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The Celtic Vedic Connection, Part I

Author: Neil MacGregor Campbell

Copyright © 2000. Brought to you by http://indianpaganism.4dw.com: Indian Paganism - A Comparative Exploration into Pagan and Indian Religion, Myth and Culture.

Of all the
great ancient cultures perhaps no two share more parallels than
those of the Celtic and Vedic peoples. A deep rooted affinity
runs between them, what is present in one is mirrored in the
other. Myths, Gods, Goddesses, even fairy tales bear a striking
similarity in these archaic reflections of one another.



 



This is the first of two
articles introducing the connection between Celtic and Vedic
religion, society and folklore. In this and the following article
the many similarities between the two cultures will be explored
in a comparative context. For easy reading I have separated this
article into several categories. These are the Druids & the
Brahmins, Gods & Goddesses, Danu in Celtic & Vedic Myth,
Places of Worship and Celtic & Vedic Fairies. Each of these
topics only skims the suface and future further research will
undoubtly reveal much more into the parallels of these two great
cultures. It should be stated that for the sake of not
complicating matters most of the Celtic references in this
article are Irish. Although Celtic religion and culture varied
from country to country this has not been discussed as this
article is only an introduction to this field. Though it is worth
noting that the various Celtic peoples were not a uniform culture.



 



The Druids & the
Brahmins



The easiest of parallels to be drawn
between the Celtic and Vedic peoples must be that of the Druids
and the Brahmins. The Druids and the Brahmins were both the
priests and philosophers of their respective cultures. Both
orders of priests were the wise ones of their lands, the seers
and teachers, to whom warriors and kings turned for counsel and
advice. They were free to wander the lands, as many of India's
holy men still do, and, according to Caesar's writings, the
Druids were "held with great honour by the people".



However it appears to be a gross
simplification to consider the Druids one homogeneous group whose
function was only that of priest or philosopher. There may have
been three divisions within the Celtic religious order, that of
Bard, Vate and Druid. Historical evidence of this is to be found
in the writings of Strabo (40 BCE - 25 CE), 'Among all
the tribes, generally speaking, there are three classes of men
held in special honour: the Bards the Vates and the Druids.
'
However I have chosen to leave discussion of the three grades for
another time as it would detract from the focus of this
particular article.



The name 'Druid' is considered by some
to have originated the mediterranean and the East. The first
syllable of the word 'Druid', according to Pliny the Elder (1 CE),
is related to the Greek word for the Oak tree, 'drus'. The root
of which is 'dr' and it is to be found in several Aryan languages.
The second syllable is thought to have originated from the
sanskrit word 'vid', meaning 'knowledge', which is also the root
of the term 'Vedas'. If this is accurate then the Druids would
have been those who possess the 'knowledge of the Oak tree'. The
Oak tree in Celtic myth and legend was closely associated with
knowledge and wisdom. In old Irish the term 'Druid' is the plural,
referring to more than one of the Celtic holy men, whereas the
singular is drui. In order to avoid confusion the term 'Druid' in
this article will be used to refer to a single Druid and the term
'Druids' to refer to more than one.



Like the Brahmins, the Druids wore
simple clothing. The clothing of the Druids, from what evidence
remains, seems to have been a white or undyed hooded robe. It is
from the writings of Pliny the Elder that the image of a Druid in
his flowing white robes, cutting mistletoe with a golden sickle
has now became a popular image of the ancient Druids.





Druid collecting
mistletoe



The clothing of the Druids
is rather contrasting when compared to some of the clothing, and
jewellery, found in the rest of Celtic culture. Often the
textiles worn by the Celts were rich in colour and design, in
particular their cloaks. The Celts were also avid wearers of
golden jewellery and of their jewellery the torque is probably
the most recognisable item worn. Virgil gives a classical
description of the Celts in writing, "Golden is their
hair, and golden their garb. They are resplendent in their
striped cloaks, and their milk-white necks are circled with gold."

