The Celts – Part 1 – Introduction

Many see the Celts as a ancient civilisation. Indeed, a lot of our Celtic culture has been lost because of invasions by Romans, Anglo Saxons, Vikings and Normans. Recent genealogy has discovered that a major part of genetic pool now in Britain is Anglo Saxon. Quote from article: – “The majority of eastern, central and southern England is made up of a single, relatively homogeneous, genetic group with a significant DNA contribution from Anglo-Saxon migrations (10-40% of total ancestry). This settles a historical controversy in showing that the Anglo-Saxons intermarried with, rather than replaced, the existing populations.”

Many of us still have Celtic DNA mixed with other DNA and although there is radical differences, the Celts survive through their descendants. Celtic Reconstructionist movements work hard to educate us in the ways of the Celts. Schools in Cornwall and Wales teach children about their Celtic ancestors. DNA shows that much of the
Celtic DNA of Britain is from Celtiberia and the closest related Europeans today are
from the Basque region of Northern Spain. Sadly, virtually everything has been eradicated about the Celts from that region, with the arrival of Christianity.

There is a lot of discussion about who can rightfully be called Celts today. However, it is a general consensus that there are 6 remaining Celtic nations today and they are
Scotland (Alba), Ireland (Eire), Isle of Man (Mannin), Wales (Cymru), Cornwall (Kernow) and Brittany (Breizh). These are areas where Celtic languages and/ or cultural traits have survived.

However, there are people with Celtic DNA scattered throughout Europe. There are others from far distant lands who also embrace the Celtic culture because it represents a time when human tribes worked with and were a part of nature.

Tales have been passed down from generation to generation and are available in modern translations for us to benefit from. The Celts were not one single group, but many tribes each with their own languages from as far East as Northern Turkey (Thrace), to the La Tene region of Central and Western Europe to much of Northern Europe. Roman propaganda would have you believe that the Celts were backwards savages who fought naked. However, archaeology shows that they were very advanced and in the early formation of Rome outmatched Rome.

There is lots of material to look up about the Celts, not all of it true. Although British Celts had both male and female Druids, who were described as magi, lawyers, priests, kings and queens, or counsellors, these appear to be indigenous to ancient Briton and parts of France. Modern Druidry has changed considerably, with many following a path that is now recognised as Druidry. The Druids, however, were the spiritual and sometimes physical leaders and the religion of the Celts did not have a name, as far as we are aware.

The Celts had a strong social structure and had both solar and lunar festivals, such as Samhain, which was a three-day festival around the full moon around October/
November during the lunar month Samonios. This marked the beginning of the Celtic New Year. The Celtic month began on the 6th day (compared to other cultures that started their month on the first visible moon), around the time of the moon’s first quarter and the 15th day of the month would be the third quarter. The second part of the month was called the returning night.

We don’t know with absolute certainty how ancient rituals were performed, however both circles and spirals feature frequently in Celtic culture. We have many remnants of stone and a few timber circles that show that circle gatherings were important.

Archaeology shows that the Celts built houses in a circle around burial mounds. The treatment of bones and bodies show that the Celts not only venerated the dead, but they were an integral part of the tribe.

A depiction of Celts in battle

Archaeological evidence indicates that Celtic culture started to evolve circa 1200 B.C. Julius Caesar later referred to the Celts as “Galli,” which had come to mean barbarians (although it originally referred to the Phrygian priestly class of Eunuchs devoted to Cybele). However, where the Celts actually barbarians? And does anything remains of Celtic culture today?

For many years, historians put great stock in Julius Caesar’s words, which have since been proved to be military propaganda. According to Caesar, The Britons “live on milk and flesh, and are clad with skins…dye themselves with woad…and thereby have a more terrible appearance in fight. They wear their hair long, and have every part of their body shaved except their head and upper lip.” Their ancestors had actually been farming for hundreds of years and they were not clad in skins. Bronze Age sewing implements meant they made their clothing (they wore tartan trousers before kilts were invented) and not every Britain covered themselves in woad. Archaeological discoveries show that they were skilled craftsman, wearing ornate jewellery, such as torcs.

Julius Caesar said that the Celts of ancient Britain were “fearless warriors because they wish to inculcate this as one of their leading tenets, that souls do not become extinct, but pass after death from one body to another…”

Prior to Caesar’s Gallic Wars, the Romans both respected and feared the Gallic tribes. The Gauls were both civilized and wealthy. Many had contact with Roman merchants and some had stable political alliances with Rome in the past.. The Gallic Wars were a series of military campaigns waged by Julius Caesar against the Gauls. They lasted from 58 BC to 50 BC and resulted in the decisive Battle of Alesia in 52 BC. The Roman victory was both genocidal and brutal. Although Caesar stated the invasion as being a pre-emptive and defensive, historians agree that the wars were fought to boost Caesar’s political career and to pay off his massive debts. His invasion of Britain, however, was unsuccessful and he withdrew.

A second Roman invasion nearly a century later was successful, but large areas were unconquered. As a result, many Celtic cultural traditions remain in present-day Ireland, Scotland and Wales to this day. They have even influenced Christian celebrations and saints. The Galatians, in Northern Spain also successfully fought off invasions by both Romans and Moors and their descendants still stage ancient outdoor dances, accompanied by bagpipes, an instrument that is more commonly associated with more well-known Celtic regions like Scotland and Ireland. Celtic tradition also continued in Brittany, which was geographically isolated from the rest of France. Many Bretons wear traditional Celtic lace hats called coiffes and one quarter speak Breton, a language similar to Welsh.

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