A pocket guide celtic wales

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The Celts

The Celts are commonly associated with Ireland; however they did not originate from the island nation, nor were they confined to that single area. The first people to have the same cultural traits originated in Northern Italy around 400 BC. These people eventually created an empire that spanned across Europe. According to archaeologists, the Celts originally migrated from Asia Minor into Western Europe, sometime during the Bronze Age, and then began to spread across the continent. Most people lived in villages which were all linked together by a larger central town which acted as a place for meeting and to conducting business. Along the commonly travelled roads, there were both shrines and fortified cities erected for travelers.

The Celts were a non-literate society that passed-on their culture and history through oral tradition. The only written record of the Celts can be found on coins or written records from ancient authors; however these records are often inaccurate due to the fact that they were often written when the Celts came into cultural competition with the Greeks and Romans, where they were often branded as barbarians. The reality is that the Celts physical features, dress, and civilized way of life were often admired. Women generally stood taller that most Roman citizens, and upon reaching the proper age, young women would begin wearing their hair in intricate braids and would wear elaborately embroidered dresses, often plaid in pattern. This plaid pattern was found in both women and men's clothing along with gold and silver bracelets and rings which were worn by the wealthy. The Celtic men would often spike their hair and grow out their beards; in some tribes then would even tattoo their arms and even their face with blue ink.

The Celtic society was a hierarchy based system which was divided into three groups: The Warrior Aristocracy, the Intellectual Class made up of poets, jurists and the Druids, and then everyone else; however these three groups were further divided into sub-groups. The society was based on kinship and what tribe the person belonged to. One's ethnicity was mainly derived from a larger group called a Tuath, but ultimately one's clan or Cenedl. Much like the gangs of today, disputes between individuals would result in a dispute between the clans that the individuals belonged to. It was the job of the jurist, known as Brithem, to mediate these disputes between clans. Within Celtic society women held a high role. Often women would actually participate in battle as warriors and some even held positions of power within the clans.

Even though most conceptions of the Celtic people are that of fierce warriors, batting with painted faces, half naked, and ready to take on any enemy that crossed their path, this was not necessarily the case. The Celts were a very superstitious and religious society, which is often incorporated with the images of Druids. This image of Merlin casting magic spells and turning his friends into cute animals is the "Disney" version of Celtic culture. This image ignores the true bloodthirstiness of the Celtic culture which included human sacrifice by fire or boiling the victim alive. Until Rome became a Christian empire, the Celtic empire in Gaul practiced the tradition of nailing the heads of their conquered enemies to their doors.

There are two theories on the origin of the Celtic religion (known as Druidism). One theory is that the religion spread as the Celts migrated west across Europe, bringing their religion with them. The other theory is that the religion actually began in the British Isles, where Druids were trained in their religion and then be sent back into Europe to spread Druidism. This religion was nature based, which is known today as "Earth Spirituality".

It is thought that there were three different classes of Druids; the differences believe to be that of their level of training and different functions. There of course was the Druid, then the Bard and then the Ovate. These Druids did not only function as religious leaders, but they also held positions as judges, and it is also believed that there are ArchDruids who had control over vast areas, very similar to Christianity's Archbishops.

Another important part of Celtic life was the festivals held throughout their thirteen month lunar calendar. Because of the odd number of months, they would often add days as the end of the year as "time between times". During their year they had a total of four festivals tied to their agricultural cycles. The first of their festivals took place on what is now October 31st to November 1st. This festival known as Samhain and celebrates the end of the harvest, the beginning of a new Celtic year and a celebration of the dead. During this holiday it was believed that the space between the human world and the spirit word thinned; so men would run with torches around their houses to ward off evil spirits. The next festival was held on February 1st to the 2nd, which is now the modern day Groundhog Day. This festival is known as Imbolc. It is simple and just celebrates the beginning of spring for the Celts. The third celebration of the year was held from April 30th to May 1st and was known as Beltane. This festival celebrates fertility and is now known as May Day. The festivities usually included children running around a pole with red and white ribbon and picking flowers. Eventually, a giant bonfire is lit to celebrate the return of the sun to the land. The final celebration of the Celtic year was known as Lughnasadh and took place July 31st to August 1st and celebrated the beginning of the harvest.

Besides the festivals that dealt with the agricultural year, the Celts also had four celebrations for the equinoxes and the solstices.

The first celebration was known as Alban Arthuan, which translates to Light of Arthur, and was the festival of the winter solstice. This festival, much like other winter solstice celebrations everywhere, celebrated the return of the sun after the shortest day of the year. The next celebration was known as Alban Eiler, which translates to Light of the Earth, and celebrated the vernal equinox. Not only did the Celts celebrate the balance of day and night but they also believed that it was the balance between their world and the spirit world, thus believing that this day had the most potential for magic. The third celebration was known as Alban Heruin and was the celebration of summer solstice. The Celts observed this holiday by playing games and having picnics. The final celebration is known as Alban Elued, translated to Light of the Water, is the celebration of the Autumn Equinox, and like the vernal equinox, it was believed to be a time where magic was possible.

One can obviously tell that farming played a large role in the lives of the Celtic people. The Celts of the Iron Age Britain mainly farmed in settled communities, where the people would tend to their farms and livestock. Archaeological evidence shows that there were also pastoral farmers, but not nearly as many as settled farms. In both Southern and Eastern Britain, large sections of land were used for farming. Here they grew crops such as corn, herbs, roots and wheat. The Celts grew different types of wheat such as oats, rye, barley and millet (Evidence of their dependence on grain can be found on ancient Celtic British coins with the depiction of ancient grain on them) and like the grain silos of today; famers in Celtic Britain used underground pits to store grain and other surplus crops. These pits were usually lined with wood and recent archaeological digs have revealed that it was common for farmers to leave offerings to the gods at the bottom of these pits, assumedly to ensure a successful harvest.

The Celts of Britain also had a system of organizing land for farming which could be traced back to the Bronze Age. This organization is seen mainly in the layout of fences on a large scale. Celtic Britain was one of the larger agricultural communities and is where the first regular rectangular farm fields were introduced. Later in the Iron Age (approximately 100 B.C.) forests and woodland areas began to be cleared to be used as farmland. Not only were the Celts one of the first cultures to clear woodland for farming, but they were one of the first cultures to successfully utilize the iron plow.

Crop cultivation was not the only form of subsistence know in Celtic Britain; Pastoral farming was the other common agricultural system of the Celts (also the most important), usually practiced in part with crop cultivation. In Celtic culture the more cattle a man owned, the wealthier he was. The extinct Celtic Shorthorn was the cattle of choice for the Celts, using them both for their milk and slaughtering some for their beef, which was the main meat eaten of the time. This system in which cattle represented wealth, a unique act came into practice known as Cattle raids, which is the act of stealing another man's cattle. Often these raids would act as proving grounds for young Celtic warriors looking to prove themselves. The Celts also raised sheep; not for meat but to keep alive to use their wool, and once the sheep had become old they would be butchered for mutton. Another animal the ancient Celts of Britain domesticated was the pig. It was smaller than a modern day domesticated pig and was a cross between a wild boar and a Tamworth pig. They raised these animals strictly for the purpose of providing ham, sausage and bacon.

In the Celtic culture there were three main groups that all shared the same culture; The Celts of Britain, the Celts of Ireland and the Celts of Gaul. Even though they were hundreds of miles apart they all shared the same cultural traits. Even though Romans looked at the Celts as barbarians, they really had a simple society rooted religion.


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