Animals in Celtic Life and Myth

Animals in Celtic Life and Myth

Animals in Celtic Life and Myth

Animals in Celtic Life and Myth

Synopsis

Animals played a crucial role in many aspects of Celtic life: in the economy, hunting, warfare, art, literature and religion. Such was their importance to this society, that an intimate relationship between humans and animals developed, in which the Celts believed many animals to have divine powers. In Animals in Celtic Life and Art , Miranda Green draws on evidence from early Celtic documents, archaeology and iconography to consider the manner in which animals formed the basis of elaborate rituals and beliefs. She reveals that animals were endowed with an extremely high status, considered by the Celts as worthy of respect and admiration.

Excerpt

This book has come about because of my longstanding fascination for the ancient Celts and, in particular, for Celtic myth and religion, upon which most of my previous research work has been based. In all the sources for the period of the pagan Celts (roughly 600 BC - AD 400), the role of animals in both the secular and the sacred worlds appears to have been dominant and essential. The close association between what were basically rural communities and the natural world manifested itself not only in direct economic dependence upon the land, its crops and herds, but also in the perception of a strong link between animals and the supernatural.

My evidence for animals in the Celtic world, a world which stretched from Ireland in the extreme west to Czechoslovakia in the east and which encompassed much of Europe north of the Alps, ranges between that of archaeology and that of written documents. The archaeological material consists of the remains of the animals themselves in the faunal assemblages of Celtic sites. It embraces also the iconography - the representation of animals - of both the pre-Roman and Romano-Celtic periods. The written material falls into two categories: first, there exist the comments of Graeco-Roman observers of the Celts whom they encountered, directly or indirectly, in such lands as Gaul and Britain. These have the merit of contemporaneity but the defect of bias and misunderstanding. There is always the danger that the so-called ‘civilized’ product of the Mediterranean world will paint a picture of a ‘barbarian savage’ with quaint and primitive customs, and will chronicle alien traditions in such a manner as to foster this image. The second group of documents consists of the written compilations of the oral traditions in Ireland and Wales. These have, again, to be treated with caution since they pertain only to the western periphery of the Celtic world and should not be used as sources for the European mainland. The other problem concerns chronology: the earliest vernacular writings (that is documents actually written in Welsh or Irish as opposed to Latin) date, for the most part, no earlier than the early medieval period: they

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