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Druids Cutting the Mistletoe on the Sixth Day of the Moon, by Henri Paul Motte (ca. 1890-1900)

The Religion of the Ancient Celts

By J. A. MacCulloch


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This book, which appears for the first time on the Internet at, is one of the best scholarly treatments of the ancient Celtic religion. Written early in the 20th Century, Religion of the Ancient Celts includes extensive treatment of that perennially fascinating subject, the Druids.

There is very little documentary evidence to go on. In particular, we have no actual sacred texts of the ancient Celts, as their texts were transmitted orally only to initiates, and disappeared forever when the last Druid died. Christianity became the dominant religion in the Celtic area before the oral traditions could become written down, unlike the Vedas in India. Ancient Celtic religious beliefs must therefore be inferred from second-hand classical accounts, hints from Celtic mythology, legend and folklore, as well as archaeological and comparative anthropological evidence. MacCulloch marshals this body of evidence, extensively footnoted, so that an authoritative and clear view of ancient Celtic religion emerges.

MacCullough details the Celtic belief in reincarnation and a spectral otherworld; documents the enormous pantheon of now-obscure gods and goddesses, including many local deities; and describes totemistic and animistic beliefs. In addition, MacCulloch does not flinch (nor sensationalize) when describing the darker side of Celtic practices, including the famous 'Burning Man' human sacrifices, cannibalism and exogamous incest.

With so much spurious, flawed and poorly cited information floating around on the Internet about Celtic beliefs, it is important to review what is actually known about this subject. Hopefully putting this book online will provide some balance.

--John Bruno Hare
February 7th, 2004

Title Page
List Of Abbreviations
Chapter I. Introductory
Chapter II. The Celtic People
Chapter III. The Gods of Gaul and the Continental Celts
Chapter IV. The Irish Mythological Cycle
Chapter V. The Tuatha Dé Danann
Chapter VI. The Gods of the Brythons
Chapter VII. The Cúchulainn Cycle
Chapter VIII. The Fionn Saga
Chapter IX. Gods and Men
Chapter X. The Cult of the Dead
Chapter XI. Primitive Nature Worship
Chapter XII. River and Well Worship
Chapter XIII. Tree and Plant Worship
Chapter XIV. Animal Worship
Chapter XV. Cosmogony
Chapter XVI. Sacrifice, Prayer, and Divination
Chapter XVII. Tabu.
Chapter XVIII. Festivals.
Chapter XIX. Accessories of Cult
Chapter XX. The Druids
Chapter XXI. Magic.
Chapter XXII. The State of the Dead
Chapter XXIII. Rebirth and Transmigration
Chapter XXIV. Elysium