(26) Early conquests and
the religion of the British Isles.
There was no name of that land when the
survivors of the ice age came and began to live in the caves around 6000
BC. Then came some people from the Rhine and Danube river area in about
2000 BC who used bronze tools. They settled, flourished and left their
monumental structure (in Salisbury) which is now called the Stonehenge.
The Celts and their language.
The first civilized invaders were the Celts of warlike
nature who occupied the western island (now Ireland) and the northern area
of the main island (now Scotland) in about 500 BC. They were from Gaul
which is now France. Another group of Celts invaded and settled on the
main island. They were called the Bretons (or Brythons), and thus, later,
the entire group of islands was called the ‘British Isles.’
The Celts originally lived in Austria (700 BC), then
they spread to France, Portugal, Spain and the British Isles. Not much is
known about the early Celts. The Celts of the British Isles developed a
writing style called Ogham. The Ogham alphabet consisted of 20
signs represented by straight or diagonal strokes, varying in number from
one to five, and drawn below, above or right through the horizontal line.
The inscriptions of a few words or names on stone monuments of the 4th
century AD have been found.
(A sample of Ogham line-alphabet:)
Roman conquests. In 56 BC, Julius Caesar invaded
Britain, defeated the Celts, collected the wealth and returned to Rome. In
43 AD, Roman Emperor Claudius again invaded Britain, continued to conquer
Celtic kings, and by 80 AD most of Britain had become a part of the Roman
Empire. During the period of conquest, Romans built a seaport near Thames
and called it Londinium which became London afterwards. In the
early 400’s the Romans left Britain because they had to defend their own
country from the barbarian invasions. During that time Britain prospered.
Romans built roads and forts, developed trade and also built walls and
forts across the northern border to protect it from the warriors of
Scotland. For the first time Christianity also came during that time but
it did not spread much. People used to worship Celtic gods and goddesses.
Germanic invasions. During the 5th century AD
Germanic tribes invaded Britain. They pushed the Celts mostly to the
fringes of Britain and some of them migrated to Brittany in northwest
France. During the early middle ages Celts adopted Latin alphabet and
developed their culture. The Celtic languages that developed were Irish,
Scots and Manx Gaelic, Cornish, Welsh and Breton of Brittany. Welsh, Irish
and Scots Gaelic are still spoken in these countries but Breton is almost
a dead language.
Early religion of the British Isles.
The Celts believed that the sun god rises from the sea
in the early morning and goes back to the other world at night, which is a
Delightful Plain also called The Land of the Young where
there is no sickness, no old age, no death and happiness lasts forever. It
was imagined to be some island beyond the sea where one day was like one
hundred years of this world. This belief matches the Greek description of
Elysium which is their heaven where souls of the heroes go and live
forever. It was called the Island of the Blessed, and this story
was also believed by the Romans of those days. The Celts also worshipped
certain sacred (oak) trees, wells and rivers and regarded the rivers
Shannon and Boyne as goddesses.
Some 400 names of gods appear in the Celtic
mythological tales, most of which appear only once. The name of god Lug
who is supposed to be the king of gods appears the most. Taranis,
god of sky and thunder, and Teutates, the tribal god or god of war,
are also important. They are identified as god Mercury, Jupiter
and Mars respectively. The images of gods with three heads
(mostly unidentified), were found in the British Isles, mostly in Ireland.
An interesting goddess Epona was also quite popular in those days
who was the goddess of the travelers and her image was often used to
decorate the stables.
There were a number of Celtic gods and goddesses with
Irish transformations who were worshipped where Lug was also the sun god.
The priests who conducted the rites were called the Druids.