The Celtic Web Site
The Celts seem to have shared a body of religious belief - or at least "uniformity of religious idiom that enables historians to speak of a Celtic religion." (http://www.eliki.com/ancient/myth/celts/), despite their widespread geographical dispersal. In the absence of written Celtic sources, information on the details of these beliefs have to be derived from survivals of oral traditions rarely transcribed before the middle ages.
It is made even more difficult to distinguish the original stories and myths from later additions, because:
- The people who identify themselves as celtic in modern Europe maintain story-telling traditions that build on and adapt the old myths but make it hard to date any story
- The Celtic myths have become part of the European cultural tradition since the days of Mallory and Morte d'Arthur. Much of our Celtic myth is actually a medieval. elaboration
- The Victorians elaborated Celtic mythology and historical Celts in the context of a cultural agenda of empire building
Therefore, Celtic myths are not necessarily the mythical stories of the pre-Roman Celts but each new generation rewrites them in terms of their own culture and values
Present knowledge of Celtic beliefs comes from Brittany, Ireland and Wales, outposts of Europe in which Celtic traditions survived the longest after the roman triumph.
The basic components of Celtic myth are the works of gods and goddesses, often reflecting worship of a mother goddess, the deeds of heros and strange encounters with animals.
The next few paragraphs will mention a few characters in Celtic myth and a little about them.
The hound of Ulster. A central character in the Ulster cycle of stories. A hero from the northern part of Ireland, representing a heroic warrior. He had three different colours of hair. The BBC described him as:
Brave youngster, fathered by a sky god, chokes dog with ball, changes his name and single handedly faces invading army in war over prize bull.
The BBC refers to obvious similarities with Achilles, including half mortal and half-immortal parentage, reckless courage and raging anger (he is also likened to the Incredible Hulk).
The story of his fight with Queen Maeve over a brown bull is the oldest vernacular story in Europe according to the BBC. Cuchulain changed his name from Setanta after he killed a ferocious dog - owned by a smith called Cullain -and agreed to take its place as Dog of Cullain and guard of Ulster.
In one story, Cuchulain killed his own son by a Scottish woman in error, using the barbed spear (Gae Bolga) he had learned to use in Scotland.
Cuchulain was mortally wounded by a spear blow from the King of Munster. He continued to fight on after gathering up his intestines and lashed himself to a stone so that he could meet death while standing. The King of Muster Lugaid cut his head off. However Cuchulain's sword cut Lugaid's arm off as it fell from Cuchulain's dead body.