Celtic Religion: A Quick Overview of the Past and Present

celtic religion

Paganism is not one, all-encompassing religion. Most pagan belief systems promote the importance of Nature in all Her forms, but their pantheons, forms of worship, and individual practices vary greatly. Followers of Ásatrú value their Norse deities’ might and valor. Hellenists adhere to the classic beliefs of the Ancient Greeks.

Then, there are the Celts.

The Celtic religion is steeped in mystique and glamour. It’s hardly a wonder why. Between their graceful and guttural language that seems made for magic and power and the ethereal beauty of their home in the British Isles and Ireland, it’s impossible to think of the Celts as mundane.

Read more to discover the nature of the Celtic faith.

History of the Celts

Celtic paganism is not isolated to Scotland and Ireland. As most Europeans know, the Celtic people originated in Western Europe between Spain, France, and Germany. Many of them stayed in this region, but the people we most commonly think of as Celts migrated to the British Isles.

The Ancient Romans referred to the continental European group as the Gauls. Collectively, both groups called themselves the Celts.

The origin of the name “Celt” has been lost to history, but etymologists have tracked it to ancient words meaning “strong” and “brilliant”. This makes sense given the group’s warriorlike spirit. They revered nature as the greatest force of all, but they were hardly the peaceful Hippies of the modern era. The Celts routinely waged war on each other and other groups. According to some sources, they even practiced human sacrifice.

Celtic Beliefs

The Celtic people did not follow a single religion. Each geographical subset, from the Welsh to the Gaelic, worshipped in a different way.

Some Celts followed the Ancient Roman pantheon, giving each of the gods a new name while keeping their primary characteristics. One example is Dispater, God of the Celtic Underworld, who bore numerous similarities with Pluto and Hades. Other gods had conjoined names, one that represented the Ancient Greek or Roman deity on whom they were based and one unique to the Celtic mythos (ex. Apollo Cunomaglus).

Other Celts followed their own gods and goddesses. Gaelic Celts (i.e. those in modern-day Ireland and Scotland) worshipped the Tuatha Dé Danann, a pantheon of deities who often took the forms of animals and nature. A notable example is Dagda, the Father of All, who typically appeared as a stag.

Welsh Celts worshipped a similar, nature-based pantheon, but their deities were wholly unique from those of their Gaelic and Gaulish counterparts. Rhiannon is, perhaps, the most famous, if only because of Stevie Nicks. The actual Celts of Ancient Wales favored Branwen and Ceridwen, the goddesses of love and resurrection respectively. Still, this proves that the Welsh strongly favored their female deities.

There are, however, a few commonalities between each religion. Like we noted earlier, they all emphasized the importance of communing with nature. This reflects a larger Shamanistic practice.

Celtic Shamans

For the Ancient Celts, Shamans (also called Druids) were religious leaders. These Shamans believed in multiple, overlaying dimensions that interact with one another where nature is most powerful and, thus, the barriers are thinnest. These gaps included physical locations like rivers, hills, and forests and specific times like the full moon or an eclipse.

The Shamans recognized these alternate dimensions as sources of great magical ability, both good and ill. Using their immense knowledge of natural order, Shamans were able to mentally (or, for a lucky few, physically) traverse to these other planes of existence to gain better insight into our own world. This included the ability to perform magic to alter the weather, heal the sick, and transfigure animals.

Faeries are not fairies. The latter calls to mind cute, mischievous characters like Tinkerbell and Puck. The former are formidable spirits that follow a code of morality completely foreign to human understanding.

Like the worlds from which they hailed, faeries were capable of performing great feats of magic. As such, the Celtic people—Shamans and citizens alike—often sought the faeries for aid. This often required some sort of bargain or sacrifice, as faeries were not exactly famous for performing acts of charity unprompted.

Celtic Religion Today

Nowadays, most people whose ancestors followed the Celtic religion identify as Christian, specifically Catholic. This is largely because of the influence of Christian saints like St. Patrick who famously pushed for religious conversion in the British Isles.

That doesn’t mean that the original Celtic faith is dead. Like the aforementioned Ásatrú and Hellenism, the Celtic religion has experienced a resurgence in the last few decades. These modern adherents usually refer to their faith as Celtic Neopaganism.

Like their ancestral counterparts, Celtic Neopagans follow a number of different pantheons. Some favor the mystical figures of Ancient Wales, while others prefer the Tuatha Dé Danann of Ireland and Scotland. Others still combine these pantheons, sometimes even with other ancient polytheistic religions.

However, the majority of Celtic Neopagans do not worship any deities. Their beliefs are less religious and more spiritual, like the path taken by Buddhists and Shintoists. For them, the natural world itself is the source of all creation, and, as such, is the only creator worthy of devotion.

Get in Touch with the Metaphysical

The faith of the Ancient Celts continues to inspire modern spirituality and New Age practices. If you are interested in learning more about the Celtic religion—or, perhaps, gaining some natural insight of your own—please check out our site. Our experts are carefully vetted to ensure the best quality answers for all of life’s questions.

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