Man's creation Celtic myths?

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Man's creation Celtic myths?

Postby Livio Asta on March 20th, 2012, 6:15 pm

Reading books about Celtic mythology and religion i found speculations about cosmogonic myths (the one concerning Epona, for example) or sociogonic myths, but nothing about the creation of the first man/men. Only the short Caesar's mention about Celts saying that they all come from Dispater; Milesians are said to be the first men who settle in Ireland after the gods, but they are immigrants already living somewhere else.

Nothing like germanic myths, or similar ones in many other populations.

Do you know something more about it?
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Re: Man's creation Celtic myths?

Postby D Rivers on March 21st, 2012, 9:00 am

Caesar's comment about the Gauls being descended from Dispater, as well as Beli and Donn being "ancestor-figures" for the Welsh and Irish, suggest to me that Men are descended from the Gods. I think that druidic belief did not draw a big distinction between the two - perhaps Gods are simply Men who have escaped the Cycle of Rebirth, or maybe they were just the Men of the First Age of the World who lived hundreds of years and were super-tall and super-sexy and super-clever and perfect in every way (in Hindu belief; the Greeks also have a Golden Age in the past, found in Hesiod and Plato). That's my theory anyway.

Another theory is the idea of people being born from some kind of bodily fluid. In Norse myth Men come from the sweat of the Giant Ymir; in Lithuania, there is a story of the Old Man spilling some of his bathwater and that turned into the first man. We might add to this list the birth of Aphrodite from the semen of Uranus which fell into the sea after Zeus cut his balls off. By analogy we might expect to see the same things in Celtic. I do not know of any parallels in Vedic belief however - I think it is always good to look there before trying to come to any conclusion about IE mythology, there are very often very useful parallels.

The final alternative is the idea of some God literally "creating" the first man out of clay like a potter; this is found in Christian mythology as well as I think in the story of Prometheus but I may be misremembering. This is the version I liked originally, but I now think it less likely.
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Re: Man's creation Celtic myths?

Postby Livio Asta on March 21st, 2012, 10:30 am

Thanx for suggestions.

Also in Norse mythology there is a "creation" by the gods: Odin and two others (names vary) find two tree trunks and make of them the first man (Askr = ash tree) and woman (Embla, maybe = elm tree).

Basically, in what i am writing (see another post) i need it for narrative purpose, to fill a gap between "cosmogonic" and "human" tales, even if, as you point out, it is far from being sure that Celts ever had this way of thinking. The distinction men/gods, however, is suggested by the adjective DEUOGDONION = "common to gods and men" attributed to a sanctuary in a bilingual Gaulish/Latin inscription found in Italy.
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Re: Man's creation Celtic myths?

Postby D Rivers on March 28th, 2012, 2:21 pm

That there was a distinction, I agree. But I think that they were considered to be the same "species" in a sense.
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Re: Man's creation Celtic myths?

Postby Edwin Deady on May 3rd, 2012, 2:57 pm

Don't most Indo-European myths include two sorts of Gods? First ones, Titans, Giants, Dwarfs then the second lot of the popular Pantheons?
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Re: Man's creation Celtic myths?

Postby D Rivers on May 4th, 2012, 10:44 am

But the latter gods are the children of the earlier gods, so why shouldn't men by the grandchildren of the latter gods? Don't the Welsh and Irish claim descent from Beli/Donn or Don/Danu?
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Re: Man's creation Celtic myths?

Postby Edwin Deady on May 4th, 2012, 12:00 pm

I see that Titans were said to be children of Gaia and displaced by the Olympians but that is surely just tidying up an actual replacement of one god set by another possibly by a new ruling elite.
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Re: Man's creation Celtic myths?

Postby D Rivers on May 4th, 2012, 1:16 pm

I don't think so... the idea of having two races of gods is found in many Indo-European religions - Norse, Hindu and Irish spring to mind. I can't cite all the parallels because I don't know them off the top of my head and can't be bothered to look them all up. :P I'm very much a novice in comparative mythology...
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Re: Man's creation Celtic myths?

Postby Edwin Deady on May 4th, 2012, 1:21 pm

[quote="D Rivers"]I don't think so... the idea of having two races of gods is found in many Indo-European religions - Norse, Hindu and Irish spring to mind. I can't cite all the parallels because I don't know them off the top of my head and can't be bothered to look them all up. :P I'm very much a novice in comparative mythology...[/quote]
I think we are in agreement about the two races of gods everywhere it is that the winners found ways of bringing earlier people's gods into their systems.
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Re: Man's creation Celtic myths?

