The Gaulish Worldview is well known to us, through a combination of classical texts that may or may not have been exaggerated and linguistic terms that we are able to tie to similar beliefs in neighbouring cultures. There are elements shared with the insular Gaelic religions as well as similarities found in other continental Indo-European religions.
In addition to the polytheistic nature that Gaulish Polytheism suggests, there are also many elements of animism, the belief that every river, hill, rock, natural feature that exists carries a spirit that should be respected and honoured.
Widugeni (2015) gives us the Three Worlds and the cosmic principles of summer and winter, known as Samos and Giamos which operate the push and pull of the universe, night and day, wilderness and domesticity, chaos and order.
Our World is “Bitus”, it’s our plane of existence, the home of many spirits and animals. The other worlds often act on Bitus, maintaining and nourishing it.
The home of the celestial deities is known as Albios. The cosmic principle of Samos comes from here, and Taranos upholds the cosmic balance through Order and Truth. The ancient Gauls would make offerings to this world often by burning them, as the ashes would carry the sacrifice to the World above.
The underworld is colloquially known as “the Deep” or “Dumnos” in Gaulish where the chthonic gods like Nantosuelta and Sucellos reside, as well as the possibly malevolent Anderoi “those below”. This place is the home of Mystery, Darkness, and Power, the forces of Giamos. The ancient Gauls would view deep shafts or bodies of water as entrances to the underworld.
Tying together the three worlds, Albios, Bitus and Dumnos, is the World Tree. We have come to know it by the name Drus, as seen in the name of the popular and mysterious priests of Gaul, the Druides. Delamarre (1999, 2003) ties the concept of the World Tree to the three worlds and makes the assertion that the Druides were those who ‘know the World Tree’ and hence know the cosmos. Based on comparative studies, we can assume that the Gauls saw a well at the base of Drus, from which the tree drank and the forces of fate and destiny, which bubbled up from or were washed into, shape the growth of Drus (Cusack 2011, Dodge 2020).
In many Indo-European religions, we find evidence of gods slaying serpents or giants who wish destruction and violence upon the world. The Gaulish Worldview is no different, where we have several possible representations of Taranos defeating snake-limbed giants, which ties in with His role as the cosmic protector (Cusack 2011, Woolf 2001).
There are other cosmic concepts that some, many, or ancient Gauls may have believed in. These are the concepts of destiny, fate, and the multi-part soul.
The concept of the soul by itself is widely supported, that the soul is located in the head, which led to headhunting with the belief it would prevent a soul from reincarnating. It is known from the writing of the classical authors that some of the ancient Gauls had their own island of the dead to the west of Britain. The spirits of the dead would stay close to their bodies for a time until they would eventually travel to the shore and ask living fishermen to take them to the island (Koch, 2006). Lucan in his Pharsalia states:
“If what you druids sing is true, the souls of men
Do not seek the silent habitation of Erebus [the Greek Underworld]
Or the pale realm of Dis [the Roman Underworld], but the breath of life
Still commands these bodies in another region –”
There is also a belief in reincarnation, but specifically as humans.
Cusack, C.M., 2011. The Sacred Tree: Ancient and Medieval Manifestations. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Delamarre, X., 1999. Cosmologie indo-européenne,„Rois du Monde “celtiques et le nom des druides. Historische Sprachforschung/Historical Linguistics, 112(1. H), pp.32-38.
Delamarre, X., 2003. Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise: une approche linguistique du vieux-celtique continental. Editions errance.
Dodge, E.J., 2020. ORPHEUS, ODIN, AND THE INDO-EUROPEAN UNDERWORLD: A RESPONSE TO BRUCE LINCOLN’S ARTICLE “WATERS OF MEMORY, WATERS OF FORGETFULNESS” (Doctoral dissertation, University of Houston).
Koch, J.T., 2006. Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO.
Pharsalia. M. Annaeus Lucanus, trans. Sir Edward Ridley. London. Longmans, Green, and Co. 1905. https://exploringcelticciv.web.unc.edu/marcus-annaeus-lucanus-lucan-pharsalia/
Woolf, G., 2001. Representation as cult: the case of the Jupiter columns. Religion in den germanischen Provinzen Roms, pp.117-34.
Widugeni, S. (2015). Samos, Giamos, Bitouesc – Summer, Winter, and Worlds. [online] Polytheist.com. Available at: http://polytheist.com/segomaros/2015/03/04/samos-giamos-bitouesc/ [Accessed 4 Mar. 2022].