The Religion of the Ancient Celts


Today we think of Celtic as a wide reference to Irish or Scottish culture and traditions. The Celtics, the islands first significant inhabitants, influenced Irish and Scottish culture, both in the past and the present. Celt traditions, activities, language and laws dictated the way of life in Ireland and Scotland for thousands of years and still governs many aspects of their life today. Both Ireland’s and Scotland’s national language were derived from the Celt language Gaelic. Their national sports and their musical instruments come from the Celts. The rich Irish legacy of art and mythology is attributable to Celtic influence. 

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We have plenty objects and other evidence of the Celts prior lives and time in Ireland and Scotland, but we can only guess at what their lives were like before they started to write things down. Their first writings were in the form of Ogham writing carved on stones and wood, and later in illuminated manuscripts that today’s historians have used to deduce information about this mystical ancient society from the traces they left behind. 

Did you know? 

  • There is no genetic relationship between Vikings and Celts, but they lived next to each other around 1000 BC, and the Celtic culture had a deep influence on ancient Germanic people. Therefore, they have much in common. 
  • The Celts were a people found in Iron Age Europe about 2,500 years ago, and who migrated westwards to Ireland and Scotland, where their descendants remain today.

“Patrick prayed against the “spells of women, smiths, and Druids,” — John Arnott MacCulloch, The Religion of the Ancient Celts 


John Arnott McCulloch is best known as one of Scotland’s pre-eminent scholars on Celtic Religion and Mythology. His most famous works include The Religion of the Ancient Celts and his lengthier The Mythology of All Races. He wrote The Religion of Ancient Celts in 1911, during a lengthy stay in the Isle of Skye. McCulloch thought it would be easier to attempt the ancient religion there than in a busier or more common location, because it is where the old language of the people still survived, and where the Genius Loci (gods of the ancient European people) speaks here and there of things remote and strange. 

In this book, he compares Celtic mythology and religion with the beliefs of early Scandinavian society. Vikings and Norsemen who raided British shores ruled parts of Britain for centuries. The religion of the Scandinavians was the same as the religious beliefs and practices of their fellow Teutonic and Germanic tribes, and their chief deities and religious rituals were like those of Teutonic people anywhere. 

The traditional Celtic type, whether pre-Celtic, Celtic, or Norse, have all spoken a Celtic dialect and exhibit the same venerable Celtic characteristics: vanity, loquacity, excitability, fickleness, imagination, romanticism, fidelity, attachment to family ties, affection for their country, religiosity passing over to superstition, and a high degree of sexual morality.

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