The Religion of the Ancient Celts

Page: 6

The relation of the Celtic church to paganism was mainly intolerant, though not wholly so. It often adopted the less {7} harmful customs of the past, merging pagan festivals in its own, founding churches on the sites of the old cult, dedicating sacred wells to a saint. A saint would visit the tomb of a pagan to hear an old epic rehearsed, or would call up pagan heroes from hell and give them a place in paradise. Other saints recall dead heroes from the Land of the Blessed, and learn the nature of that wonderland and the heroic deeds

"Of the old days, which seem to be

Much older than any history

That is written in any book."

Reading such narratives, we gain a lesson in the fine spirit of Christian tolerance and Christian sympathy.

Footnote 2:(return)

Some writers saw in the bardic poetry a Druidic-esoteric system and traces of a cult practised secretly by the bards—the "Neo-Druidic heresy"; see Davies, Myth. of the Brit. Druids, 1809; Herbert, The Neo-Druidic Heresy, 1838. Several French writers saw in "Druidism" a monotheistic faith, veiled under polytheism.

Footnote 3:(return)

Livy, v. 46; Cæsar, vi. 16; Dion. Hal. vii. 70; Arrian, Cyneg. xxxv. 1.

Footnote 4:(return)

Cæsar, vi. 15, cf. v. 12, "having waged war, remained there and cultivated the lands."

Footnote 5:(return)

Cf. Pliny, HN xvii. 7, xviii. 18 on the wheeled ploughs and agricultural methods of Gauls and Britons. Cf. also Strabo, iv. 1. 2, iv. 5. 5; Girald. Camb. Top. Hib. i. 4, Descr. Camb. i. 8; Joyce, SH ii. 264.




Scrutiny reveals the fact that Celtic-speaking peoples are of differing types—short and dark as well as tall and fairer Highlanders or Welshmen, short, broad-headed Bretons, various types of Irishmen. Men with Norse names and Norse aspect "have the Gaelic." But all alike have the same character and temperament, a striking witness to the influence which the character as well as the language of the Celts, whoever they were, made on all with whom they mingled. Ethnologically there may not be a Celtic race, but something was handed down from the days of comparative Celtic purity which welded different social elements into a common type, found often where no Celtic tongue is now spoken. It emerges where we least expect it, and the stolid Anglo-Saxon may suddenly awaken to something in himself due to a forgotten Celtic strain in his ancestry.

Two main theories of Celtic origins now hold the field:

(1) The Celts are identified with the progenitors of the short, brachycephalic "Alpine race" of Central Europe, existing there in Neolithic times, after their migrations from Africa and Asia. The type is found among the Slavs, in parts of Germany and Scandinavia, and in modern France in the region of Cæsar's "Celtæ," among the Auvergnats, the Bretons, and in Lozère and Jura. Representatives of the type have been {9} found in Belgian and French Neolithic graves. Professor Sergi calls this the "Eurasiatic race," and, contrary to general opinion, identifies it with the Aryans, a savage people, inferior to the dolichocephalic Mediterranean race, whose language they Aryanised.7 Professor Keane thinks that they were themselves an Aryanised folk before reaching Europe, who in turn gave their acquired Celtic and Slavic speech to the preceding masses. Later came the Belgæ, Aryans, who acquired the Celtic speech of the people they conquered.