During the Iron Age period, scholars such as Dr Joseph Campbell believed that Europe went through two phases of Celtic culture: the Hallstatt culture, which populated Europe between 900 and 400 BC, and the La Tene culture, who inhabited those lands between 550 and 15 BC. The Hallstatt culture was characterised by iron tools, objects of great importance and utility at the time. Fruit of those objects, the itinerant smiths, those skilful craft makers, who in later mythic lore appeared as dangerous wizards, were seen as important members of the community.
Mircea Eliade, in one of his most astonishing pieces of writing, The Forge and the Crucible: The origins and structure of Alchemy, made a fascinating study of rites and myths in Iron Age times. A study in which he showed a leading idea of the mythology of the time, stone symbolising the mother rock of the iron, being the iron weapon her child. This most precious object, it was believed that was brought to birth by the obstetric art of the forge. It seems that on those times smiths were shamans, magicians able to turn nature into culture, by magically creating objects out of the mother earth.
In the La Tene period, Celtic groups moved to what became Galatia, in Asia Minor. However, of especial importance was the Celtic migrations to West Europe, arriving to Gaul, Spain and the British Islands. These movements of people left marks and inheritance that we have been able to analyse and to certain extend understand. The Amairgen’s stanza speaks of Celt Druidism and of the power of druids to assume all shapes at will. It also speaks of them not having any fear of death.
Now, it is not possible to separate the mystic from the shaman, as it all forms part of the same group. Furthermore, from the primitive shamanism just mentioned, to the highest orders of archaic and oriental thought, where the microcosm and macrocosm unite and are transcended, there is not so great a step as from these to the way of thought of the man for whom God is without and apart from nature. These Celt cultures were related to the Mother Earth, this feminine aspect of the divine embodied everything and was part of everything.
In the Irish mythological cycles, we see the arrival of various groups of invaders from the continent, being the last ones the Milesians. Some of these groups, as Robert Graves wrote in his wonderful book The White Goddess, were matriarchal communities who believed on a pantheon of Goddesses that reign in the underworld and had whole control of nature. Some of these groups believed that pigs were symbol of death, just as Homer used them on the episode of Circe in The Odyssey. This same death symbol that shows in Etruscan mythology, in which the pig also symbolises destiny, the underworld and immortality. These myths seem to have a pre-druidic origin, from a time when women had an influencer position in those societies.
Another group of people entering the British Islands seem to have been the shining Tuatha de Danann, the people of the goddess Dana. Tuatha traits of her myth includes a prominence of a constellation of Goddesses who in many ways are counterparts of both the great and lesser goddesses of Greece. What I am trying to say is that it is not random that we find similarities between Greek and Irish Goddesses. The similarities between Dana and the Greek mother earth Gaea, nourisher of live on earth, are not random or fruit of an incredible casualty. Instead, it might have been the making of one great myth, which migrated and moved west, thanks to those groups of people that explored other parts of the world, settling, rooting, often transforming and maintaining parts of those same myth stories. The Goddess Brigit or Brig, who is symbol of power, patroness of poetry and knowledge, is a Celtic Minerva. What is her provenance? It might be that this goddess came from the time when Celts worshipped goddesses and when knowledge, inspiration, agriculture, leechcraft, or any other sort of learning or skills, were women’s doings.
Still looking at the British Islands, we find the great father figure, Cernunnos, Celtic god of fertility, life, animals, wealth, and the underworld, who seems to be related to The Dagda, a male figure represented with three horns, as a kind of bull, at times with three heads, heavenly bearded, carrying a sack of abundance from which a river of grain proceeds. In Irish mythology we seem to find this clown figure, who is not divine or a religious figure. The Dagda is the father of Bandra and Bright, who were female goddesses. This Dagda has a caldron whose contents both restored the dead and produced poetic inspiration. These functions, as mentioned in this and other articles of mine, were assigned to female figures such as the Mother Right or Brigit. It seems as if the theme of the Mother Earth Goddess, the Goddess of knowledge and Art, had been stolen by a patriarchal pantheistic group of communities. This is the same that might have happened in Greek mythology, where the Goddess Gaea and Eros were downgraded by the birth of Zeus, Apollo and Perseus, who were all male divine figures of the Bronze Age period. These are all similar male figures, such as The Dagda, who put on a side the War divinity Morrigan.
Irish mythology shows goddesses as very powerful, with the force of female powers over the destinies even of war. The goddess Morrigan is an example, a divinity who is an apparition of fate. There is an association of the bull of a Gaulish altar with the brown bull of the Irish epic, Cuchullin, in which there is an analogy of the cranes with the goddess Morrigan and with the Mithra mythology, where the bull is slated and connected with the resurrection of nature. This same bull is connected with life, which is at the same time coming from death, from sacrifice to be more accurate. A sacrifice which needs to be performed by the human counterpart of the bull. Cuchullin, this Bronze age character, is the serpent son and consort of the great goddess Dumuzi-Tammuz, of Near Eastern origin.
Another character that we should pay attention is the goddess of the Fairy Hill, a myth female figure who appears as mother-earth goddess, the culture giver, the muse, goddess of fate and war, just as other characters such as Morrigan, Athena or Dumuzi-Tammuz seem to be, a goddess who has animal or human form, and who has real similarities with Near Eastern goddesses. So again and again, we seem to find those characters which are associated with the divine, with the feminine, with war, knowledge, art, life and death, and the counter male parts, who seem to have been superimposed on later dates for a new patriarchal male dominated religious thought.
Based on The Masks of God, Occidental Mythology, by Dr Joseph Campbell.
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