Mythology is a rich word that refers to a collection of tales from folklore. These tales usually rely on total myth and have no objective evidence of existence. However, a lot of beliefs stemmed from those folktales, leading people to forget what is real and what is not. Some notions have become so embedded in cultures.
Every culture has its own fair share of mythological tales with unique traditions and customs that come along. Like other mythologies around the world, Celtic mythology embraces many tales and legends. It is also rich in symbols that bear a lot of significance in the Irish culture.
Today we are casting light on Celtic mythology, which narrates the folktales of ancient Celtic cultures, including the Irish, the Scottish, the Welsh, and the Gauls. Mythology is often the stories of mythical deities and divine creatures.
Who Were the Celts?
To learn about Celtic mythology, we find it essential to know about the people behind these traditions and belief systems, the celts. The Celts is a term used to describe people in Western Europe.
They spoke their Celtic language, deemed an ancient language in today’s world. Today, the word “celts” mainly describes people from Wales, Ireland, and Scotland. However, it also includes the people of Cornwall, the Isle of Man, and Brittany. They are also commonly known as the Celtic nations.
Difference Between Irish and Celtic Mythology
People mistakenly used the term “Celtic” to describe Ireland’s people, beliefs, and traditions. While they are both related, the word Celtic goes way beyond Ireland. It also includes Scotland, Wales, and all the other countries we mentioned earlier.
The same goes when it comes to describing Celtic mythology. To make matters easier, Irish mythology is a branch of Celtic mythology. However, Celtic mythology includes a lot of other cultures besides the Irish.
The Most Popular Legends from Celtic Mythology
Given the constant confusion between the terms Irish and Celtic mythology, you will usually find the most famous Celtic legends are originally Irish. Many of the tales and legends of Ireland are found in other Celtic cultures with little variations or the same narratives. However, they are too interrelated that people from all of the Celtic countries are aware of them.
Here are some of the most famous folktales from Celtic mythology:
1. The Children of Lir
This tale is the most popular in Celtic mythology, emphasising the significance of loyalty and the importance of family. The Children of Lir also highlights how the Christian faith can be the end of doom and endless suffering.
Lir was a king who had four children with his wife, Allah; a daughter and three sons. Aoibh died after giving birth to her twins, and Lir married Aoife. His second wife witnessed Lir giving great love and attention to his four children; thus, she became jealous. Her jealousy had driven her to use magic to try and kill the children.
On a beautiful sunny day, Aoife took the children swimming in the lake. She cast a spell where the four of them turned into white swans. Her anger was a bit too much that she put a time limit on her spell before they turned back to humans. She doomed them for 900 years, where every 300 years, they spend time in different places with tough conditions.
For the last 300 years, they spent them on a lake near a church, where a monk took care of them. They kept hearing the bells of the church and loving its sound. After nine centuries, they turned back to their human forms, becoming very old and weak. The four requested to be baptised before death, and their wish was granted.
2. The Legend of the Banshee
The Banshee is a famous mythical creature in Celtic mythology. It always makes an appearance in famous Irish folktales and legends. This creature is a woman that lives in the forests. Her main job is to wail and scream when she anticipates the death of a family member. In other words, the person who hears a banshee’s scream is expected to die soon.
The way that Celtic mythology describes the appearance of the Banshee varies from one region to another. Some folktales describe her as a beautiful young woman with long hair. However, other legends depict the Banshee as an old woman with an ugly and frightening look, covered with a hood and having long silver hair.
The Banshee also appears as a crow rather than a lady. In many cultures, crows are associated with death and bad omen. The Banshee is not real, yet many people in Ireland and Scotland have inherited this belief from older generations. In Scottish mythology, every family has its Banshee, and it appears to the dying person or they hear her screams.
3. Fionn Mac Cumhaill and the Giant’s Causeway
Fionn Mac Cumhaill, or Finn McCool, is a legendary hero in the folktales of Celtic mythology. According to legends, he was a giant man who took Northern Ireland as his home. This character is quite popular in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man mythologies. Fionn came from a group of people named the Fianna, bands of warrior-hunter people.
The Giant’s Causeway is a massive bridge that links Northern Ireland and Scotland. It’s pretty enormous that the story of the giant Fionn Mac Cumhaill became associated with it. The story narrates that Fionn was responsible for creating this bridge. It professes that Scotland had another giant, Benandonner, who was a rival to Fionn, but he was much bigger than Fionn.
Both giants would keep shouting at each other. One day, Benandonner threatened Fionn. Driven by anger, Fionn started taking parts of the Antrim Coastline and throwing them into the sea. This has created a long path that reached all the way from Northern Ireland to Scotland.
However, Fionn realised halfway through that Benandonner was much bigger than he seemed far away. Thus, he rushed back to Ireland to protect himself. Benandonner tried to cross that path and reach Ireland, but Fionn disguised himself as a baby, so Benandonner would leave him alone. Thus, Benandonner returned home, destroying parts of the Giant’s Causeway.
Definitely, this rivalry story between the two giants never happened. However, it was a mythical legend to explain the ruined parts of the Giant’s Causeway. The real reason behind the destruction was that the vast bridge goes back many years ago and is considered one of the world’s natural wonders. The volcanic activity around the area was responsible for destroying parts of the causeway.
4. The Legend of the Tiny Leprechauns
Fairies are always female in almost every folktale or even film. However, Ireland happens to have male fairies, the leprechauns. These creatures look like tiny human beings, yet they are not fairies, for they are known for their sly nature. Some even refer to them as trickster fairies. Leprechauns are a huge part of many Celtic mythology legends and tales, especially in Ireland.
The word “leprechauns” come from the Old Irish word “luchorpan,” which means small. These not-so-cute little-bodied creatures are fond of collecting treasure and hiding it in a place no one can find. They have magical abilities that they use to do good and evil. They are capable of murdering a human being if they are displeased with them.
Many legends say leprechauns appear like old men with petite bodies and long beards. In ancient folktales, they were always in red attire. However, they are now most commonly associated with the colour green. They also always wear big hats. There was never a story where a female leprechaun made an appearance. According to Celtic mythology, they’re always men.
5. The Puca: The Mischievous Spirit of the Irish Countryside
Seemingly, Ireland is one of those countries that believe in the existence of evil spirits. This brings us to yet another famous legend of Celtic mythology, the puca. Puca is an Old Irish word that means ghost or spirit. It is also sometimes spelt as pooka. This creature is an animal shapeshifter that’s primary purpose is to trick humans and deceive them.
According to old beliefs, this creature lives in the countryside of Ireland. This fact led many people to search for it but with no luck. Thus, it has led some people to believe it might hide deep in the mountains and hills. People thought of the puca as an evil spirit because it takes the form of many animals, either horses, rabbits, wolves, goats, dogs, or even cats.
There are times when pookas appear as human beings; however, they can be easily spotted, for they usually possess animal features. Thus, even when they have a human appearance, they tend to have a tail or animal ears.
Because of the scary stories that people have heard by word of mouth about pookas, many prefer to stay in during Halloween, believing it’s the time when the pookas mostly roam around. Other legends of the puca include it being in a horse form, causing damage to crops and destroying fences.
There are a lot more legendary folktales in Celtic mythology, yet we introduced you to the most popular ones. Thus, the next time you are gathered with your friends, tell them one of these iconic stories.
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