The torque was a neck ornament of nobility, regularly made of
gold, worn by males and if we look at the Gundestrup Cauldron it
can also be found around the neck of Cernunnos. The Romans during
their invasion of Britain were intrigued by these bold and heavy
neck displays. So much so that they awarded their soldiers with
them in recognition of acts of bravery.





A Celtic Torque



The Druids and their daily activities of
bathing in rivers is a mirror image of the Vedic Brahmins, who
bathe during the first hours of sun rise in rivers such as the
Ganges. Tacitus, a Greek historian, commented on the striking
similarity of the bathing Druids to the Brahmins, suggesting they
were "so emblematic of the brahmins." Morning
bathing in rivers remains a daily activity for the Brahmins, and
many Hindus, to this very day.



The Druids and the Brahmins occupied a
similar place in the social hierarchy of their cultures. Both
formed not only the spiritual elite but also the intellectual
caste of society. It was also common for Indian kings (known as 'Rajas')
to consult the Brahmins on matters of state, as it was also for
Celtic kings (Old Irish - 'Righ'; note the similarity to the
Sanskrit) to hold counsel with the Druids. Celtic and Vedic
society were hierarchically structured, sharing similar
segregated classes of peoples. Celtic culture was a tripartite
system based on the three-fold divisions of: the spiritual
leaders, the Druids; the ruling/warrior class; and a class of
producers which included merchants, hunters and in later periods
agricultural producers.



A similar social structure was employed
in Vedic society for thousands of years (India has approximately
10, 000 years of continual history during which Vedic direction
seems to have been present for the majority of that time).
Commonly referred to as the 'caste system', which in recent years
western culture has greatly condemned, Vedic culture is
distinguished by four social stratas. The Brahmins were the
highly respected priestly class; there also existed a regal/military
class (the Kshatriyas); merchants and agriculturalist (the
Vaishyas); lastly were the labourers or the untouchables (the
Shudras). This class (varna) system finds it's sanction in the
Rig Veda, book 10, hymn 90:12, and it is also addressed, although
less directly, in book 1, 113:6. However there are references to
the various castes in other Vedic texts, namely the Yajur Veda
and the Artharva Veda. Later in Vedic history, into the period of
classical Hinduism, social mobility ceased to exist. It should be
noted that in 1947 (CE), Article 17 of the Indian Constitution
abolished the practising of untouchability in any form. However
many social commentators argue that this has did little to remove
the practice.



As with Celtic society Greek historians
also commented and noted down their impressions of Vedic society,
recorded during the unsuccessful conquest of India by Alexander
the Great. Among their observations was the lack of slavery, the
equal right to freedom of all people, and that warfare was
restricted to the Kshastriyas (warrior class). The overall
impression was one of a society with a strong sense of morality
and high ethical values.



On matters of state and law parallels
can be found between the Vedic system of the Laws of Manu and the
old Irish system, the Laws of the Fenechus. Before the Laws of
Manu, in early Vedic culture, the Brahmins were not purely a
hereditary caste. A child from any caste could be initiated into
the Brahmin priesthood to begin their 12 years of training.
However this upward social mobility later ceased. Upward social
mobility was also possible in Celtic culture as a child picked to
be a Druid could be from any of the social division groupings.
Caesar tells us that the Druids went through 20 years of training.
Though this may have more accurately been 19 years as the Druids
may have used a 19 year lunar cycle calendar (the Meton cycle).



