The Dying Gaul

Dying Gaul sculpture

I was touched as I have seldom been by a work of Art. The face looking down at me was not at all the ‘noble countenance’ one reads about but, on the contrary, a face so ordinary that its wearer would not have stood out if he had walked our own streets: unkempt hair, low forehead, slightly snub nose and a Celtic moustache of the type that has for some time been back in fashion.  The mouth is half open and the features are frozen in an expression less of pain than of painful bewilderment.

- Gerhard Herm from his work “The Celts”, on his viewing the Dying Gaul at the Roma Capitale

The consensus on the origins of the “Dying Gaul” is that it is a marble copy of an original bronze sculpture commissioned by the King of Pergamum to mark the defeat of Celtic Galatia.  The Greek bonzes are thought to have possibly been brought to Rome in the reign of Nero where a marble copy was made and it is this copy that was unearthed in the 1620’s during an excavation at the Villa Ludovisi. By 1736 it was on permanent exhibition at Rome’s Capitoline Museum where it has remained except between 1797 and 1816 when it was at the Louvre after Napoleon stole it and took it to Paris.

Interview with John Callow on his new book ‘Embracing the Darkness - A Cultural History of Witchcraft’

John Callow

John Callow is a writer and historian, specialising in Seventeenth Century politics and popular culture. He is the author of 'The Making of James II', 'Witchcraft and Magic in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Europe', 'King in Exile' and 'James II -The Triumph and the Tragedy'. His new book ‘Embracing the Darkness. A Cultural History of Witchcraft’ has just been published by I.B. Tauris.

John is of Manx descent and alongside his books he is the author of the articles on 'The Limits of Indemnity: Sovereignty and Retribution at the Trial of William Christian (Illiam Dhone)' (Seventeenth Century, vol.XV. no.2), ‘Thomas Fairfax as Lord of Man’ (in England’s Fortress – New Perspectives on Thomas, 3rd Lord Fairfax) and a study of ‘Lieutenant John Hathorne & Garrison Government on the Isle of Man, 1651-60 (Isle of Man Studies Vol.XIV).

Greetings on the Celtic Celebration of Halloween 2017

Halloween turnips

The Celtic festival Halloween is celebrated on the night of 31st October and 1st November every year.

In the six Celtic Nations, Halloween marks the end of the summer and the beginning of winter. The festival is associated with the Celtic feast of Kala-Goañv (Breton), Calan Gwaf (Cornish), Samhain (Irish), Sauin (Manx Gaelic), Samhuinn (Scottish Gaelic) and Calan Gaeaf (Welsh).

Entirely pagan in origin, Halloween was traditionally a time of year when the worlds of the living and the dead were seen to be at their closest. It is a time when the creatures of the 'Otherworld' make their presence known to the people of 'this world'.

Halloween is now a globally celebrated festival, particularly in the 'New World' where its traditions were brought by waves of Celtic emigration. The lanterns, fires, costumes and belief in the supernatural remain deeply rooted in Celtic culture and tradition. So greetings on this Halloween or Hop tu Naa as it is known on the Isle of Man. Remember to enjoy this festival, but take care, spirits and entities not of this world arise on this night as our ancestors knew only too well. Pay respect to the creatures of the 'Otherworld' or there maybe a heavy price to pay!

If you haven't already, we recommend reading our exclusive interview with Dr Jenny Butler on the Celtic Folklore Traditions of Halloween.

The Ghost of the Missing Edinburgh Piper Boy

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh (Scottish Gaelic: Dùn Èideann) is the capital city of Scotland. It has a rich history and the earliest known human habitation in the area  was at Cramond (Scottish Gaelic: Cathair Amain) a village and suburb in the north-west of Edinburgh. Evidence of a Mesolithic camp site was found here dating to c. 8500 BC. Traces of later Bronze Age and Iron Age settlements have been found in other parts within and surrounding Edinburgh. Amongst the many historic sites that can be seen today is the famous Edinburgh Castle. It stands on the extinct volcano of Castle Rock. Evidence of human occupation on the rock dates back to the Iron Age and there has been a royal castle on the rock since at least the 12th century under the reign of David I of Scotland in the 12th century.

The Droskyn Clock, Perranporth - marking Cornish time and not that of England

A giant clifftop sundial telling Cornish time took place as the major millenium project for Perranzabuloe. The Parish Council planned to construct a circle of standing stones; each marked with an hour.

Stuart Thorn from Perranporth designed the 20 foot stainless steel gnomon to cast shadows onto the standing stones.

The stones are aligned so they show the Cornish time rather than Greenwich Mean Time. When the sun is at its highest point, the North pointing gnomon will cast a shadow directly North onto the midday stone; in London it would happen approximately 12 minutes earlier.

Mr Thorn felt he wanted people to be aware of their whereabouts and placed a granite lectern above the site to explain to the North of the Sundial is thought to be the landing place of St.Piran. and up into the sand dunes the sites of St. Piran's Oratory, the Lost Church and St. Piran's Cross.

