II) Sources

The Celts had the peculiarity of transmitting their culture, religious beliefs and myths exclusively by oral means. From the 7th c. BC, however, they were confronted by Greek script, since a Greek colony had settled in the south-east of Gaul and founded Massilia in about 600 BC. Except for their accounts, they chose deliberately not to use the written form, and thus their history, knowledge, myths and beliefs were left unrecorded.37 This reasoned religious interdict certainly ensued from a strict refusal to give a fix form to esoteric knowledge: the sacredness of knowledge lay within its non-written form, which profoundly enhanced its mystical character. Therefore, there are no contemporary indigenous literary texts describing Celtic myths and deities.

The available data relating to Celtic goddesses falls into three main categories, which are of a different nature and period according to the country concerned: the contemporary Classical texts, the vernacular literature of early medieval Ireland, and archaeology, consisting of places of devotions, epigraphy and iconography. Classical texts on Celtic religion mainly pertain to Gaul and information on the goddesses is very scarce. Irish medieval literature describes the myths of the ancient Celts of Ireland, while votive epigraphy and iconography concern Britain and Gaul only, since the practice appeared with the Roman conquest. The archaeological material is fragmentary, sparse and very often obscure. As Celtic tradition was oral, the study of Celtic deities is complex, for all types of evidence are indirect, and thus, to an extent, distorted: Classical authors commented on peoples whose cults and worship they considered to be primitive and barbarian; Irish mythology was written down from the 7th c. AD by Christian monks; and votive inscriptions and divine representations in Gaul and Britain date from Gallo-Roman and Romano-British times. The archaeological evidence for the places of devotion is both from pre-Roman and Gallo-Roman/Romano-British times, but the goddesses honoured in Celtic sanctuaries cannot be identified by inscriptions or representations. As the evidence for Celtic goddesses is sparse, scattered and indirect, the subject of this study presents ambiguities and has frequently been the subject of multiple – sometimes contradictory - interpretations. To reconstruct the nature and origin of the Celtic goddesses, their functions, cults and myths, it is therefore necessary to use a wide variety of types of sources pertaining to many different periods. A detailed analysis and comparison of the surviving linguistic, literary, epigraphic and iconographical data in Gaul, Ancient Britain and Ireland will allow us to establish connections and similarities and thereby piece together a pattern of Celtic beliefs in Gaul and Britain as they relate to female deities.


Brunaux, 2005, p. 25.