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The Kelts and the ancient Greek Religion


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The word Kelt or Celt is derived from the Greek Kælti (Keltoi; Gr. Κελτοί, ΚΕΛΤΟΙ). It is found early in the sixth century BCE writings of Ækataios (Hecataeus; Gr. Ἑκαταῖος) of Mílitos (Miletus; Gr. Μίλητος) to describe peoples living in the area now known as southern France. [1] The etymology of the word is uncertain:

"Possible roots are kel 'exalt' or kel 'strike', as in Latin percello. Another suggestion is kwel 'turn', Latin incola 'settler'." [2]

It is also said that Kelt means "hidden people" on account of a Keltish religious proscription forbidding the writing down of Keltic mystical knowledge. The Kelts, although now associated primarily with the peoples of Scotland, Ireland, and Wales are known by scholars to have lived in many places through much of Europe.

According to the ancient Greek grammarian and poet Parthǽnios (Parthenius; Gr. Παρθένιος) of Níkaia (Nicaea; Gr. Νίκαια), the Kelts are descendants of the union of Iraklís (Heracles or Hercules; Gr. Ἡρακλῆς) and the nymph Kæltíni (Keltine; Gr. Κελτίνη). Kæltíni is the daughter of Vrættanós (Brattanos; Gr. Βρεττανός), an early king of Britain. She had concealed the herds of cattle that Iraklís had won in his campaign against Yiryóhn (Geryon; Gr. Γηρυών, pronounced yee-ree-OHN). She used these herds, as well as her beauty, to lure the Hero and marry him. The resulting union produced a son whom they named Kǽltos (Gr. Κέλτος; Latin: Celtus). Kǽltos is called the father of the Kelts.

Another version of the story, told by Diódohros Sikælióhtis (Diodoros Siculus; Gr. Διόδωρος Σικελιώτης), calls the offspring of this union Galátis (Galates; Gr. Γαλάτης), and credits Galátis with founding the country of the Gauls. Ancient Gaul was a Keltish land.

"Now Celtica (ed. part of Gaul) was ruled in ancient times, so we are told, by a renowned man who had a daughter who was of unusual stature and far excelled in beauty all the other maidens. But she, because of her strength of body and marvelous comeliness, was so haughty that she kept refusing every man who wooed her in marriage, since she believed that no one of her wooers was worthy of her. Now in the course of his campaign against the Geryones, Heracles visited Celtica and founded there the city of Alesia, and the maiden, on seeing Heracles, wondered at his prowess and his bodily superiority and accepted his embraces with all eagerness, her parents having given their consent. From this union she bore to Heracles a son named Galates, who far surpassed all the youths of the tribe in quality of spirit and strength of body. And when he had attained to man's estate and had succeeded to the throne of his fathers, he subdued a large part of the neighbouring territory and accomplished great feats in war. Becoming renowned for his bravery, he called his subjects Galatae or Gauls after himself, and these in turn gave their name to all of Galatia or Gaul." [4]

There are similarities between Keltic religion and Ællinismόs (Hellenismos; Gr. Ἑλληνισμός), the ancient Greek religion. To commence our examination, both traditions are polytheistic, as were almost all ancient religions. Beyond this, there are miscellaneous references. 

Plinius (Pliny) the Elder states that mistletoe and oak were sacred to the Kelts. They preferred to do ritual in oak groves. This is significant because in Greek religion, the oak is sacred to the greatest of all the Gods, Zefs (Zeus; Gr. Ζεύς). Plinius goes further and presumes that the name Druid may have a Greek root: drys (Gr. δρῦς) meaning "trees bearing acorns, oak," dryínas (druinas; Gr. δρυΐνας) which refers to a "serpent which lives in the hollows of oaks," and Dryídis (Gr. Δρυΐδης) which is the ancient Greek word for 'Druid'. [5]

Máximos Týrios (Maximus of Tyre; Gr. Μάξιμος Τύριος), the 2nd Century CE philosopher, believed that the Kelts worshiped Zefs [6] to whom the oak was sacred. Consider Dohdóhna (Dodona; Gr. Δωδώνᾱ), the sacred oracular shrine of Zefs in northwest Greece, where oracles were construed from the rustling of the leaves of a sacred grove of oaks.

According to Julius Caesar, the Keltish priests believed in a form of reincarnation. [7] Likewise, Diódohros Sikælióhtis finds similarities in Keltish beliefs to Pythagorean ideas on palingænæsía (palingenesia; Gr. παλιγγενεσία), reincarnation.

