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The Religion of the Ancient Celts

Page: 93

The divinity of the serpent is proved by the occurrence of a horned serpent with twelve Roman gods on a Gallo-Roman altar.711 In other cases a horned or ram's-headed serpent appears as the attribute of a god, and we have seen that the ram's-headed serpent may be a fusion of the serpent as a chthonian animal with the ram, sacrificed to the dead. In Greece Dionysus had the form both of a bull and a horned serpent, the horn being perhaps derived from the bull symbol. M. Reinach claims that the primitive elements of the Orphic myth of the Thracian Dionysos-Zagreus—divine serpents producing an egg whence came the horned snake Zagreus, occur in dislocated form in Gaul. There enlacing serpents were believed to produce a magic egg, and there a horned {212} serpent was worshipped, but was not connected with the egg. But they may once have been connected, and if so, there may be a common foundation both for the Greek and the Celtic conceptions in a Celtic element in Thrace.712 The resemblances, however, may be mere coincidences, and horned serpents are known in other mythologies—the horn being perhaps a symbol of divinity. The horned serpent sometimes accompanies a god who has horns, possibly Cernunnos, the underworld god, in accordance with the chthonian character of the serpent. In the Cùchulainn cycle Loeg on his visit to the Other-world saw two-headed serpents—perhaps a further hint of this aspect of the animal.

In all these instances of animal cults examples of the tendency to make the divine animal anthropomorphic have been seen. We have now to consider some instances of the complete anthropomorphic process.

2.

An old bear cult gave place to the cult of a bear goddess and probably of a god. At Berne—an old Celtic place-name meaning "bear"—was found a bronze group of a goddess holding a patera with fruit, and a bear approaching her as if to be fed. The inscription runs, Deae Artioni Licinia Sabinilla.715 A local bear-cult had once existed at Berne, and is still recalled in the presence of the famous bears there, but the divine bear had given place to a goddess whose name and symbol were ursine. From an old Celtic Artos, fem. Arta, "bear," were derived various divine names. Of these {213} Dea Artio(n) means "bear goddess," and Artaios, equated with Mercury, is perhaps a bear god.716 Another bear goddess, Andarta, was honoured at Die (Drôme), the word perhaps meaning "strong bear"—And- being an augmentive. Numerous place-names derived from Artos perhaps witness to a widespread cult of the bear, and the word also occurs in Welsh, and Irish personal names—Arthmael, Arthbiu, and possibly Arthur, and the numerous Arts of Irish texts. Descent from the divine bear is also signified in names like Welsh Arthgen, Irish Artigan, from Artigenos, "son of the bear." Another Celtic name for "bear" was the Gaulish matu, Irish math, found in Matugenos, "son of the bear," and in MacMahon, which is a corrupt form of Mac-math-ghamhain, "son of the bear's son," or "of the bear."

Similarly a cult of the stag seems to have given place to that of a god with stag's horns, represented on many bas-reliefs, and probably connected with the underworld. The stag, as a grain-eater, may have been regarded as the embodiment of the corn-spirit, and then associated with the under-earth region whence the corn sprang, by one of those inversions of thought so common in the stage of transition from animal gods to gods with animal symbols. The elk may have been worshipped in Ireland, and a three antlered stag is the subject of a story in the Fionn saga.720 Its third antler, like the third horn of bull or boar, may be a sign of divinity.


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