Animals played an important role in the ancient Celtic belief system, especially snakes and serpents, which was used in many different areas of the culture. In this article, you will encounter other animals used as symbolize amongst ancient Celt.
Snakes and Serpents
The snake was used to represent many different beliefs in the Celtic culture. Besides being used to signify the link between the rivers and seas, they also symbolized a connection between the Heavens and Earth. When speaking of creation, fertility, healing, and even rebirth, snakes and serpents were often mentioned in the same breath. Since snakes shed their skin on a yearly basis, the Celts saw this as a symbol to explain the different cycles that the living in nature endures.
The Celts also looked at the snake as a protector, who was depicted as guarding the entrance to the Otherworld, which was viewed as the “realm of the dead” or place where the deities lived. It was also the place that spirits and other beings were thought to reside. The creature was also viewed as a companion of the gods. In Celtic mythology, the Earth Serpent (called Ouroboros) served as a symbol of the “coiled energy within the Earth.” When her tail was in her mouth, this position was seen as ‘infinity.’
When Celtic noblemen took off into battle, horses served as the most common of animal symbols. Horses were looked at as “companions of the gods.” The Celts admired the creatures for their speed, vitality, fertility, and beauty. In Celtic animal symbolism, horses represented healing, rejuvenation, progress, and life in movement. It was believed that the man able to take the reins of the horse of the goddesses Epona and Macha was a man who possessed all the power in his hands.
The horse appeared throughout Celtic art as a lasting symbol. Around Europe, impressive carvings of horses have been uncovered in cliff sides. Although worshipped amongst Celts, horses were often sacrificed during ceremonies because of the connection they believed horses held with the land.
Other associations that Celts have made with horses include mystery, magic, and the night. Interestingly, the term ‘nightmare’ actually comes from the word ‘mare’ , the word for a female horse. The Celts expressed the fear of a dream gone wrong; believing that a horse linked to goddesses Epona or Mare visited the dreamer.
It’s not everyday that you hear of a culture worshipping the salmon. For the Celts, this particular fish stood as a symbol for all knowledge. Known for swimming in their river and oceans, the salmon was also linked to sacred ancient mysteries and deep emotion. The Celts were not the only culture to use the salmon in their symbolism. Some Native Americans saw the fish as a symbol of fertility and good health. Representing the source of life, the salmon was used as a main source of food. It was seen as a provider linked to renewal and dependability.