Celts and the Classical World

By David Rankin | Go to book overview

14

Religion and the Druids

Julius Caesar remarked that the whole Gallic nation was devoted to religion and superstition (BG 6.16). I do not propose to illustrate this statement with a catalogue of Celtic deities or of divine names which interact and interlock with each other and with those of Rome. As in the blending of parts of the Greek pantheon with that of Rome, the meeting of the Greco-Roman gods and goddesses with those of the Celts was the contact of polytheisms of IE origin which were broadly similar in character. The Romans drew correspondences between the deities and those of the Celts with whom they came in contact. Their procedure, the interpretatio Romana, identified the gods of the two peoples in order to weld the loyalty of Celtic worshippers to Rome. Where possible, in the early Principates, Augustan cults were grafted on to native custom: Augustus had no objection to being worshipped as a god outside Italy. The connection of the druids with the religious cults and practices of the Celtic countries is beyond dispute, but the precise nature of the connection remains unclear. It seems that the Romans did little to encourage the continuance of whatever religious influence the druids possessed. They were a dangerous elite. It was safer to entrust the new Augustan graftings to the priestly care of more humble members of the Celtic community. All these topics are related to each other, and I hope to discuss aspects of them which bear upon the theme of this book.

We have mentioned the Celt who supposed that the statue of Minerva which he saw in Massilia was one of his native goddesses. It was not likely that he was guilty of a naïve misapprehension. He was more likely of the view that this was one more manifestation of the multiplex personality of his goddess of war. We know also that some goddesses were personifications of the tribe: Brigantia

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