the pagan religions of the ancient british isles

vaudevillian-villainess-deactiv  asked:

Hello! I'm trying to find my spiritual path right now. I feel a call towards the Celtic gods, but I don't know any Celtic pagans. Are there any you know of that could help me? Or do you know any reputable sources for Celtic paganism?

Here’s a helpful list from natural-magics:

  • Celtic Folklore on Sacred Texts
  • The Celtic Recon FAQ
  • The Religion of the Ancient Celts (Sacred Texts)
  • Carmina Gadelica by Alexander Carmichael
  • The Celts: A Very Short Introduction by Barry Cunliffe
  • The Celts: A History by Peter Berresford Ellis
  • A Brief History of Druids by Peter Beresford Ellis
  • The Mabinogi and Other Medieval Welsh Tales by Patrick Form
  • Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend by Miranda Green
  • The Druids by Ronald Hutton
  • The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles by Ronald Hutton

As well as a list of the Caw Squad (Helpful Celtic pagans):


History of Samhain (Oct. 31st–Nov. 1st)

“The four great points of the ancient Irish year are neatly set out in the Ulster tale of the wooing of Emer by Cu Chulainn. Among various tasks which she set him before he could wed her, was to go sleepless from ‘Samhain, when the summer goes to its rest, until Imbolc, when the ewes are milked at spring’s beginning’…In the Yellow Book of Lecan, a high medieval text preserving some early medieval tales, it is said that the common people called Samhain 'the feast of Mongfind’ instead. Legend made Mongfind a witch-queen married to an early king of Tara, but fact that the same source states that the people still prayed to her on 31 October indicates that we are dealing here with another goddess: queens and heroines were not prayed to, or given commemorative feasts…

"Of the four festivals, there is no doubt whatsoever from the literature that Samhain, which began the year in November, was the most important. Tribal assemblies were held then, rulers and warriors conferred and laws were made. It was also the time at which humans were most susceptible to divine and supernatural interference. At Samhain heroic and royal figures met fated deaths or enchantments. Spirits, monsters or fairies attacked royal capitals, with physical destruction or with evil spells. Divine women allowed themselves to be wooed by human males. Supernatural beings fought or mated with each other, while warriors, gathered in royal halls, made important boasts or challenges. Magical gifts were presented to kings, or things stolen magically from them. It is worth stressing that most of these occurrences took place in daylight, so the whole day of 1 November was regarded as exciting and perilous, and not just (as in modern times) the night before…

"There is the case of Hinton St George, a Somerset village through which, upon the last Thursday evening of October, the children carry hollowed-out mangel-wurzels containing candles. The shells of the vegetables are carved with faces or designs, some of great beauty. They are called 'punkies,’ and the event bears the name 'Punky Night’. The popular books upon English folklore and calendar customs published during the 1960s tended to describe thias a vestige of honouring of vegetation spirits at Samhain. At Hinton, as at Killorglin, I was given two explanations by the villagers for what they were doing. One lady told me that the word punkie came from 'spunkie’, and the word used in mid-Somerset for the little flames of ignited marsh gas known elsewhere as will-o’-the-wisps or jack-o’-lanterns. She went on to say that they were believed to be the souls of dead babies, and that the Hinton tradition was designed originally to honour and to placate them at the season of Samhain. Others among the villagers were quite irritated by her ideas. They agreed upon the origin of the name, but insisted that the punkies were first carved as genuine lanterns, to guide the men of Hinton back from a fair held in late October at a nearby village. Their families would turn out to welcome them home, and the procession and merrymaking became a festivity in its own right which endured after the feast ceased to be held. Nobody in Hinton that night had much time for the idea of vegetation spirits…

"There is ample evidence of the importance of Samhain in all the modern Celtic regions, namely Ireland, Man, the Highlands and Western Isles, Wales and Cornwall, though the focus has been shifted back on to the previous night, called in English Hallowe'en. The rites and festivities concerned revolve around feasting, bonfires and divination. By contrast, there were no comparable celebrations associated with that date in most of England and some of Scotland until modern America helped to transmit the Irish festival to Britain. So it really does appear to have been a feast known all over the Iron Age British Isles, with no equivalent among the Anglo-Saxon invaders…

"Nearly 4,000 years were to pass…Over the same period, several major ancient festivals were Christianized by being awarded to particular patrons: thus, Samhain’s importance was recognized by its transformation into All Saint’s Day…

"One of the most blatant translations of an offering to a pagan deity persisted on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides until the mid-seventeenth century. At Hallowe'en fishermen would go down to the shore, kneel at the edge of the waves and repeat the Christian Paternoster. One of them waded in up to his waist, poured out a bowl of ale and asked a mysterious being called Shoney (Johnny) for a good catch over the next year. Then they went to St Malvey’s chapel and sat in silence for a while before making merry in the fields for the rest of the night.”

