Where are the Celts originally from?


Who are the Celts?


The ancient Celts were a collection of tribal people that originated in central Europe and that shared similar culture, language and beliefs.


Photo by Martin Scott Powell



Where were the Celts located?


Over the years, the Celts migrated. They spread across Europe and set up shop everywhere from Turkey and Ireland to Britain and Spain.


The first record of the origin of the Celts was in documentation kept by the Greeks, and it cited their existence to around 700 BC. We can take it for granted that these ancient people existed long before this.


Celts migration map

Map of the Celtic Migrations and Expansion


The Celts were fierce warriors and, by the 3rd century BC, they had a stronghold on a large chunk of Europe, north of the Alps.


What happened to the Celts?


Then the Roman Empire set off on a conquest to expand their control on Europe.

Under the leadership of Julius Caesar in the 1st century BC, the Romans killed large numbers of Celts, wiping out their language and culture in many parts of Europe except in many parts of Scotland, Wales and Ireland.



A relief depicting the Gauls of Ambiorix fighting the Roman army of Julius Caesar in the mid-1st century BCE.

(Palais Provincial, Liège, Belgium)




What are the beliefs of the Celts?


The Celts were what’s known as ‘Polytheists’, which means that they believed in a number of different gods and goddesses.

There wasn’t one central religion that the many different groups of Celts followed. In fact, different groups of Celts held different beliefs.


Druidism


The religious leaders in Celtic communities, and those regarded as intermediaries between humanity and the gods, were the Druids, a class of individuals known for their great wisdom and knowledge of traditions.


The Druid priests of the Celts did not write down the stories of their gods and goddesses but instead transmitted them orally, so our knowledge of the early Celtic deities is limited.


Painting of a female druid (or druidess) by the French painter Alexandre Cabanel



We know that they were influenced by the gods and religious practices of earlier and neighboring cultures. Further, when the Roman Empire expanded across Europe, the Celts adopted and adapted many facets of the Roman religion.


Celtic gods were also associated with such phenomena or natural places as the sun, lightning, warfare, rivers, and particular tribes, settlements, and families.


Besides gods, animals were also important to the Celts and were perhaps themselves regarded as sacred, especially the bull, boar, stag, and horse. Many of these animals were regarded as totems with protective qualities and so they appear frequently in designs on weapons and armor.

Some Celtic Gods and Goddesses

Cernunnos

Left: A detail from an interior panel of the Gundestrup Cauldron on display, at the National Museum of Denmark

in Copenhagen


Cernunnos is a horned god associated with fertility, nature, fruit, grain, the underworld, and wealth, and especially associated with horned animals like the bull, stag, and a ram-headed serpent.

Epona


Epona is a Celtic horse goddess associated with fertility, a cornucopia, horses, asses, mules, and oxen who accompanied the soul on its final journey. Uniquely for the Celtic goddesses, the Romans adopted her and erected a temple to her in Rome.

The Morrigan


Left: Illustration by John McCambridge


The Morrigan is a Celtic goddess of war who hovered over the battlefield as a crow or raven.

She represented the circle of life and was associated with both birth and death. Her name translates to “great queen” or “phantom queen”. She is also described as being the patroness of revenge, magic, priestesses, night, prophecy and witches.


Cailleach


Cailleach is a divine hag and ancestor, associated with the creation of the landscape and with the weather, especially storms and winter. In Scotland, where she is also known as Beira, Queen of Winter. She herds deer, she fights spring, and her staff freezes the ground.

Airmid