The Druids and the Brahmins, probably
because of their extensive training, were regarded as being the
only ones who could perform certain rites and sacrifices.
Diodorus Siculus wrote that the Celts "do not sacrifice
or ask favours from the Gods without a Druid present, as they
believe sacrifice should be made only by those supposedly skilled
in divine communication."
The Celts not only held the
ritual authority of the Druids in high esteem, the teachings of
the Druids were also greatly respected. Men and women, young and
old, would ask the Druids to share their wisdom with them on a
variety of matters. One teaching that we are certain was
prominent in Celtic culture was that of the doctrine of
transmigration of souls, the process of death and rebirth. This
is known from recorded myths and from the Roman and Greek
writings. In the Rig Veda there is no clear reference to
reincarnation, yet some verses do suggest it. For example, "For
thou at first producest for the holy Gods the noblest of all
portions, immortality: Thereafter as a gift to men, O Savitar,
thou openest existence, life succeeding life
" (book 4,
54:2). It is not until the later Vedic texts, for example the
Upanishads, that reincarnation is clearly discussed.
Interestingly the term for soul (I use the term soul for reasons
of simplicity) in Vedic literature is 'atman', whereas the Celtic
term for soul is 'anam'. This similarity in language illustrates
a unifiying connecton between the two cultures. However I shall
discuss language more fully in the second article.



A difference between the two religious
orders that is worth noting is that of the inclusion of women in
Druidism and the exclusion of women in Brahminism. For history
suggests that while Vedic religion and culture were patriarchal,
yet Celtic culture and religion, though not matriarchal, was in
no way as male dominated as it's Vedic equivalent. The role of
women in Celtic culture and religion seems to have been less
constrained and defined, in comparison to Vedic society. Not only
were there women Druids but from written accounts it is known
that women also fought in battle. Diodorus described Celtic women
as being "nearly as big and strong as their husbands and
as fierce
."





A Druidess



 



Due to the cessation of the Druids a
vast wealth of knowledge and wisdom has been lost. As part of an
oral tradition, like the Brahmins of old, nothing was ever wrote
down, all myths, laws and teachings were held to memory.
Consequently with the death of the Druid order was also the death
of their knowledge and wisdom. Now lost to history, perhaps the
best approach in attempting to regain their lost secrets is to
turn eastwards, to the Brahmins and the seers, to the Druids of
India.





 



Gods & Goddesses



Both Celtic and Vedic cultures were
closely entwined around a multifarious pantheon. The Celts had a
large pantheon of which about 300 to 400 names are known to us
today. Though most of these names appear only once, inscribed on
alters or votive objects. Many of these deities were likely to be
local forms of pan-Celtic deities. This also stands true for the
Vedic pantheon, practically every deity known throughout ancient
India had a local name alongside other titles which will have
been in more widespread use. Often their function also slightly
varied from region to region. It is interesting to note that the
Celtic term for the Gods is 'Deuos' and the Vedic term is 'Devas',
both terms meaning "Shining Ones".



A Celtic God that is well known today
and who was also known throughout the Celtic world is Lugh (also
known as Lug, Llue, Llew and Lugus). Lugh was the chief Celtic
solar deity, called Lugh Lamfota meaning "Lug of the Long
Arm" in Ireland or Lleu Llaw Gyffes "Lleu of the
Dextrous Hand" in Wales. In Irish tradition Lugh is also
known as Samildánach, "Skilled in All the Arts". The
two weapons that Lugh is associated with are the rod-sling and a
magickal spear. However the spear, unlike the rod-sling,
possessed a life of it's own. Not only was it alive but it was
driven by a thirst for blood. A thirst which was so strong that
the only way in which it could be controlled was by resting the
spear head in crushed poppy leaves. Lugh was the Divine leader of
the Tuatha De Danann, after having proved his abilities to the
king, Nuada of the Silver Hand.





The Celtic
Sun God Lugh



 



Danu in Celtic & Vedic
Myth



One of the most striking comparisons to
be found between the Celtic and Vedic pantheon is that of a
Goddess named Danu and the myths surrounding her (also known in
Celtic traditions as Don, Dana and possibly also Anu or Ana). A
Goddess named Danu appears both in Celtic and Vedic mythology.
She features heavily in Celtic mythology as the Mother Goddess (and
a river Goddess). She is one of the most ancient known of all
Celtic Goddesses, from whom the hierarchy of Gods received it's
name of Tuatha De Danann, "Folk of the Goddess Danu".
Whereas in Vedic mythology the Goddess Danu gives birth to the
seven Danvanas, the dark ones of the ocean. Surrounding the
Goddess Danu in each culture's mythology is a similar tale of
battle, each of which I shall briefly relate now.



