Beliefs and Legends of Celtic Mythology
Although we often think of Ireland in association with the Celts, Celtic lands spread as far central areas of Europe. This area stretched from the regions that are now Spain through Switzerland and even into Turkey. In the early centuries, Celtic mythology survived as a primarily oral tradition, influenced significantly by the geography of its lands. Sagas and legends were passed down from one generation to the next through storytelling; it was only after the Roman conquest that some of these myths were recorded in writing. Even so, this was often done by Christian monks closer to the 11th century, who recorded the stories themselves, but stripped away the original beliefs and earlier religious overtones.
Celtic mythology comes from several regions and different tribes. The bulk of them are from Ireland and also Wales. Additional sources include Cornwall, Scotland, and the French region of Brittany. Celtic mythology is divided into four cycles or groups. The first is the Mythological Cycle that largely details a number of invasions of Ireland by deities or supernatural beings. The second, the Fenian Cycle revolves around the theme of hunting. In the Fenian cycle, a heroic group led by Fionn mac Cumhaill, protects the Irish and Scottish lands. Next, the Ultonian Cycle tells the tale of the Ulaidh tribe through warfare and victory. Finally, the Kings Cycle is a series of inspiring stories based on real kings.
When we look at Celtic mythology today, there are a number of marked similarities between their ancient tales and Christian stories in the Bible. Characters in Irish mythology are varied, but typically include male and female deities, kings and queens, druids or other religious figures, warriors, and animals. Among the most well-known are the Dagda, the chief of other deities and the Morrígan, a goddess of war. These myths were often used as a way of upholding the characteristics and traits that were prized most by the Celts, as well as to demonstrate certain life lessons.
Unfortunately, the long tradition of orally passing down Celtic mythology largely stopped as people in the area were converted to Christianity. Despite this, we can still learn about their incredible stories from writings following the Roman conquests that recorded basic versions of the myths. Indeed, Celtic mythology experienced a revival during the past century. In has even influenced a number of movies, video games, and modern stories such as the Lord of the Rings saga by J. R. R. Tolkien.
Learn more about Celtic mythology, its cycles, characters, and origins from the resources below.
- King Arthur and Celtic Mythology – This explanation demonstrates how much of the Arthurian legends were influenced by earlier Celtic mythology.
- A Shade of Tain – Known natively as Táin Bó Cúailnge, this traditional Irish epic revolves around a war spurred by the attempted thief of a bull.
- Animals in Celtic Myths – Read how animals were featured in Celtic mythology as important symbols of the ancient culture.
- Celtic Myths – This collection of articles discusses Celtic mythology, as well as the various symbols and elements it uses.
- Mythological Cycles – Learn about the four main cycles and themes of Celtic mythology.
- Celtic Deities – This table outlines all of the Celtic deities along with details on what they symbolize.
- Celts and Trees – The ancient Celts highly valued nature and trees, and they often used trees as symbols of something sacred or connecting in their myths.
- Women in Celtic Mythology – Read about female deities and other women that are featured in Celtic myths.
- An Overview of Celtic Mythology (PPT) – View a slideshow that covers the main points and background of Celtic mythology.
- Translated Myths – Read modern translations of a long list of traditional Celtic myths.
- Numbers and Riddles – Numbers, especially the number three, held a special sacred association for the ancient Celts.
- Celtic Mythology and Religion – This online book explores how the Celt’s mythology was tied to their beliefs and religion.
- The Melusina Story – Melusina, a water nymph in French mythology, is derived Celtic myths of banshees.
- Celtic Myths and Literature – Pick from a huge list of translated Celtic myths from each cycle.
- Celtic Characters – Look up any real or fictional characters from Celtic mythology in this online encyclopedia.
- Themes – This quick guide introduces some common themes found in Celtic myths and literature.
- A Guide to Celtic Myths – Learn about Celtic mythology and how it was recorded despite Christian influence.
- Christian Similarities – Find out why some aspects of Celtic mythology bears remarkable similarities to Christian Biblical stories.
- Beliefs and Myths – Celtic mythology and religion varied somewhat depending on geographical areas.
- Ancestor Deities – In many Celtic myths, there is some overlap between deities and people who were said to be actual ancestors.
By Eoin Kavanagh