The Religion of the Ancient Celts
By J. A. MacCulloch
This book, which appears for the first time on the Internet at sacred-texts.com, 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