In the earliest of Celtic documents
there is the battle of Moytur fought between the people of the
Goddess Danu and the Fomors. The Fomors being Celtic deities of
death, darkness and the sea. They were the offspring of "Chaos
and Old Night
", their name being derived from two
Gaelic words meaning "under sea". The Fomers
were born from another Mother Goddess called Domnu whose name
seems to have signified the abyss or deep sea. The battle between
the Fomors and the Tuatha De Danann began at the end of summer
and the beginning of winter, on the eve of Samhain (the Celtic
festival of the dead). During the course of the bloody battle
many were killed, including many of the chieftains. Of all the
Fomors the deadliest was Balor, with his eye that could slay by
merely looking upon an individual. However during the later
stages of the war Lugh shouted on him and before Balor could look
upon Lugh, Lugh had thrown a magickal stone at Balor. the stone
struck Balor, forcing his deadly eye out through the back of his
head. On falling to the ground the eye then gazed on many of the
Fomors, killing them, and turning the tide of the battle toward
the Tuatha De Danann. Eventually the Fomors were driven away and
the people of Danu were victorious.



A similar struggle between opposing
forces is to be found in Vedic mythology. This struggle was
between the Adityas, the children of the Goddess Aditi, and the
Danavas, the children of the Goddess Danu. The Danavas where the
antithesis of all that is symbolised by the earth, the sky and
the sun. This myth is referred to throughout the Rig Veda and
focuses primarily on the God Indra in his victory over the
Danavan God Vrtra. In the Rig Veda Vrtra is described as being a
limbless dragon and the source of a great drought. When Indra
slays him (Vrtra) with his thunder bolt the seven waters are
released. It reads in the Rig Veda (Griffith Translation) "He
slew the Dragon, then disclosed the waters, and cleft the
channels of the mountain torrents
." (Rig I.32.1) In the
same hymn it later reads "Then humbled was the strength
of Vrtra's mother: Indra hath cast his deadly bolt against her.
The mother was above, the son under, and like a cow beside her
calf lay Danu
." (Rig I.32.9)



Danu in the Vedic myth is bondage and
restraint and her son Vrtra is the constrictor. Whereas the
Goddess Aditi is the Boundless and the Infinite, and Indra by
using his tapas, which is represented by his lightening bolt,
becomes the "winner of the light". What is to
be found here in an esoteric sense is the cycle of life-giving
sacrifice (slaying of Vrtra) and the birth of diversification (realeasing
of the waters). It is the macrocosmic struggle between light and
dark, order and chaos. While on the microcosmic level it is
knowledge over ignorance. In the Celtic myth the Goddess Domnu is
regarded as being of "Chaos and Old Night", the abyss,
from whence came the Fomors the deities of the dark waters who
were conquered by Lug, the Celtic Sun God, and the Tuatha De
Danann. Again it is the light conquering the darkness. The two
myths are fundamentally the same, both tell of the primordial
waters, that undifferentiated state of being before the time of
creation, and light emerging in triumph over darkness to allow
life to flow. This theme seems to be repeated in a rather
abstract creation hymn in the Rig Veda, "Darkness there
was: at first concealed in darkness this All was indiscrimated
chaos. All that existed then was void and formless: by the great
power of Warmth was born that unit
" (X.129).



However the Celtic version of the Indra
and Vrtra myth is highly anthropomorphic, far more than that of
the Vedic version. This is common in myths that have spread from
culture to culture over vast time periods. The original myth is
often much more abstract than a version of the same myth to be
found in another culture hundreds or even thousands of years
later. This then suggests that if these are the same myth the
Celtic version is secondary to the primary Vedic version. Further
suggesting that the strong possiblity exists of Celtic religion
have originated out of India. Yet much of the anthropomorphism
may be due to a Christian influence which may have, as with much
of Celtic myths and literature, altered them accordingly towards
their own perceptions, turning Gods into mortal men.