Postby Livio Asta on May 4th, 2012, 3:07 pm

Some scholars think so, some others don't. It's also possible that the gods of both generations are indo-european and men, "creating" gods at their own image, imagined dynasties fighting for the power, like among humans; or, in a more "philosophic" way, they symbolize the victory of order over chaos.
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Re: Man's creation Celtic myths?

Postby Edwin Deady on May 4th, 2012, 3:37 pm

Anybody read Votan by John James? How the Aesir began and fell with notes on classical medicine.
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Re: Man's creation Celtic myths?

Postby Neula H on May 7th, 2012, 8:28 am

I wrote a big reply to this topic yesterday, with references and everything, which I then deleted accidentally - grrr! - before my rubbish broadband connection died entirely. Poxy countryside.

Basically, I had a look through Myth, Ritual and Religion by Andrew Lang - great book even though it's 99 years old this year! - in which he covers creation myths from cultures all over the world, with lots of attention paid to Vedic myths - and yes, there are parallels in one myth which has Prajapati create a tortoise from his, ahem, bodily fluid.

There are also Vedic myths in which everything (heaven, earth, animals, rivers, humans etc.) is created from the torn apart body of the pre-ancestor super-being (Lang calls them 'Magnified non-natural man/woman').

There's another Vedic myth which has everything created in a forge, and one in which humans are the latest stage in a series of failed evolutionary experiments.

These four basic creation stories (creation via the torn apart body or sacrifice, the bodily fluid, crafted from wood, metal or clay, or evolving/being evolved from lower lifeforms repeat themselves again and again through different ancient cultures across the world.

Its probable that the Celts had a variation on at least one of these. Livio, I suggest you write whichever one suggests itself most strongly to you. Or all four! We really have no evidence as to what the Celts believed so you're free to make it up :)

Another thing to consider is: as with the Vedics, the druids very probably examined abstract, metaphysical concepts around the Creation of Everything. When we talk about Celtic 'belief' we are encompassing a whole range of things, from the simple stories told to children to the high philosophy of the druid academies.
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Re: Man's creation Celtic myths?

Postby Edwin Deady on May 7th, 2012, 2:25 pm

There is difference between an epic and a foundation myth. In fact heroes seem rarely to found anything dying young as most of them do "Give me fame not length of days." then there are the obligations placed upon them, if you can fight anything then you are obliged to fight anything.

Like politicians does the career of every hero end in failure?
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Re: Man's creation Celtic myths?

Postby D Rivers on May 7th, 2012, 3:22 pm

I today obtained a book on "Celtic mythology" with at least one section devoted to creation myths, and I also now have "How to Kill a Dragon" which may contain bits and pieces of interest as well. I may soon be able to offer some help...
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Re: Man's creation Celtic myths?

Postby Ettore Viscontini on May 8th, 2012, 4:57 am

Great ;-)
They fought disunited and they joined the fate of defeat
if they had been inseparable would be insurmountable
[Tacitus]
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Re: Man's creation Celtic myths?

Postby D Rivers on May 8th, 2012, 10:58 am

I can tell you straight off that Peter Berresford Ellis's "Celtic creation myth", which I had thought so promising, is ultimately a complete fiction without a scrap of academic work. Not much help from that quarter! :P Anyway, I do think that men are probably just descendants of gods...

I rely mostly on Hesiod's Theogony to explain the origin of the gods, at any rate. At first there is Sky, and then he creates Earth from his imagination (or the other way round), and their children are the first gods, who I usually consider to be Belgios, Dānū, and Liros. Belgios marries Dānū, leaving Liros to marry some inconspicuous descendant of theirs somewhere along the line ("Penarddun", apparently...) - anyway from those gods are eventually descended mankind. Caesar tells us explicitly that the Gauls believed they were descended from Father Dīs, and Nennius tells us the Britons believed they were descended from Saturn - those two are basically the same, and I equate them with Beli Mawr (who in Welsh mythology randomly became replaced with Math and Gronw); in Irish, one of Balor's epithets was "Bolgach", which if derived from the same root as "Beli" strongly suggests the name *Belgios at least for Britain. This would also tie in with his being a chthonic god (Dīs Pater/Saturn), as it means "The One of the Belly" - ie the belly of the Earth? Indra, for example, grew to manhood in the belly of the Earth, in Vedic mythology, so it becomes a reasonable supposition. It seems unlikely he was known as "Belgios" everywhere (although, presumably among the Belgae also)... in Ireland even this was relegated to being one of his epithets. (I am wonder if Dagda could not be originally the same character as Balor, but let's leave that aside!) I don't know what this god might have been called in the rest of Gaul, let alone Cisalpine Gaul; but "Dagda" would be *Dagodius, and that sounds quite a lot like it might be related Dīs Pater (*Dius Atir)!
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Re: Man's creation Celtic myths?

