part of their existence but the most natural participation in the cycle of life.
But why should we care what a pack of "ignorant savages" did or thought; why is their history important? Because long before we had the means to destroy every living thing on the planet--including ourselves--we were a long shot at best as a species. Human beings aren't nearly as strong as most predators, we can't run as fast, see as well, hear or smell. We don't have sharp claws or big teeth. We had nothing but our God and Goddess to see us through. And that they did. They brought us justice, honor and unity. They brought us courage. They brought us inspiration and invention. In short, all that has made us great, though we as a culture have turned our back on our God/desses. We've lost touch. We no longer have them at our side. We can no longer speak with them. No, we don't need to consult out ancestors to build a bigger SUV, we need to learn from them the way of our destiny, the way of the God/dess. That is why we pursue their story.
As such, much of our journey has been speculative, based on surviving writings and archeological digs but always open to interpretation. We must always be open to other ideas.
For instance, another compelling theory maintains that at least part of the Celtic linage is derived from Lost Tribe of Israel.
According to a translation of Assyrian tablets found in the excavation of the Assyrian Royal Library of Ashurbanipal in ancient Nineveh, states that around 707 BC the “Light Bearers” of the nation of Israel, the lost tribe, escaped their Assyrian overlords and disappeared into the forests of Europe. Plausible? You be the judge: Missing Links Discovered in Assyrian Tablets: Study of Assyrian Tables of Israel -- by E. Raymond Capt
In addition, legion has it that the Ark of the Covenant is buried beneath the coronation stone at Tara.
The point is that our long proud history is one of constant progression, of assimilation, of becoming. Countless generations of men and women throughout the ages have heeded the call of the Goddess and The Horned God, the call to Unity in myriad forms. We need to know who we are. We need not be Irish to know the sacred truth of our Being, or even Celtic. We only need to Be. That, is the lesson of our ancestors.
so may it be