There exists another myth that holds a
similarity to Vrtra. This Celtic myth is about a race of Gods
before the people of Danu called the Partholons, who also fought
with the Fomors. The Partholons fought against a Fomor surnamed
Cichol (or Cenchos) the Footless. It is with Cichol that
comparisons with Vrtra have been drawn because of them both being
of fantastic proportions and having a "Footless and
handless
" (RG 1, 32:7) serpent/dragon appearance.



Yet what remains unclear in exploring
the Danu myths is the Goddess Danu Herself. Between the two myths
Danu appears to represent both light and darkness. In the Vedic
myth Danu is the mother of darkness, representative of the state
of unmanifest being or She may be the mother of the forces of
maya. Here Danu is the equivalent of Domnu is the Celtic myth.
Whereas in the Celtic version Danu is the opposite, She is the
mother of those who symbolise all that is light and lawful, the
equivalent of the Vedic Aditi. This confusion surrounding Danu
may be the result of migrating Vedic people out of India,
travelling westward towards Europe. As with Celtic literature,
Vedic literature tells of many disputes between the various
peoples of ancient India. Therefore the possibility exists that
the contrasting Danus are the result of a dispute between the
some of the Vedic groups, or possibly a religious schism within
Vedic culture. Some of these groups may have migrated westwards,
taking with them their particular version of Vedic religion.
Which although may contain some differences, is never-the-less
fundamentally identical to the rest of early Vedic religion. Also
as trade routes became more widely used cultural (including
religious) boundaries became less defined, resulting in a degree
of cultural fusion. This also would help to account for the
spread of Vedic beliefs and deities, yet at the same time may
help explain the Danu dichotomy.



Successful comparisons may also be drawn
between Lug and Indra. This is partially made possible by Indra,
in addition to his typical associations of rain, thunder and
lightning, also having strong solar associations in the Rig Veda.
Throughout the Rig Veda there are many hymns to Indra (more than
any other God or Goddess) and many of these contain references
that associate Indra with the Sun and light. Another parallel
between Lug and Indra is that they were both not the original
leaders of their respective groups. Lug was given the position of
leader of the Tuatha De Danann for thirteen days by Nuada of the
Silver Hand. Indra only became the chief of the Vedic Gods and
the people's favourite after he had defeated Vrtra. Indra has
also been connected with the myth of Tain Bo Cuailgne. Here Indra's
symbolic animal representation, the bull, is compared with the
Celtic bull of Quelgny. Again what is found is a solar
association in both Celtic and Vedic myth.





Contemporary
image of Indra



Image
source -
size="1" face="Arial">Mirror of India color="#000000" size="1" face="Arial">- color="#000000" size="3">



 



Places of Worship



Some of the most auspicious
places of worship for the Celtic and Vedic peoples were rivers.
As already mentioned the Celtic Goddess Danu is particularly
associated with rivers, she was the "divine waters"
falling from heaven. From these waters the great Celtic river,
once known as Danuvius, presently known as the Danube, was
created. Many rivers in Europe still owe their current name to
their associations with the Goddess Danu, such as the Rhone. In
both Celtic and Vedic cultures offerings were often placed in
rivers and those of the Celts were especially elaborate. The
Celts would often offer much of their riches and treasures,
sometimes approximately 25% of a tribe's economy would be given
to the Gods at any one time.



In the falling of the Danu
river we find a parallel to the an India Goddess and the most
holy of rivers in India today, the Ganges. In Puranic mythology
the Goddess Ganga's fall to earth was broken by the matted locks
of Shiva (known as Rudra in the Vedas), who then released her to
fall on the earth. The river which is venerated in the Rig Veda
is that of the Sarasvati. Like Danu and Ganga, Sarasvati is the
name of a Goddess, as well as a river. However the Sarasvati
river is thought to have dried up and it is from that time the
Ganges has fulfilled her river role.