"... for the belief of Pythagoras prevails among them, that the souls of men are immortal and that after a prescribed number of years they commence upon a new life, the soul entering into another body. Consequently, we are told, at the funerals of their dead some cast letters upon the pyre which they have written to their deceased kinsmen, as if the dead would be able to read these letters." [8]

There are instances of syncretism between the Gods of the Kelts and the Gods of Hellenic religion. For instance, Apóllohn (Apollo; Gr. Ἀπόλλων) was sometimes equated with various Keltic deities: Amarcolitanus, Anextlomarus, Atepomarus, Belenus, Borvo, Grannus, Maponus, Moritasgus, Toutiorix, and Vindonnus. In some instances, the Kelts used a native word as an epithet, as the Hellenes did; an example would be the Keltish God, Apóllohn Belenus (“the shining God” cf. Φοῖβος, the famous epithet of Apóllohn), [9] but this is just one of many examples.

Also of interest are the stories surrounding Párthalohn (also Parthalan; Gr. Πάρθαλων). [10] Called the first king of Ireland, Párthalohn was the son of Sera of Kalydóhn (Calydon; Gr. Καλυδών) in Greece who fled his country after, reputedly, killing his parents, arriving in Ireland seven years later. Párthalohn died some thirty years hence, along with his many followers, who all perished from plague. Only one person survived: Tuan mac Cairill, the son of Párthalohn's brother Starn. Tuan underwent a series of animal transformations and was eventually reborn as the son of Cairell in the sixth century CE, who then told the story of Párthalohn. There is considerable controversy concerning the story of Párthalohn, even the date of his reign ranges between 2680 BCE to 1150 BCE. By other accounts (possibly to discredit the 'pagan' origin of the king), Párthalohn was described as a descendant of the Biblical Noah.

Lexicon entry: Κελτοί, οἱCelts, Hdt.2.33, Plb.1.13.4:—later Κέλται, Str.4.1.1, etc.:—hence ΚελτικόςήόνCeltic, Gallic: —poet. Κελτόςήόν, Call.Del.173:—fem. Κελτίςίδοςἡ Κελτική the country of the Celts or Gauls, Arist.H A606b4, Str.4.1.1;  Κελτία Foed. ap. Plb.7.9.6. [11] 


The songs of Scottish Heroes: The songs from The Boy and the Well of Memory 



[1] European Pre-History: A Survey, edited by Sarunas Milisauskas, Springer Science & Business Media, 2002, p. 363.

[2] Celts and the Classical World by David Rankin, Routledge, 1987; found in the 1996 paperback edition on p. 2.

[3] Παρθένιος Erotica Pathemata c30, Etymologicum Magnum 502, trans. J.M. Edmonds and S. Gaselee in Daphnis and Chloe/Parthenius in 1916; Also in Loeb Classical Library LCL 69, Harvard (Cambridge, MA), under the title Longus, Daphnis and Chloe. Parthenius, Love Romances.

[4] Διόδωρος Σικελιώτης Βιβλιοθήκη ἱστορική 5.24.1-3, trans. C. H. Oldfather 1939. We are using the 2000 year edition published by Harvard Univ. Press (Cambridge MA and London England), Loeb LCL 340, entitled Diodorus Siculus III, where this quotation may be found on pp. 161-163.

[5] Pliny the Elder Hist. Nat. 16,249.

[6] Dictionary of Celtic Religion and Culture (Bernhard Maier)  First published 1994 as Lexikon der keltischen Religion und Kultur by Alfred Kröner Verlag, Stuttgart; English trans. 1997 but found here in the 2000 edition published by The Boydell Press (Woodbridge, Suffolk and Rochester, NY), p. 211 - within the entry for "oak".

[7] Bell. Gall. 6,14.

[8] Διόδωρος Σικελιώτης Βιβλιοθήκη ἱστορική 5.28.6, trans. C. H. Oldfather 1939. We are using the 2000 year edition published by Harvard Univ. Press (Cambridge MA and London England), Loeb LCL 340, entitled Diodorus Siculus III, where this quotation may be found on pp. 171-173.

[9] Dictionary of Celtic Religion and Culture (Bernhard Maier)  First published 1994 as Lexikon der keltischen Religion und Kultur by Alfred Kröner Verlag, Stuttgart; English trans. 1997 but found here in the 2000 edition published by The Boydell Press (Woodbridge, Suffolk and Rochester, NY), p. 18 - within the entry for "Apollo". 