The Importance Of The Hare In Celtic Belief And Our Duty To Protect All Wildlife

Hare on old Irish three pence

Landscape, seas and geographic location plays a pivotal role in Celtic peoples history, beliefs and recognition of themselves. Our culture tells us that we are part of and completely tied to the lands in which we live and the sea that surrounds us. Consequently, as might be expected, Celtic mythology and folklore place the natural world at centre stage. In these stories everything in nature possess a spirit and presence of their own, including mountains, rocks, trees, rivers and all things of the land and the sea. Also forming part of the landscape and stretching back into the mists of time are the cairns, mounds and standing stones that are to be found everywhere in the Celtic lands of northwestern Europe. So accepted as a natural feature that they are seen as creations not of man but of nature or even the supernatural entities that were thought to live alongside the world known to humans.

Cairn L

Megalithic monuments were not placed in a random way but were large ceremonial complexes constructed for specific purposes. We can deduce that astronomical alignments, both solar and lunar, were important factors in the positioning of these remarkable structures. Our ancestors thought the constellations gave a special meaning to the world. Stone circles, cairns, other types of ancient stone monuments and Neolithic carvings have shown the Celts to be advanced astronomers. Ancient stones and tombs are placed in a way that capture moments of astronomical importance. According to archeologists the ancient Irish were the first to record a solar eclipse 5,354 years ago. A geometric etching illustrating the eclipse is thought to lie inside the Cairn L. This is one of the two large focal monuments on Cairnbane West outside Kells in Ireland’s County Meath. The carving of concentric circles and lines is at the back of the chamber of the cairn. As reported in a recent article in the Irish Post:

Deirdrê - Tragic Heroine In Ancient Irish Mythology

Deirdre painting

Deirdrê is the tragic heroine in Irish pre-Christian legend, whose story is told in the ancient Irish mythology of the Ulster Cycle. Deirdre was born in the reign of Conchobar mac Nessa King of Ulster. She was the daughter of Fedlimid mac Daill who was bard to the royal court. Her beauty was foretold at her birth by Cathbad the chief druid. He also gave a warning that her beauty would result in Kings going to war over her and sorrow would follow. Conchobar ignores this warning as he intends to marry her when she comes of age. He seeks to possess this woman of such great beauty and sends Deirdrê to be brought up in seclusion by the wise old woman Leabharcham, away from the gaze and desires of other men. Leabharcham fulfils her duty of raising and educating Deirdrê, until her return to the court of King Conchobar.

Destiny cannot be denied however, as the prophecy of Cathbad the chief druid is already taking shape. Leabharcham, for all the care she has taken, has also told Deirdrê about the handsome young warrior Naoise. He was the nephew of King Conchobar mac Nessa. When they met Deirdrê fell in love with Naoise. Although he knew that she was destined to marry the King the couple eventually eloped. Along with Naoise's two brothers, Ardan and Ainnle, the couple are pursued across Ireland by Conchobar and eventually have to flee to Scotland. But even in Scotland there are Chiefs who seek to take Deirdrê for their own and she and Naoise must move from place to place. King Conchobar still remains determined and angry in his quest. He tracks them down and sends Fergus mac Róich to meet them promising a guarantee of safe passage home. This was a guarantee that Fergus believed to be promised in honour, but Conchobar had other ideas. On the journey to the King’s royal seat at Emain Macha, Fergus was ordered to separate from those he was escorting home and join King Conchabar. Directing his own son to protect them, Fergus sent Naoise, Deirdrê, Ardan and Ainnle on to Emain Macha.

Owain Glyndŵr

Owain Glyndŵr (c.1349-c.1416) was the leader of a Welsh revolt against English rule between 1400 and 1409. Years of attempts to subordinate the Welsh to the English crown and harsh rule had created a climate ripe for popular revolt.  Owain Glyndŵr was well placed to lead this rebellion. He was charismatic and directly descended from Welsh aristocracy and royalty.

Owain Glyndŵr's dispute with his neighbour Lord Grey of Ruthin, a close ally of Henry IV, sparked the revolt. After Owain Glyndŵr’s attack on Ruthin and other towns in north Wales Henry led an army into Wales and Glyndŵr’s lands were confiscated.  Owain Glyndŵr and his forces embarked on a successful campaign of guerrilla warfare which developed into conventional battles. As he started to score ever more impressive victories Owain Glyndŵr’s fame spread throughout Wales. He drew increasing support from the Welsh eager to throw off the yoke of English rule.

The Thistle - Scotlands Proud Floral Emblem

Scottish thistle

The purple thistle has been Scotland's national emblem for centuries. Amongst the identifiable symbols of things associated with Scotland the thistle probably ranks alongside tartan. Heather is also thought of as a symbol of Scotland and wearing a sprig of heather is believed to bring good luck. However, the thistle is used by all kinds of organisations across Scotland as an emblem. It has also been seen as a royal symbol since James III used it on silver coins in 1470. James III (10 July 1451 – 11 June 1488) was proclaimed King of Scotland at the age of 8, following the death of his father James II. He was killed at the Battle of Sauchieburn in Stirlingshire on 11 June 1488. Common throughout the highlands, islands and lowlands of Scotland, the thistle has earned a special place in the heart of Scottish people.

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