Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Celtic Mythology/The Mabinogion

Although I'm not very familiar with Celtic mythology,
I do know that it has influenced, and become part of,
the Arthurian tales.
I am a confirmed fan of King Arthur,
Merlin, Sir Lancelot, Guinevere,
Sir Gawain, and all the rest!!

The Celts originated as groups of tribal societies that flourished in the Europe of the Iron Age, as well as that of the Roman era.  They spoke Celtic languages, derived from a branch of the greater Indo-European language family.  These languages are still spoken in Europe, especially in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the peninsula of Brittany in France, Cornwall, and the Isle of Man.  They are also spoken on Cape Breton Island, located in Canada, as well as Patagonia (Argentina and Chile).  For further information on these languages, click on the links located within the body of this paragraph.

The earliest culture accepted as Celtic, or more properly, Proto-Celtic, was the central European Hallstatt culture (c. 800-450 B.C.).  By the time of the Roman conquest, this culture had spread to several regions, including the British Isles (these people are known as 'Insular Celts'), the Low Countries, a large part of Central Europe, the Iberian Peninsula, and northern Italy.

The so-called 'Continental Celts' settled in parts of France, the Alps, and Northern Italy.  The Romans called those who settled in France 'Gauls'. 

The heaviest concentrations of Celts in the Iberian peninsula resided in Spain and Portugal.  One group was located in Galicia, to the north of Spain, and the Atlantic shores of the peninsula.  Those who lived n the north and northwestern areas of Spain and Portugal were known as the Gallaecian, Astures, and Cantabrians.  They were part of the Castro culture.

There was a lot of variation in the religious practices of the Celtic religion, although the god Lugh does seem to have been revered throughout the Celtic world.

In Ireland, there's a surviving body of myths, dating from the early medieval period in that country.  Most of it deals with the Tuatha De Danann, who are a race of people in Irish mythology.  This name, 'Tuatha De Danann', if often translated as "peoples of the goddess Danu".  According to the legends the Tuatha were descended from Nemed, the leader of a group that arrived from Scythia around 2350 B.C.  Nemed is featured in The Book of Invasions, or Lebor Gabala Erenn (another translation of the title is The Book of the Taking of Ireland).  This book is a collection of poems and narratives about the mythical origin of the Irish, beginning from the creation of the world, and continuing down to the Middle Ages. 

The Irish pantheon of gods was headed by the Dagda, who was a father-figure, as well as the protector of the tribes that worshipped him.  He was an immensely powerful god.  

Then there was the MorriganShe was the goddess of battle, strife, and fertility, and was often depicted as a triple goddess

There are other important gods and goddesses in Irish mythology -- Brigid (or Brigit), who is the Dagda's daughter, Aibell, Aine, Macha, and the reigning goddess, Enu.  There is a horse goddess, named Epona, whose festival is celebrated with horse races during the summer festival.  Other gods include Nuada Airgetlam, who was the first king of the Tuatha De Danann, Goibniu, and Dian Cecht, who was the patron of healing.

More is known about Irish mythology than about Welsh mythology.  However, the tales known as the "Four Branches of the Mabinogi", are part of The Mabinogion.   

One of these is the tale of "Culhwch and Olwen", which is about a hero connected to King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table.  The tale has survived in its entirety as part of the Red Book of Hergest, which is a manuscript written in the Welsh language, copied down around 1400 A.D., and containing the tales of The Mabinogion.  A fragment of the same story has also survived in the White Book of Rhydderch, copied around 1375 A.D.

Not much of Gaulish mythology has been preserved.  There are some tales that were written down by Roman writers, and mention the names of some gods, such as Taranis, Teutates and Esus, but there is little evidence to connect them to Celtic religion.

(Gwyn Jones, Thomas Jones, translators)
Trade Paperback, 238 pages
Published by J.M. Dent & Sons
October 7, 1993
(first published in 1949)

The Mabinogion is a collection of eleven Welsh tales, taken from medieval Welsh manuscripts.  Some scholars speculate that the date for these stories is somewhere between 1170 and 1190, A.D.  

From the Goodreads Synopsis

Closely linked to the Arthurian legends--King Arthur himself is a character--they summon up a world of mystery and magic that is still evoked by the Welsh landscape they so vividly describe. Mingling fantasy with tales of chivalry, these stories not only prefigure the later medieval romances, but stand on their own as magnificent evocations of a golden age of Celtic civilization.

This translation of The Mabinogion has, since its first appearance in 1949, been recognized as a classic in its own right. It was last revised by Gwyn Jones and his wife, Mair, in 1993.


  1. WoW! This is some extensive research on Celtic Mythology! It's a pity that so little is known about this mythology, isn't it? Thank you for the mention of the book, though. I'm adding it to my wishlist!:)

    And thank you for this lovely read!...I've learnt quite a few things. For instance, I had no idea the Celts extended to Spain and Portugal! However, I notice you haven't mentioned the North of Europe. Weren't the Vikings Celts as well?...

  2. Hi, Risa!

    Thank you so much for your compliments! You've made my day!! It took quite a bit of time to write this post because of all the research, so I'm glad you appreciated that!

    I didn't know that much myself before I started, but now I do, although still not as much as I'd like. I have to get a copy of "The Mabinogion" myself, because I have yet to read it!

    The Vikings weren't Celts, by the way. They have a separate mythology -- Norse mythology. I don't know much about these tales, either, except for a few names -- Loki, who was a trickster god, Freya, a goddess...and that's about it! I want to do a post on Norse mythology, but time is a problem, since I want to do a thoroughly-researched post, like the two previous ones. I have two jobs, you see. And the Midnight Summer Festival ends today! Maybe I'll have to put it up tomorrow, anyway...

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting!! : )

  3. I've never read the Mabinogion, though Celtic mythology is definitely one of the most fascinating in history. I have a book filled with pictures of relics and artifacts from that period, and it is truly fascinating. However, it's true that we know very little about the early Celtic people's language or religion... most of the inscriptions on the artifacts make nothing certain even about what god or goddess they are dedicated to and their name.

    Have you read Hounded by Kevin Hearne, Maria? It's a really fantastic urban fantasy which features a lot of Celtic mythology-- I really loved it and definitely recommend it! Great post! :)

  4. If you do manage to get that post on Norse mythology, I'll be reading it.:)

    And speaking of Norse, I know that mythology almost as well as I do Greek mythology. I've always like it a great deal more than the Greek. It's so different!...and quite fitting for a warring tribe, no?:D However, I really was under the impression that the Celts and the Vikings were at some point the same people...

  5. Hi, Kat!

    Yeah, I have to read "The Mabinogion" too. It's definitely on mmy TBR list!

    I want to familiarize myself more with Celtic mythology, especially since I myself have Celtic blood -- on both sides of the family.

    Hey, thanks for the book reccommendation, as well as for the compliment on my post!! : )

  6. Hi, Risa!

    You know, I WILL be doing that post, even though the festival is over. But I need to set aside quite a bit of time for it, so I'll probably start on it Friday night. But I do want to do it!

    The mythological tales I'm most familiar with are the Greek ones. I need to do more research on both Celtic and Norse mythology! As for the Celts and the Vikings being the same people at some point early in history -- maybe you're right. I won't know for sure until I start Googling again.

    Thanks for your comments and encouragement!! : )

  7. I also love celt tales. This sounds so interesting. Thanks for reviewing this book.


THIS IS NOW AN AWARD-FREE, AND TAG-FREE BLOG. Thanks for the compliment, though! : )

Thanks for your thoughts on my posts! I always reply here, as well as comment back on your blog. Have a WONDERFUL day!! :)