The Mythology and Folklore of the Celts (May 2024)

This essay first appeared in the May 2024 issue of Choice (volume 61 | issue 9).

Introductions:

Stories are undoubtedly the most human creation ever to exist and possibly the only creation to be fully human. Stories are what we tell to pass the time. Every culture tells stories and though there certainly are similarities, each story is unique to its culture. When it comes to myths and folklore, the culture with some of the most interesting stories is that of the Celts. This essay is designed to help beginning researchers, especially anthropology and folklore students interested in Celtic mythology and folklore, start their journey into the wonderful stories of the Celtic people.

But who were the Celts? Though this question may seem easy to answer, anyone with academic experience knows that the answer complex. People have their own ideas about who the Celts were and are. Those walking through a Renaissance festival may think the music they are hearing is Celtic. Those who encounter jewelry with intertwining knots may consider the design Celtic. But this is far too simplistic. As Frank Delaney points out in The Celts, early Celtic peoples did not write anything down, so what we know of them has been pieced together from material culture. Delaney provides a summary of the information about Celtic origins gained through archaeological sites (for example, the grave of the chieftain at Hochdorf) and from what other nations wrote about them, and he showcases the Celts’ mysticism and power.

Delaney is only one of many scholars who have dedicated their careers to researching and uncovering the secrets of Celtic culture. Another is Barry Cunliffe, who delves into Celtic culture first in The Ancient Celts and subsequently in The Celts: A Very Short Introduction. In the latter, Cunliffe views the Celts through the lens of the Romans and the Greeks. Those looking for a deeper dive into Celtic culture should seek out The Celtic World, edited by Miranda Green, a collection of essays by researchers at the forefront of Celtic scholarship. The contributors provide deep studies of topics such as rural life and farming, and the Celtic economy and technology. But before entering the fantastical world of Celtic mythology and folklore, one should differentiate between myth and folklore.


About the Author:

Drew Timmons, MLIS, is interlibrary loan specialist at Northern Kentucky University’s Steely Library.