History and physical remnants left people with information regarding gods and goddesses of pre-Christian Celtic people. Evidence of their culture were found in ancient places of worship, cult objects, statues, engravings, and so on. Compared with other Indo-European religions, Celtics appeared to be believers of considerable number of deities, which had some form of association with life and the natural world. Beliefs of Celtics were translated in their Roman equivalent until the advent of Christianity. In case of Celtic art, finding depictions of deities is difficult, and even the hard to find ones are cannot be identified right away. In the post-conquest period, images of Celtic gods became more prevalent. There were even some works that bore names of deities. People of this century should thank the Latin writers for leaving information on Celtic religion behind. Associations had been established regarding ancient Celtic deities and some characters in early medieval Irish and Welsh literature.
The most notable passage for Celtic gods of Gaul can be found in Commentarii de Bello Gallico by Julius Caesar. In this work, Caesar identifies six Celtic gods and their functions. According to him, Mercury was the most honored god, and this was proven by abundance of his images produced. This god was said to be the one behind the creation of all arts, and he was also known as patron god of travelers and merchants. Mercury was also considered god of commerce and gain. Gauls were also very fond of Apollo, who was said to eliminate diseases, whereas Mars was the one who controlled wars. Jupiter was ruler of heaven, and Minerva was goddess of handicrafts. Caesar also wrote that Dis Pater was the ancestor of these gods.
As was observed, Caesar addressed Celtic gods using their Roman equivalents, adding more difficulty in discovering Gaulsih gods and their equals in insular literature. Caesar also included schematics of gods and their functions that is quite different from that indicated in vernacular literary. Still, his work was valuable evidence of Celtic deities.
The gods identified by Caesar were also frequently found in records of Gaul and Britain. In some cases, their names were coupled with Celtic theonyms and epithets. Some examples include Lenus Mars, Mercuary Visucius, Jupiter Poeninus, and Sulis Minerva. Unsycretised theonyms, including Rosmerta, Sulevia, Sirona, and Epona, were also used. In general, several hundred names with hint of Celtic can be found in Gaul culture. Most were discovered only once, indicating that Celtic gods were more prevalent at local and tribal level than national. People who believed this assumption normally cite a god named “Teutates,” which they consider “god of the tribe.”
CHARACTERISTICS OF CELTIC DEITIES
Romans were known for depicting numerous gods and goddesses through images and inscriptions. Meanwhile, in Celtic world, some deities were widely praised, whereas others were only recognized in specific religions or localities. Meanwhile, some local deities tended to be more popular than supra-regional gods. For instance, Sequana, a local Burgandian healing goddess, was more popular in east-central Gaul than Matres, who was more popular in the entirety of Britain, Gaul, and the Rhineland.
Some of the deities that were more popular in wider regions include Matres, Cernunnos, and Epona. These mother-goddesses were usually presented as triad in numerous parts of Britain, Gaul, and on the Rhine.
Meanwhile, the sky-god, Cernunnos, was depicted with some variations.
Some deities were identified at regional, tribal, or sub-tribal levels. For example, the Remi of northwest Gaul were known for their stone carvings featuring triple-faced god with common facial features and remarkable beards. In the Iron Age, the Remi used coins featuring three-faced person. On the other hand, the Treveri were known for worshipping Lenus. Lenus was most venerated at tribal capital of Trier but was also worshipped in other areas, including Chedworth in Gloucestershire and Caerwent in Wales.
Meanwhile, a number of Celtic divinities were also only popular in certain localities, and only one shrine was normally attributed to them. These spirits were considered governing spirits of places where they were venerated. In Gaul, at least 400 names of Celtic gods were identified but 300 of them were only discovered once. For instance, Sequana was only known in her spring shrine near Dijon, whereas Sulis was also known in Bath. At Alesia in Burgundy, people worshipped the diving couple, Ucuetis and Bergusia. Noden, a British god, had a great sanctuary at Lydney. Meanwhile, Cocidius and Belatucadrus had followings in areas nearby Hadrian’s wall. Other gods had names that were derived from names of places where they were venerated. For example, Vosegus supposedly ruled over mountains of Vosges, whereas Luxovius and Vasio presided over Luxeuil and Vasio, respectively.
DEITIES WHO ARE COUPLES
Some Celtic gods were known as couples, including Rosmerta and Mercury, Nantosuelta and Sucellos, Sirona and Apollo Grannus, Borvo and Damona, and Mars Loucetius and Nemetona.
KINDS OF DEITIES
One common character in Gaulish iconography is that of antlered deity sitting cross-legged. This god is commonly known as Cernunnos and depicted a few times on Pillar of the Boatmen, a Montagnac inscription, and a couple of inscriptions Seinsel-Relent. Meanwhile, this god is also represented in other forms, such as the one at Val Camonica in Italy and the famous plate A of the Gundestrup Cauldron.
Healing deities are normally linked with thermal springs, healing wells, herbalism, and light.
One very popular healing deity is Brighid, the triple goddess of healing, poetry and smithcraft and is popularly associated with healing springs and wells. Though less popular, Airmed is also Irish healing goddess linked to not only healing wells but herbalism as well.