Postby Edwin Deady on May 8th, 2012, 2:30 pm

I am afraid that most origin myths seem to be created rather late in the day. Efforts to bring order to a "pantheon" of whatever local gods existed or were invented to fill gaps were, if contemporary, designed to flatter the ruling elite or to bring local gods into line with the Roman pantheon. The fact that they could so easily accept this indicates that self-interest ruled and that the bulk of the population were indifferent to "their" gods. That people can be fanatical about their religion can be seen by, for example, with the Prayer Book Rebellion
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prayer_Book_Rebellion
But roughly 1900 years ago they could cheerfully accept replacement gods or portmanteau ones combining a superior Roman god and their local one, again because they were probably indifferent.
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Re: Man's creation Celtic myths?

Postby Neula H on May 9th, 2012, 4:15 am

D Rivers,

Firstly, I love your creation Myth on the other post, especially when you combine a Mythic voice with a faintly comedic modern one. That works very well. Amp it up.

However, I think that we need to be careful when we equate Roman gods to Celtic gods, or even Celtic gods to other Celtic gods, because they share characteristics - Jesus and Odin both spent several days hanging on a tree/cross, that doesn't mean they are the same god. Far from it. Odin has a moral ambiguity that simply cannot possibly exist within Christian dualism.

When gods are absorbed by new cultures they lose all those aspects that do not fit with the new culture. Like, the fertility Goddess being absorbed into the rigidly patriarchal Catholic Church and becoming an aspect of the virgin Mary. Not the same thing. Gods like the Dagda (with his cauldron, seen as a symbol of femininity in Roman culture) didn't really translate, others lost the aspects that didn't fit. What aspects of their culture are being lost when we translate it into a Grecio-Roman religious world view?

Edwin,

I'm not so sure about the 'cheerfully accepting' replacement gods part. Remember the Trinovantes sacked the temple of Claudius in Colchester and burnt everyone alive inside it. Not so cheerful. I think this was something that happened gradually over generations, when people have time to forget old ways and accept new things.
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Re: Man's creation Celtic myths?

Postby D Rivers on May 9th, 2012, 8:15 am

However, I think that we need to be careful when we equate Roman gods to Celtic gods, or even Celtic gods to other Celtic gods, because they share characteristics - Jesus and Odin both spent several days hanging on a tree/cross, that doesn't mean they are the same god. Far from it. Odin has a moral ambiguity that simply cannot possibly exist within Christian dualism.

When gods are absorbed by new cultures they lose all those aspects that do not fit with the new culture. Like, the fertility Goddess being absorbed into the rigidly patriarchal Catholic Church and becoming an aspect of the virgin Mary. Not the same thing. Gods like the Dagda (with his cauldron, seen as a symbol of femininity in Roman culture) didn't really translate, others lost the aspects that didn't fit. What aspects of their culture are being lost when we translate it into a Grecio-Roman religious world view?


I think you're right... but I don't think I actually do that... too much...? :P When I use the word "equate" I usually mean that they fulfill the same mythological role and/or share fundamental characteristics; so for example when I equate Dis Pater with Belgios, I mean that they appear to fulfill the same role in myth are share a place in the divine genealogies. From there I might look for other mythological parallels, but I don't simply take the god and recast it as druidic. Since you mention Odin for example, I "equate" him with both Gwydion and Lugus. Perhaps I use the wrong word. So I don't think I am simply recasting Greco-Roman religion as druidic. Still, I do place a strong reliance on the comparative method for my mythological reconstructions, mainly I suppose because that's what I'm used to from linguistics... in that area I have been told I often rely too heavily on Greek. The difficulty here is that all the direct information we have uses the interpretatio romana; I don't think such a system is completely irrelevant: presumably the deities were linked because they had some important shared characteristics and/or mythological function. So, working backwards, it is necessary to look to the classical religions...
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Re: Man's creation Celtic myths?

Postby Edwin Deady on May 9th, 2012, 12:52 pm

The burnt temple was to Claudius the God not one of the hybrids, even the Romans didn't seem to think deifying Emperors was more than a matter of form, except the mad emperors who believed it.
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Re: Man's creation Celtic myths?

