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Celtic Religion and Beliefs

The basic Celtic beliefs and superstitions

When humnas cannot control something, they adapt. When they cannot understand something, they fear it. So it was in the Iron Age when Britain was ruled by tribes. Each had their own beliefs and philosophies, but all were very simliar. They could not understand, basic nature as we can today and the weather was the ruling factor in their lives. It decided whether the crops succeded or failed.. How many perished in the hard winters. How many of their livestock died in the snows. The tribes could not understand their surroundings, so they invented gods that they could worship. These gods could be pleased or annoyed by the actions of the people, which in turn had an effect on the well being of the tribe. To upset the gods, could result in a bad harvest and the tribes people would suffer by being short of food. If they made the gods favour them they would have a good harvest and win important battles fought against neighbouring tribes. Even so, the religion of Britain in pre-Roman times was based largely on superstition and tribal stories of ghosts and fears.

Most of the British people were made up of inhabitants whose families had been living in Britain since time began. But further south there had been an influx of foreign blood from Europe due to the constant savage wars that raged, especially between the Gauls and the Germans. These refugees had come to Britain to seek refuge from the turmoil and settle in a land that, they thought being an island, would give them a more peaceful existence.

As Britain became more commercialised and traded with the European neighbours, the infux of Belgic and Gaul immigrants brought new strains of Celtic religion to Britain.

 The Druids

Although the Druids were tribe, they were also a religion. and were the Druids were the most hated of the Celtic races. Both by the neighbouring tribes and moreso by the Romans. Even by the standards of the more aggressive tribes, they were feared and despised. They had originated in Europe where they had been persecuted for their beliefs. The Romans saw them as savage barbarians who sacrificed humans on altars to apease their gods. Human sacrifice was looked upo as the lowest act anyone could perform upon another. The Romans in turn did sacrifice beings. The animals they slaughtered would appease their gods. But human sacrifice would anger them. Yet the Romans would quite openly sacrifice human lives in the arenas as their gladiators fought out their contests to the death. Not to mention the fate that awaited the early Christians in the arenas of Rome.

The Druids fled accross the channel and made their way accross country, into Wales and eventually to the relatively uninhabited island of Angelsey. Here they made their homes and settled hoping for peace and a stable lifestyle. Even though they had several hostile British tribes just a short distance away, they felt safe and secure. That was until the Romans arrived in Britain.

 The Celtic gods

Antenociticus The name of this Celtic god is known from three inscriptions found in a small shrine at Benwell near Newcastle-on-Tyne.

Brigantia "The High One," was patron deity of the Brigantes tribe in northern Britain. Associated with water and springs, she was also a goddess of poetry, learning, prophecy, and divination. Links with Minerva include a spear and globe. Another equivalent is the Irish goddess Brigit, namesake of St. Brigit.

Deae Matres ("Mother Goddesses") Usually seen as a trinity, these fertility goddesses are often shown holding baskets of fruit, bread, or fish. The Deae Matres were also associated with water and sacred springs, and sometimes fused with local water deities such as Bath. Sculptures of the Matres also occur at Cirencester, Lincoln, and London.

Dea Nutrix Another form of Mother Goddess is "nursing mother" (Dea Nutrix). Clay statuettes of this goddess, mass-produced in Gaul and exported to Britain, show the young goddess seated in a high-backed wicker chair nursing one or two infants.

Epona The Celtic horse goddess, popular in Gaul and Germany, spread to a lesser extent to Britain via Roman cavalry troops. She is invoked in a small altar at Carvoran on Hadrian's Wall. While always depicted with horses, Epona is sometimes also shown with grain and a patera (offering bowl), which tie her to fertility and prosperity rituals.

Mogons Dedications to this god, whom the Romans identified with Apollo, occur at several fort sites around Hadrian's Wall, including Netherby, Vindolanda, Risingham, and Old Penrith. Mogons was probably a Germanic import, since the Latin name for Mainz is Mogontiacum.

Rosmerta A Celtic goddess usually found as a companion of the Celtic Mercury in Britain, Germany, and Gaul. She appears on a relief in the Gloucester Museum holding a patera over an altar.

Sulis The patron deity of Bath (Aquae Sulis), she was associated with water, hot springs, and healing. The temple at Bath was dedicated to a composite goddess, Sulis Minerva.

Taranis God of thunder and lightning (taren is Welsh for "thunder"), symbolized by a wheel. Known archaeologically in Gaul and Germany, and mentioned by the Roman poet Lucan in his play Pharsalia, he is linked to Jupiter in an altar from Chester.

Veteris A warrior god, may represent a group of deities. At least seven versions of the same name are recorded in 54 inscriptions, most from the eastern half of Hadrian's Wall between Carvoran and Benwell. Based on the modest quality of these monuments, Veteris seems to represent a lower class cult. While linked at Netherby to the god Mogons, he is not identified with any Roman gods.

"Horned God" This unnamed god was widely dispersed in Britain, especially in the south, where he was frequently linked with the Roman god Mercury. He often appears with two short horns in uninscribed reliefs. Variants in Gaul have stag antlers, with one inscription from Roman Paris identifying him with Cemunnos ("the homed one").

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