Sarasvati



Some astounding ancient structures to be
found in the Eurpoean lands of the Celts and in India are those
of Dolmens. A dolmen is a shallow chamber that is composed of
tall vertical upright stones, forming the walls, and a horizontal
stone resting across the top to form a roof. Similar to what is
found at Stonehenge, though on a much smaller scale. A feature
found in some dolmens in both Europe and India is a small single
hole in the back of these stone chambers. What the purpose of
these small holes is remains unknown, as does the purpose of the
dolmens. Though most interpretations link these holes either with
birth or death. Most Celtic researchers seem to agree that these
structures were created by a Megalithic people prior to Celtic
culture, about whom little is known for certainty. Is it possible
that these Megalithic people had contact with Indian culture long
before the Celts and is this why these constructions are to be
found in both eastern and western lands?





Stonehenge -
A lost Vedic connection?



 



Another of the sacred dwellings was that
of specific areas of woods and groves. According to Tacitus the "Woods
and groves are the sacred depositories; and the spot being
consecrated to those pious uses, they give to that sacred recess
the name of the divinity that fills the place, which is never
profaned by the steps of man. The gloom fills every mind with awe;
revered at a distance and never seen but with the eye of
contemplation."
Similarly there are many Indian tales
of Brahmans and holy men who lived in forests of which some were
especially sacred spaces (see inf. on the Sleshmantaka Forest in
'
href="http://www.dreamwater.com/indianpagan/Horned%20God.htm">The Horned God in India & Europe' article). A selection of Vedic texts written
after the four main Samhitas (the Rig, Sama, Yajur and Artharva
Vedas) are the Aranyakas, meaning 'forest treatise'. Indicating
that these were composed in the reclusive depths of the forests.



 



Celtic & Vedic Fairies



Celtic stories are well known
for their fairy folk, the little people who inhabit trees and
hills. Sometimes they were the source of mischief or misfortune,
other times the were advantageous and benevolent. The stories
tell us that they delight in music and loved to dance. The Celtic
fairies (also called Sidhes) often blended in myth with the Gods
and like the Gods the fairies knew magick, fought wars and
married amongst themselves.





In Vedic culture fairies are
called yaksas. This is the collective name of the mysterious
little Godlings or sprites that inhabit the fields, forests and
jungles. Like Celtic fairies the yaksas could be either
beneficent or malignant. They were offered propitiation which was
meant to keep them in good relations with the village folk. The
yaksas seem to have been vegetal Godlings of Indian rural
communities, stretching as far back as pre-Vedic times. Although
they were rather ignored in the scriptures there are references
to them in the Artharva Veda. The yaksas are asked to give
freedom from distress (book 11, 6:10) and they are also spoke of
in a passage about creation (book 10, 7:38). The yaksas are also
referred to in the Artharva Veda as 'itarajanah', meaning the 'other
folk'. At some time these Indian fairy folk must have been
widespread in Vedic folklore, evident from their spread into Jain
and Buddhist mythology. However much folklore has been lost on
the yaksas, either it has been absorbed into sectarian deities or
suppressed in later Vedic times. Yet some yaksas remain
represented in shrines throughout India, an example of which is
the yaksas Purnabhadra near Campa, which is described in the
Aupaptika Sutra. Situated in a grove underneath an asoka tree is
a black, octagonal altar. Carved into the side of this altar were
figures of men, bulls, horses, birds, wolves and snakes, perhaps
illustrating some myth or legend.





Supposedly the favourite of the
yaksas' locations is in a rural village's sacred tree. Here they
would be safe from harms way and it was believed that having the
yaksas there was prosperous for the village. Offerings and tiny
gifts would be laid at the trunk of the tree, while flower
garlands would be hung from the branches. There was also a
fertility association with the yaksas in the sacred tree. As were
there also associations of treasure buried at the tree roots,
again like some of the Celtic fairies.



In the next article on the
Celtic Vedic connection other areas, such as Ways of Worship,
Language, and Cosmology, will be explored.


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