The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles by Ronald Hutton


Palaeolithic Female Figurines

Photos from the American Museum of Natural History

“To a student of prehistoric religion, the earliest significant works are a group of about thirty-five female figurines found on twelve sites scattered from the Pyrenees to Siberia. In view of this vast geographical range, their similarity is striking. All are relatively small, about the length of a human hand, and all are footless and faceless with swollen breasts, buttocks and/or abdomens. Within this style there are some variations. They are fashioned in clay, ivory or stone. Some are fat, some apparently pregnant, and some have the breasts and buttocks alone emphasized. Those from western and central Europe tend to be found singly and without any context, while the Russian examples are found ore often in groups and on settlement sites. At Kostienki on the river Don, three were found in a niche in a hut wall. The situation could suggest that they were deities in a family shrine, but as they had been thrown there after being broken it looks more likely that they were being discarded or hidden. At Yeliseevici, on t he river Desna, one was found among three mammoths’ skulls arranged in a circle. At Laussel in the Dordogne, France, three reliefs of women holding objects were found carved upon boulders in a rock shelter. All are similar in style to the figurines and the best preserved holds what experts upon the fauna of the Palaeolithic have always identified as an upward-curving bison horn, marked with thirteen lines. The woman’s left hand rests upon her abdomen, and she has been painted red, which, as suggested above, seems to have been the colour most often connected with sacred or arcane matters in the Palaeolithic.

No collection of male images is associated with all these females, the only masculine forms being a torso with a spear carved at Laussel and a crude and mutilated statuette from Czechoslovakia. There is also a scene engraved in the sequence at Lausesel which may show an act of human copulation, though it is not plain enough to afford any certainty. The only other evidence relating to these figurines is their dating, and here another striking similarity is revealed: all those from context which could be dated may be attributed to the centuries between about 25,000 and about 23,000 BC. All were therefor apparently produced in a relatively short period of the Palaeolithic, that in which the ice sheets were starting to advance southward for the last time. This fact would account for their complete absence from Britain, which the ice was rendering uninhabitable.

So what did they mean? Their earliest discoverers preempted the question by calling them ‘Venuses’, a name which has stuck and which indicated that they were representations of a goddess. For the first seventy years of this century it seemed to be a scholarly orthodoxy that they were representations of a universal prehistoric Earth Mother. This interpretation (which will be discussed further in the next chapter) was not the product of accumulating evidence but a theoretical construction. The figurines were slotted into a preexisting system of thought much as earlier generations had considered Palaeolithic flints to be the discarded weapons of elves. Unlike 'elf-shot’, the notion of this Mother Goddess is not susceptible of proof or disproof, but there have always been prehistorians who have noted that the Old Stone Age statuettes have no features to mark them off as divine or majestic. On the other hand, the degree of effort invested in them suggests that they were far more than Palaeolithic pinups. any explanation of them needs to take into account the fact that they were apparently a feature of a relatively short span of the Old Stone Age, marked by the cooling of the climate. If the Earth Mother theory is correct, was a cult of this deity related tot he advance of the ice? This seems doubtful because the change would have occurred so slowly that it could hardly have been perceptible to the humans of the time. Were the people, instead, working magic with these images to increase their own fertility and improve their numbers? Or to decrease them, as a hunter-gatherer groups in history have been more concerned to limit their population to a level which the environment could support? The most recent suggestion, made by Clive Gamble, is that they were exchanged as tokens when tribes or clans intermarried as part of a shifting territorial relationship of groups migrating before the ice-cap. This is possible, but the nature of the images themselves demands a context. The Laussel carvings were not tokens but sen to have formed a ceremonial centre. Why were the female figurines there holding objects? Was the bison horn, which is the only object now distinct, an emblem of virility? Or of the moon, or of a wish to have the herds of the animals increased? Was the fact that thirteen lines were drawn upon it of particular significance? And he figure among the skulls at Yeliseevici also suggests the focus of a ritual. Was this to do with hunting the beasts concerned, or were they themselves symbolic of a quality? Or were their heads simply decorative? The blank faces of the figurines parallel the enigma which they pose.”

Ronald Hutton, in The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles.