Hi, Beauties! In this blog post, we’ll explore Celtic paganism and how it has influenced Celtic Wicca. Because this is such an interesting and inspiring topic this post is quite long. Feel free to skip ahead to the section that interests you the most by clicking one of the headers in the table of contents below.
If you want to know more about Wicca and becoming Wiccan check out these posts about what Wicca actually is, how to become Wiccan, a post on what Wiccan beliefs are, the Wiccan Rede and this post discussing the Wiccan Gods, Goddesses and Deities.
Celtic Wiccan Beliefs – Is Wicca What the Old Celts Practiced?
Two questions we often get asked are “what’s the difference between Celtic paganism and Wicca” and “are Wiccan and Celtic paganism the same religion”? To be honest, when I first started learning about Wicca and Celtic religions, I found myself asking the same questions because the two religions do seem to share quite a lot of common aspects. In order to find the answers to your questions, let’s take a closer look at what similarities the two religions share and what differences set them apart.
Although there are a number of people who claim that Celtic paganism and Wicca are basically the same religion, I beg to differ. Celtic paganism is an ancient religion which existed during the Gaelic period. Wicca, in contrast, is a fairly new religion which was developed during the first half of the 20th century by, amongst others, Gerald Gardner. Because Gardner (one of the so-called founders of the Wiccan religion) drew heavily from Celtic lore when putting together his Wiccan ideology, some people assume that this means that Wicca is a modern offshoot of Celtic paganism. Again, I beg to differ and offer the following explanations:
- Because tradition Celtic religions were cultural manifestations, the local people’s spirituality was closely tied to their cultural identity. The celts considered the Gods to be ancient ancestors, this meant that they believed that their first ancestors were born of a union between the Gods and the men and women of the time. Hence, the Gods were literally the first ancestors. The various Celtic beliefs surrounding the idea of the ancestors can be seen in a host of Celtic customs such as the feast of the dead. Wiccan religion, on the other hand, draws its deities and customs from a wide range of differing ideologies and customs. The idea of an ancestral god in the literal sense is not customary within the Wiccan religion.
- Wiccan religion separates God and the Goddess into distinctive masculine and feminine roles. The God and the Goddess are understood to embody an archetypal form of the masculine and feminine which is then mirrored by humanity. The Celts, on the other hand, did not see the Gods and Goddesses as being symbolic of a greater archetype (such as the archetypal male or female) but rather, they understood their Gods and Goddesses to be absolute individuals. The Jungian idea of the ‘archetype’ which flows through Wicca, is not present within Celtic lore.
- Wicca draws its inspiration from a whole spectrum of different religions and spiritual practices, be it Eastern philosophies, Egyptian ideologies and, Judaic ceremonialism as well as Celtic lore. It would, therefore, be incorrect to define Wicca as a reinterpretation or continuation of traditional Celtic paganism. Whilst Wicca certainly draws from Celtic lore, it also combines ideas and beliefs from many other religious and spiritual practices and as such, Wicca is a wholly new religion in its own right.
- Wiccan and Celtic ethics are incompatible. The basic Wiccan rede “An It Harm None, Do As Ye Will” would have been untenable to the Celts. The Celtic notion of heroic mortality which places its focus squarely on heroism, duty to the tribe, tribal honour and personal honour is in stark contrast to the Wiccan Rede.
- In Wicca, sacred space is created through ritual and can be located anywhere. For the Celts, sacred space was mostly static and clearly defined. The sacred space for the Celts was often the home, more specifically the hearth, which functioned as the cornerstone for family and spirituality.
- Some people claim that the word ‘Wicca’ stems from a Gaelic word ‘Witta’ thus proving that Wicca is a continuation of ancient Celtic traditions. As concerns the Gaelic language the sound (W) does not exist in Gaelic or in Old Irish. Thus ‘Wicca’ is practically impossible in the Gaelic language and it is false to believe that the word Wicca should find its origins the Gaelic language.
- Wicca places little emphasis on mythology. In contrast, mythological stories form a core part of the Celtic religion.
- Wicca uses the four elements (earth, water, fire and air) as a fundamental concept. Celtic religion does not prescribe to the concept of the four elements in the same way.
Although I’m sure that there are many other possible points of conflict between Wicca and Celtic paganism these eight points should prove somewhat that Wicca is not a descendant of Celtic/Gaelic paganism. Wicca is a unique religion, whole unto itself. Whilst it’s true that Wicca shares many common features with Celtic paganism and certainly also borrows aspects of Celtic lore it cannot be claimed that Wicca is a direct descendant of Celtic lore. The people who practise Wicca are therefore not, by default, Neo-pagans but rather Wiccans and Wiccans only.
Celtic Wicca Symbols – Which Symbols do Wiccans And Celtic Pagans Share?
Wicca and Celtic paganism share a number of magical symbols. Check out this list of Wiccan symbols if you’d like to get more in-depth info about Wiccan symbols specifically but otherwise just keep on reading below and I’ll show you some of the most popular Celtic Wiccan symbols.
One of the most common symbols shared by both Wicca and Celtic paganism is the Pentacle. The symbol is commonly used to identify oneself as either a Pagan or a Wiccan. The five-point of the star represent the elements and the spirit. The Pentacle is also said to represent the gods for Wiccans. It’s 5 points represent the Triple Goddess in her 3 aspects and the Horned God in his 2 aspects.
The Septagram / Faery Star
The septagram or faery star is a common symbol of both Wiccan and Celtic religion. The star represents the spirit realm which is why it is sometimes referred to as the ‘faery star’.
The triqueta is an ancient Celtic symbol later adopted by Wicca. The symbol is thought to represent the threefold nature of the universe (earth, water and sky).
The triskele is an ancient symbol used throughout the neolithic, bronze and iron ages in Europe. It has a special significance for the Celts who used it to decorate many of their sacred objects. The Triskele has been adopted by Wiccans and is used to represent the triplicities present within cosmology and theology.
Celtic Wicca Books – Our Recommendations
Generally, I would recommend that you stay away from any books which have the words ‘Celtic’ and ‘Wicca’ together in the title. This is because, as discussed at the beginning of this blog post, Celtic religion and Wicca are not one and the same and any book stating such a claim should be viewed critically. If you are interested in learning more about Celtic as well as Wiccan beliefs I would highly recommend the following books:
Celtic Gods and Heroes by Marie Louise Sjoetedst – this is an excellent and very brief introduction to Celtic myth. Check it out here https://amzn.to/2SVzadW
The Ancient Celts by Barry Cunliffe – very good for understanding the Celtic history. Click here to buy https://amzn.to/32ejG8V
The Apple Branch by Alexei Kondratiev – this book is out of print but can be found used. This is a sort of Wiccanized approach but the author is well respected in Celtic circles and it’s a popular title. You’d probably really like it if you can get your hands on it. Check it out here https://amzn.to/2V9Yorx
Myths and Symbols of Pagan Europe by HR Ellis Davidson – I consider this as an essential resource as well. Click here to shop https://amzn.to/2SHwcuK
Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner Scott Cunningham – A wonderful introduction to Wicca written in a conversational and easy to understand way. Click here to check it out https://amzn.to/2HEov1Q
The Spiral Dance – Starhawk – This is a fantastic introduction to the Goddess religion for anyone who is curious or in search of something more. The book is beautifully written and offers reflective passages, rituals, and symbolism that help the reader identify with certain aspects as they find understanding. A phenomenal read, and definitely my favourite book I’ve ever read. Check it out on Amazon here https://amzn.to/3bPYZ7Q
The Celtic Wicca Path – Can I Combine Celtic Paganism And Wicca?
As previously discussed Celtic paganism and Wicca are two separate religions and combining the two would prove difficult as there are a number of conflicting beliefs and concepts between the two. However, as Wicca is highly flexible and open to being individualised based on personal preference there is no reason why a Wiccan should not incorporate elements of Celtic paganism into their practice.
In fact, Gerald Gardner did exactly this when he used certain aspects of Celtic lore to shape the Wiccan religion. Examples of the Celtic influence on Wicca can be seen in the Wiccan holidays such as Samhain which is believed to have its roots in ancient Celtic tradition as well as the shared symbolism between the two such as the pentacle and the fact that both religions are nature-based and advocate living in deep harmony with the seasons and cycles of the natural world.
For anyone interested in following a Wiccan/Celtic path I would suggest to first focus on becoming Wiccan and then adding elements of Celtic paganism to your practice as you see fit. I suggest doing it in this way because Wicca is the more adaptable of the two religions and such a path would not put you in conflict with Wicca’s core tenants. On the other hand, it would be far more difficult to incorporate Wiccan elements into a Celtic Pagan system of belief as the ethical frameworks are contradictory in many important areas.
Celtic Wiccans – Well Known Celtic Wiccans
Jessie Wicker Bell also known as Lady Sheba – Lady Sheba wrote extensively about the Wiccan Celtic tradition. Her aim was to unite all practitioners of Wicca under one common roof. Lady Sheba claimed that her family had been practising witchcraft for over 7 generations and that she had been a witch in many previous lives.
Gavin and Yvonne Frost – Gavin and Yvonne Frost founded the Church and School of Wicca in the U.S in 1968. They called their tradition “Celtic Wicca” and followers of this tradition identified as Celtic Wiccans. The Church of Wicca was involved in the landmark case of Dettmer v. Landon during which it was ruled by the courts of Virginia that Wicca was to be recognised as an official U.S religion.
Celtic Wiccan Deities – 6 Celtic / Wiccan Gods and Goddesses You Should Know
As discussed previously, Wiccan and Celtic belief systems are quite different. One of the areas in which they differ significantly is the way in which they view their Gods and Goddesses. Wiccan generally sees their Gods and Goddesses as existing within a dualistic framework. This means that Wiccans believe the Goddess embodies a divine archetypal feminine energy whilst the God embodies the energy of the divine archetypal male.
The Celts, on the other hand, did not believe that their Gods and Goddesses were embodiments of any kind of archetype. They understood their deities as unique and singular entities. That being said, there are a number of Celtic Gods and Goddesses who play an important role within Wicca. I’ve listed the 6 most important Celtic Gods and Goddesses who also appear in Wiccan religion below:
A Celtic Goddess of poetry, healing, and crafts. Brigid is also associated with the spring season and fertility. Birgid is a commonly celebrated Wiccan Goddess. Wiccans see Birgid as the Maiden Goddess, Goddess of springtime and new growth, Her festival is held on Feb 1-2, a Cross-Quarter Sabbath which is named after her and alternatively called Imbolc.
As a Celtic Pagan Goddess, Brigid is very important in Wicca. She is thought to provide inspiration, deep wisdom, divination, healing and midwifery, peace, abundance. Birgid embodies the idea of working in harmony with the Earth to sustain life and creative expression. She offers the power of creativity, music and magic, prophecy and dreams. For Wiccans, Brighid personifies love and compassion, and the power of women.
A Celtic Goddess of transformation and prophecy. Cerridwen’s name is derived from the Celtic word “cerru”, meaning cauldron. The cauldron symbolises the transformative power of magic and some people believe that it also represents the holy grail. Cerridwen is seen as the patron Goddess of magic. She is associated with science, prophecy and nature. Wiccans see Cerridwen as the embodiment of the Triple Goddess (Mother, the Crone and the Maiden). For Wiccans, Cerridwen is the Goddess of change, rebirth and transformation.
A Celtic Goddess of the Moon. Rhiannon is portrayed within Celtic mythology as a beautiful woman riding a horse. Wiccans call on Rhiannon to reveal the truth and to help remove us from playing the role of the victim. The is believed to embody the virtues of patience and forgiveness. Wiccans often invoke Rhiannon in magical rituals concerning prosperity, divination and self-confidence.
A Celtic Goddess of Healing and Prosperity. Rosmerta was thought to embody the essence of abundance and her name could be translated as ‘the great provider’. She is often pictured in Celtic mythology as holding a great basket overflowing with fruit in one arm and a cornucopia in the other. This symbolises abundance, prosperity and good fortune in Celtic culture. Wiccans call on Rosmerta for help with material well-being. Rosmerta is often invoked by Wiccans for help finding a job, to improve sales or to help guide financial investments.
A Celtic horned God. Within Celtic mythology, Cernunnos embodies the energy of the hunter, fertility and masculine energy. The Horned God is one of the primary deities for Wiccans. For Wiccans, the Horned God represents the virility of the divine male. He is the male counterpart to the divine female and the consort of the Triple Goddess. He is understood by Wiccans as representing one side of the dualistic universe. The Horned God embodies the dynamic virility of the archetypal male. He symbolises the darkness of the night and death within the cycle of life and rebirth. His two horns represent this aspect of duality.