Meanwhile, Belenus is popular Romano-Celtic god in southern France and northern Italy. Apollo Granus is more popular in central and eastern Gaul and is said to have a companion in the person of the goddess, Sirona. On the other hand, Bormo/Borva is Celtic healing deity linked to popular thermal springs, including Bourbonne-les-Bains and Bourbon-Lancy.
Some popular sun gods include Lugh and Belenos. However, such category was based on the Roman god, Apollo. Thus, some people are criticizing their credibility as sun gods.
Grian is name of the sun in Irish, though the denoted gender is female. This god is usually considered synonymous with another deity, Aine. In other cases, the names are considered as two different gods who are sisters. Etain is another god name associated with the sun. Meanwhile, some argue that Epona also has solar origins though her character become more lunar because of Roman syncretism.
The British Sulis is equivalent to Greek Helios and Indic Surya, which are known solar deities. Sulevia is another popular god assumed to be a solar goddess and is probably unrelated to Sulis.
SACRED WATER DEITIES
Brighid is a famous goddess in Ireland with a number of holy wells dedicated to her. Some wells are also dedicated to Minerva in Britain and many Celtic areas. Minerva was identified with Sulis, a popular goddess of thermal springs.
At Carrawbrugh, Icovellauna is a popular spring goddess among the Treveri and Coventian, whereas Damona and Bormana are normally associated with the spring-god Borvo.
Some goddesses were associated with rivers; they include Sequana, Boann (River Boyne), Matrona (the Marne), Sinann (River Shannon), Souconna, and Belisama.
As for male water gods, one popular character is Manannan and his father Lir, who is considered god of ocean. Meanwhile, Nodens is a known god of healing, the sea, hunting, and dogs.
Borvo is healing deity linked to bubbling spring waters and he is more popular in Lusitanian and Celtic polytheism. Condatis is the god of river confluences in Britain and Gaul, whereas Luxovius presided over waters of Luxeuil. Irish had their own god of healing, Dian Cecht, who was said use the fountain of healing in treating people. Dian Cecht also supposedly concocted the name of River Barrow. Grannus is more popularly linked with healing thermal and mineral springs, spa, and the sun.
Epona is a popular horse goddess who became pretty much popular in majority of Europe. Her counterparts include the Welsh Rhiannon, the Irish Echraidhe, and Macha.
Macha is a threefold goddess normally associated with wars and power. She was considered in some cases as daughter of triple goddess of battle and slaughter, the Morrigan.
Though Atepomarus was considered healing god in Celtic Gaul, his name is occasionally translated as “Great Horseman.”
Mother goddesses are quite popular in Celtic beliefs. Dedications to Matrea or Matronae can be found in Cologne in the Rhineland.
In Welsh tradition, some popular mother characters include Don, Rhiannon, and Modron, whereas Danu, Boand, Macha and Ernmas are popular among the Irish. Though considered as mother goddesses, motherhood of these goddesses was never tackled in detail, and they are just mentioned to having children.
As described by Caesar, Mercury was possibly the most popular god among Gauls. Proof of this popularity were various images and inscriptions bearing Mercury’s name. Mercury is also associated with some Celtic epithets, including Visucius, Cissonius, and Gebrinius. Meanwhile, Lugus is another popular god name and origin of other notable monikers, including Lyon, Laon, and Loudun in France, Leiden in the Netherlands, and Lugo in Galicia. Equivalents of Lugu in Irish and Welsh are Lugh and Lleu, respectively. Caesar described Lugh as inventor of all arts, whereas Lleu was supposed to be a master of at least 20 crafts. The Battle of Magh Tuireadh describes the story behind Lugh’s claim on being a master of all arts and crafts. Meanwhile, some inscriptions in Spain and Switzerland are dedicated to Lugoves, the supposedly triple form of Lugus.
Lugh was also assumed to have started the festival of Lughnasadh, which served to commemorate his foster-mother, Tailtiu, every 1st August.
Common depictions of Jupiter show him holding a thunderbolt on one hand and a wheel on the other. Scholars think that the wheel represents the god Taranis. Taranis is possible counterpart of Taran of Welsh mythology and Turenn, the father of three gods of Dana in Irish mythology.
Teutatis or Toutatis is one of three gods first described by the poet Lucan. The other gods were Esus and Taranis. History has it that sacrifices were made to Teutatis by plunging people headfirst into vat filled with unknown liquid.
Esus was discovered in the Pillar of the Boatmen. There, he was depicted as an axeman cutting branches from trees.
GODS WITH HAMMERS
Sucellos was normally depicted as bearded man holding a hammer. He is accompanied by Nantosuetta. Combined portrayal of their characters depicts prosperity and domesticity. Sucellos is also commonly associated with Silvanus, who was popular in southern Gaul.
GODS OF STRENGTH AND ELOQUENCE
Ogmios is god known for wielding a club and was commonly identified with Hercules. He was represented as old man bearing a bow and a club. His Irish equivalent was Ogma, another god associated with battles.