[10] Párthalohn is mentioned in the Book of the Invasions of Ireland, Lebor Gabála Érenn, as taking possession of the island 300 years after the Flood, and to have fought the first battle on Irish soil against the Fomoire, mythical prehistoric daemons. (source: Ibid. Maier/Kröner Verlag Dictionary of Celtic Religion and Culture, p. 220 and 121)

[11] Greek-English Lexicon by H.G. Liddell and R. Scott, 1843; we are using the 1996 Clarendon Press edition (Oxford, England),  p. 937, right column, edited for simplicity.


Away, ye gay landscapes, ye gardens of roses,
In you let the minions of luxury rove,
Restore me the rocks where the snow-flake reposes,
Though still they are sacred to freedom and love.
Yet Caledonia, belov'd are thy mountains,
Round their white summits tho' elements war,
Though cataracts foam 'stead of smooth-flowing fountains,
I sigh for the valley of dark Lochnagar.

Ah! there my young footsteps in infancy wander'd,
My cap was the bonnet, my cloak was the plaid.
On chieftains long perish'd my memory ponder'd
As daily I strode thro' the pine-cover'd glade.
I sought not my home till the day's dying glory
Gave place to the rays of the bright Polar star,
For fancy was cheer'd by traditional story,
Disclos'd by the natives of dark Lochnagar! 

Years have roll'd on, Lochnagar, since I left you!
Years must elapse ere I tread you again.
Though nature of verdure and flow'rs has bereft you,
Yet still are you dearer than Albion's plain.
England, thy beauties are tame and domestic
To one who has roamed over mountains afar
Oh! for the crags that are wild and majestic,
The steep frowning glories of dark Lochnagar.

by Lord Byron (1806, written in his youth) 

from Don Juan by Lord Byron:


And when I use the phrase of 'Auld Lang Syne!'
   'Tis not address'd to you --- the more's the pity
For me, for I would rather take my wine
   With you, than aught (save Scott) in your proud city.
But somehow, --- it may seem a schoolboy's whine,
   And yet I seek not to be grand nor witty,
But I am half a Scot by birth, and bred
A whole one, and my heart flies to my head, ---


As 'Auld Lang Syne' brings Scotland, one and all,
   Scotch plaids, Scotch snoods, the blue hills, and clear streams,
The Dee, the Don, Balgounie's brig's black wall,
   All my boy feelings, all my gentler dreams
Of what I then dreamt, clothed in their own pall,
   Like Banquo's offspring; --- floating past me seems
My childhood in this childishness of mine:
I care not --- 't is a glimpse of 'Auld Lang Syne.'


And though, as you remember, in a fit 
   Of wrath and rhyme, when juvenile and curly,
I rail'd at Scots to show my wrath and wit,
   Which must be own'd was sensitive and surly,
Yet 't is in vain such sallies to permit,
   They cannot quench young feelings fresh and early:
I 'scotch'd not kill'd' the Scotchman in my blood,
And love the land of 'mountain and of flood.'

Lord Byron Don Juan Canto the Tenth XVII-XIX

The story of the birth of the GodsOrphic Rhapsodic Theogony.
We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology
Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.
Introduction to the Thæí (the Gods): The Nature of the Gods.

The logo to the left is the principal symbol of this website. It is called the CESS logo, i.e. the Children of the Earth and the Starry Sky. The 
Pætilía (Petelia; Gr. Πετηλία) and other golden tablets having this phrase are the inspiration for the symbol. The image represents this idea: Earth (divisible substance) and the Sky (continuous substance) are the two kozmogonic substances. The twelve stars represent the Natural Laws, the dominions of the Olympian Gods. In front of these symbols is the seven-stringed kithára (cithara; Gr. κιθάρα), the lyre of Apóllohn (Apollo; Gr. Ἀπόλλων). It (here) represents the bond between Gods and mortals and is representative that we are the children of Orphéfs (Orpheus; Gr. Ὀρφεύς).

PLEASE NOTE: Throughout the pages of this website, you will find fascinating stories about our Gods. These narratives are known as 


, the traditional stories of the Gods and Heroes. While these tales are great mystical vehicles containing transcendent truth, they are symbolic and should not be taken literally. A literal reading will frequently yield an erroneous result. The meaning of the myths is concealed in code. To understand them requires a key. For instance, when a God kills someone, this usually means a transformation of the soul to a higher level. Similarly, sexual union with a God is a transformation.

The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony.
We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology
Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.

SPELLING: HellenicGods.org uses the Reuchlinian method of pronouncing ancient Greek, the system preferred by scholars from Greece itself. An approach was developed to enable the student to easily approximate the Greek words. Consequently, the way we spell words is unique, as this method of transliteration is exclusive to this website. For more information, visit these three pages: 

Pronunciation of Ancient Greek         


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