Guest Blog: Origins of the Celtic Folk Religion

By Nukiuk

The greatest rivers have many source just as the Celtic Folk Religions which are some of the richest and most complex sets of beliefs in the world do not have a single source. The Celtic belief system comes from many lands and many peoples who exchanged ideas, philosophies and most importantly fairies and deities. Such exchanges in religious knowledge was common, thus Arito the Celtic Bear Goddess is likely of Ugric origin and Celtic Shamanism was likely greatly influenced by the Ugrics and Altaic peoples.
Such influences and origins provide those who are studying folk religions with advantages in better understanding a given people because while many aspects of the Celtic Folk Religions have been lost to Christian Raiders and the steady decay of time, some of the missing pieces to the puzzle that is the Celtic Folk Beliefs can still be found among those who once shared a religion with or influenced the Celtic peoples. Further the study of these related folk religions can aid those who are trying to build relationships with Celtic Fairies will gain insights into additional ways to do so.

The Indo-Europeans
The Celtic language is an Indo-European language which tells us that at least some of the Celtic faith has the same roots as the Roman, Germanic, Greek, Hindu, and Slavic faiths. Indeed many Romans were disturbed by the similarities between the Celtic and Roman philosophies as they could not understand how a people they considered to be ‘barbarians’ and developed not only such a complex and rich system but a system which was so similar to their own.
Forming on the Eurasian Steppes the Indo-European language came to dominate most of Europe and Southern Asia all the way to India. Initially the Indo-European peoples worshipped formless spirits and fairy like beings which they believed inhibited both natural and important manmade objects. Such beings were not worshipped in temples, but rather in the forests, mountains and along the waterways where they lived.
While today the Hindus of India and the Kalasha people are the only Indo-Europeans who are still primarily pagan, many records still exist of the beliefs of the Greeks and Romans, while folk religions and myths were recorded of the rest which gives us many more pieces to the puzzle.

The First Peoples of Isles
The Indo-Europeans were not the first people to inhabit the Celtic lands, many folklorists of the past have presumed that fairies were nothing more than a pre-existing people. While such notions are supported by the Irish belief that the Tuatha de Danann or the Cornish belief that Pixies had been driven underground by the coming of humans and powerful Druids the nature of things beings brings into question their previous relationship with humanity. What’s more as much as 85% of the DNA of the Welsh and Irish populations comes from pre-Indo-European sources, even in the modern era. In other words the Indo-Europeans might have supplied the Celtic language, but the majority of the Celtic people came from the first peoples of Europe. Thus the majority of the Celtic peoples’ DNA comes from the peoples who built Stonehenge. Although these people left no records I have argued that Europe’s Folk Religions which primarily focuses on the worship of water deities, Earth spirits, The Fates, along with the spirits of stones and hills gives us the best idea of what this early religion was.

The Etruscans
The Proto-Celts formed next to the Raetic people who are related to the Etruscans. These peoples paid greater attention to Banshee figures than were the other Indo-Europeans and so this could be the source for the Celts closeness to these fairies. Further the Etruscan peoples paid closer attention to portents than other European peoples with the exception of the Celts so it seems likely that the Celts were influenced greatly by the Raetic peoples’ faith.

The Ugric Peoples
The Ugric people include the Finnish and Estonians as well as the people who are often called ‘the last Pagans of Europe,’ the Mari of European Russia. The Ugric peoples believed in fairy-like beings which lived in the forests and could help or harm people. Their deities and peoples were often led by Merlin-like figures. As previously mentioned the Celts relationship with Arito the Bear Goddess was likely influenced by the Ugric peoples, as was Merlin, Shamanism and the general idea of magic.

The Altaic Peoples
The Celts get their word for horse from the horsemen of the Eurasian Steppes who became the Turkish, as well as the Japanese, Mongolian and Korean peoples. This shows us not only that the early Celts had contact with the Altaic people but that the Altaic peoples likely had big influence on the Celts conception of horses (some of the most sacred animals in Celtic Lore) and possibly on the Celts’ conception of war. The Altaic peoples were the peoples who developed the idea of the ‘Worlds Tree,’ they are also known for believing that the mountains and hilltops are an otherworld for spirits and fairy like creatures.
To better understand the Altaic Folk Religions one can still study the Japanese Religion which has its roots in the Altaic belief system as does Korean Shamanism, Tengriism, and many forms of Siberian Shamanism.

As previously mentioned these relationships to the Celtic beliefs can make it easier to fill the gaps left in our knowledge of this ancient religion. Further, just as the people who were related to the Celts were inspired by many sources so can the great scholars of today.

Nukiuk is a Folklorist who has been using fairy tales to learn more about Eurasia’s folk religions. You can learn more about his work at http://zeluna.net/.
You can learn more about the Indo-Europeans and the origin of Europe’s fairies at http://fairies.zeluna.net/p/origins-of-europes-fairies_14.html.

References at http://fairies.zeluna.net/p/resources.html

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

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