Postby Neula H on May 9th, 2012, 2:11 pm

D Rivers wrote:The difficulty here is that all the direct information we have uses the interpretatio romana; I don't think such a system is completely irrelevant: presumably the deities were linked because they had some important shared characteristics and/or mythological function. So, working backwards, it is necessary to look to the classical religions...




Yes this is a huge problem, and what I meant is more that basic concepts and ways of thinking don't translate, things like the triplet and the creative/destructive/scary/life-giving/death/life goddess that repeat again and again throughout the religious iconography of the 'Celtic' world and have no equivalent in the classical.

Like, language structures the way we think because if we don't have a word for something we have no concept of it, these really very fundamental concepts disappear in the classical.

Didn't mean to sound critical. I have no practical understanding of the linguistics (and my knowledge of Classical mythology is limited), I'm coming at this as a writer trying to reconstruct a culture in my head from flotsam and fragments of victor-written history.

And yes Edwin I realise it was a temple to the god Claudius but if it had been a temple to Jupiter I bet they would have sacked it just the same - it was a symbol. But maybe it could only have been a temple to someone even the Romans didn't really believe was a god that could have been used in that way as an instrument of oppression and then vengeful burnin'.
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Re: Man's creation Celtic myths?

Postby Edwin Deady on May 9th, 2012, 3:40 pm

One interpretation of atrocity is that it reinforces the commitment of the participants. After the act they have nowhere to go except to win or die. It also shows the weakness of the rulers, the terrorist principle.
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Re: Man's creation Celtic myths?

Postby Livio Asta on May 9th, 2012, 3:59 pm

The roots of interpretatio are in the fact that ancients believed Gods were roughly the same for all people, just with different names; this was leading to simplifications, but (at least for indo-european polytheistic religions) was not completely false. So, the step from Celtic religion to Roman religion was much easier and shorter than from Germanic (or Greek, or Roman, or Celtic...) religion to Christian religion.

And we don't have only Roman and Gallo-Roman sources; when these sources match:
1) with Irish and Gaelic legends (the first influenced by Christianism but not by Roman religion);
2) with other Indoeuropean myths (Vedic, Greek, Germanic...)

it is safe enough to say that they are "original".

I think that, most of the time, when a reconstructed Celtic myth seems too "classic", the reason is that Celtic religion was actually much closer to the Roman one than we may think.
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Re: Man's creation Celtic myths?

Postby Neula H on May 10th, 2012, 4:28 am

Edwin Deady wrote:One interpretation of atrocity is that it reinforces the commitment of the participants. After the act they have nowhere to go except to win or die. It also shows the weakness of the rulers, the terrorist principle.


Yes! It was definitely a point of no return. And control is often an illusion that the populace is complicit in, an act such as that destroys the illusion.

Hi Livio,

Barry Cunliffe says: "It would be wrong to think of the Celtic Gods arrayed in a pantheon as were the more ordered deities of the Greeks and Romans. The Celtic supernatural beings were more shadowy figures whose relationships and hierarchies are ill-defined".

I agree with him. There are parallels of course, particularly in themes and story-telling - as there are parallels and archetypes in all stories - but the basic conceptual framework of Celtic mythology was very different to that of classical mythology, just as the conceptual framework of 'Celtic' societies themselves were very different from Roman society. in terms of social structure, organisation, moral values, social mores and taboos etc.

This is my hunch in this but I'm no expert, that's what you all are here for ;)

(p.s. Can I stop saying 'Celtic' with apostrophes now? Can we just assume that I mean 'a non-racially defined group of varying tribal conglomerates partially but not exclusively defined by the factors of time, space, culture, art, language and belief that approximate what we call the Celtic world?)
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Re: Man's creation Celtic myths?

Postby Edwin Deady on May 10th, 2012, 4:56 am

[quote="Neula H"]

(p.s. Can I stop saying 'Celtic' with apostrophes now? Can we just assume that I mean 'a non-racially defined group of varying tribal conglomerates partially but not exclusively defined by the factors of time, space, culture, art, language and belief that approximate what we call the Celtic world?)[/quote]

Go on then, 'tis boring to think about quote marks or not.

The Greeks diminished their Gods with tales of scandals etc and elevated their heroes. Heracles was an insane thug but he fulfilled his commitments which is more than Zeus did. Celts("") *wink* seem to have been lacking in revelations from gods but had plenty of portents and meetings with semi-divine figures. Perhaps we simply lack the mind set, conditioned as we are by Judeo-Christian influences mainly, to see what the Celts and others were getting at. We cannot read the Aborigines Dream-time pictures for example nor interpret the squiggles on Paeolithic pebbles nor their modern equivalents.
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