Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Celtic Culture in Western Europe

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The Celts are commonly thought of as the ancient Irish. But really their civilization covered a much larger area than Ireland. The Celts first appeared in history in the th century BC. They spread into Gaul, the Iberian Peninsula, northern Italy, the Balkans, Asia Minor, Britain, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. By the 5th century BC, their civilization spread into towns in Italy, France, Germany and Switzerland. At the height of their power, their territory stretched from the British Isles to Turkey, but they finally fell to the Romans and Germanic tribes.

Even though they were not all of the same ethnicity they spoke the same language, but had many different dialects. They were one of the greatest skilled cultures of the ancient world experts in agriculture, talented metalworkers, builders of roads and chariots and had some of the most gorgeous artwork of their time. They were also warriors of unparalleled courage and ferocity, feared even by the toughest and cruelest Roman legions. The Celts laid the foundation of western European civilization.

The women were held in the highest regard. Women were as good of warriors as the men. A Celtic woman with her temper raised was a dangerous force to be reckoned with. Throughout Celtic history, it was not uncommon for women to fight alongside the men.

By the 1st century BC, the Romans had begun entering Celtic territory, finally conquering most of their land, with the exception of Scotland and Ireland. Even after this, there were sporadic uprisings. One led by Queen Boadicia in Britain around 61 AD. This uprising nearly destroyed the Roman legions in that country. But the Celtic beliefs were not destroyed until the Christians began to move into the Celtic lands.

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From about 600 B.C. the Celtic peoples had an alphabet, called the Ogham (pronounced owam). The Ogham alphabet was sacred to the Celts and probably used only for special occasions. The Druids knew and used the Greek alphabet for ordinary messages, although the later bards of Wales continued to use Ogham to write down what they could remember of Druidic tradition. Eventually the Christian church forcibly replaced the Ogham alphabet with Latin. With the knowledge of three alphabets it is likely that at some point, at least in Ireland, the Celts began to record their history and legends.

Although it is said that the Celts kept no written records, St. Patrick personally burned almost 180 Irish books written in the Celtic language. This set an example for the Christians who destroyed every piece of Druidic literature they could find. Christian monk-scribes, for unknown reasons, felt that they should record the Celtic myths, even while the missionaries determinedly stamped out belief in the ancient gods and goddesses.

The Celts were an extremely religious society. The teachings of the Druids were to worship the gods and goddesses, do no evil, and be strong and courageous. They believed in reincarnation and transmigration (the transfer of a human soul into and animal or plant form). Their pantheon held a great number of female deities of primary importance- mother goddesses, war goddesses, and peace goddesses. They also had the concept of the triune god, three aspects of a single deity. They did not believe in punishment by the gods and goddesses after death.

The Druids were the Celtic priesthood. There were similar organizations of women, but this changed when the Romans and other patrillineal religions forced change. These women were called Dryads and lived in secret groves. It is thought that they were in existence before the Druids, being part of the very old goddess religions. It is possible that Wicca may have formed when the Druids were driven underground.

The Druids and priestesses were the healers, judges, astronomers, teachers, oracles and religious leaders of the Celtic clans.

The head Druid was the Arch Druid, and his female counterpart was the High Priestess of the Grove. There were special schools for would be initiates. It wasn’t an easy matter to become part of this elite religious community. About 0 years of study were required, slowly working through the exacting levels of the orders. All formal education consisted of teacher recitation and pupil memorization.

The Druids had three divisions within their order the Bards (poets), who wore blue robes; the Ovates (prophets, philosophers), who wore green; and the Druid priests, who wore white. Christian monks later occupied their tonsure.

The Celts were actually a very clean people, using soap long before the Romans did. The life span for the Celtic people was about to age 40. This was considered a lengthy lifespan for a person back then.

Celtic men and women of Britain sometimes wore swirling blue tattoos or paintings on their skin. Almost all Celts played lyres and harps, loved song, music and recitation of legends and epic adventures.

Both men and women loved jewelry. They had beautiful gold, silver, garnet and other assorted precious gems, minerals and metals that they wore and decorated their clothing with. Their clothing had intricate intertwines of artwork embroidered on it.

Celtic women painted their fingernails, reddened their cheeks with roan and darkened their eyebrows with berry juice. They wore their hair long and braided or piled up on the head. Their usual dress was a sleeved tunic tucked into a large, gathered, belted skirt or simply an ankle-length tunic with a belt.

Celtic men on the continental mainland wore trousers with a tunic, but in Britain and Ireland the men wore a thigh-length tunic and a cloak, the ever-present dagger or sword, and leather or fur footgear tied around their legs. Mustaches were common, and the hair shoulder-length. A horned helmet indicated a powerful warrior.

The Celts were a very powerful society. Not a great deal of things can be uncovered about them, because most of their history has been destroyed. But overall, the Celts were an interesting culture that influenced the ways of other cultures.

Conway, D.J. Celtic Magic

Cremin, Adeen. The Celts

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