A Celtic God of smiths, artisans and harvests. Sometimes referred to in Celtic mythology as ‘the shining one’. Lugh is linked with the harvest festival of Lughnasadh, which bears his name. Lugh is handsome, youthful and energetic, he symbolises the creativity and vigour of youth. For Wiccans, Lugh is championed as the patron God of artistry and craftsmanship. For Wiccans looking for inspiration in their creative endeavours, Lugh is just the God to invoke.
Celtic Wiccan Tattoos – 5 Celtic Wiccan Tattoo Ideas
Celtic Wiccan Tattoo Idea #1 The Celtic Knot Interlace
This pattern is said to represent the interconnection of life and our place within the universe. Wear this tattoo to connect with the eternal nature of the divine spirit which resides in all of us.
Celtic Wiccan Tattoo Idea #2 The Celtic Knot Trinity
This pattern is said to represent the significance of the three domains of earth, sky and sea. It may also represent lunar and solar phases. For Wiccans, the knot represents the Triple Goddess in all of her three aspects of maiden, mother and crone. Wear this tattoo to connect with your divine feminine nature.
Celtic Wiccan Tattoo Idea #3 The Celtic Love knot
This design features interlaced knots and represents the love between two people. It is believed that the Celts exchanged these knots in much the same way as we exchange rings in the modern age. Wear this tattoo to represent the love and connection between you and your partner.
Celtic Wiccan Tattoo Idea #4 The Celtic Spiral
This design represents a balance between the heavens, the cosmos and the seas. It symbolises the cyclical nature of the seasons, the way life moves in ups and downs and the endless cycle of life, birth and death. Wear this tattoo to represent an individual accomplishment and as a reminder to seek a balance between the inner and outer self.
Celtic Wiccan Tattoo Idea #5 The Pentacle
The Celtic pentacle represent the 5 elements – earth, water, air, fire and the spirit. Serving as a symbol of the Wiccan faith, the circle around a pentagram protects, confines and also represents eternity and infinity, along with the ever-changing circle of life and nature. Wiccans always depict pentagrams point-up rather than point-down. Wear this tattoo to represent your connection to the natural world and its cycles as well as to strengthen your bond with the Wiccan or Celtic faith.
Celtic Wiccan Holidays – Which Holidays do Celtic Pagans and Wiccans Share?
Because Wicca is influenced by Celtic Paganism many of the Wiccan holidays have their origins in Celtic tradition. The Wiccan Wheel of the Year celebrates 8 holidays, all of which were originally Celtic days of celebration.
The Wheel of the Year is divided into the following 8 holidays:
- Yule: Celebrated on December the 22nd, Yule was originally a Celtic celebration of the Winter Solstice. Druids, the priestly class in ancient Celtic society, celebrated the festival of Yule at the time of the Winter solstice. It was on this day that they ceremonially gathered mistletoe from oak trees. Today Yule is celebrated by Wiccans as a time of re-birth during which the Horned God is reborn as the Soulstice Sun.
- Imbolc: Celebrated on February the 1-2nd, Imbolc, also known as Birghids day, is a traditional Celtic festival celebrating the beginning of Spring. For Wiccans, Imbolc makes up the second of their 8 sabbats or holidays and celebrates the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring. Imbolc is also often a time of initiation whereby new Wiccans are welcomed into Covens or self-initiated.
- Ostara: Celebrated between March 20 – 23, Ostara is a traditional Celtic festival celebrating the Spring equinox. During this time eggs were used to symbolise rebirth and the beginning of new life. Wiccans celebrate Ostara by honouring the young sun God who will soon conceive a child with the Triple Goddess and thereby herald in a new time of great natural abundance and fertility.
- Beltane: Celebrated on May the 1st, Beltane, sometimes called ‘May Day’ is a traditional Celtic festival celebrating the start of Summer. Wiccans celebrate Beltane as a time of co-creation, sexual energy and frisky enjoyment. Beltane is seen by Wiccans as a time during which the archetypal male and female energies are at their most balanced. Beltane is often enjoyed by Wiccans outdoors gathered around a bonfire.
- Litha: Celebrated between the 19th and 23rd of June, Litha is an ancient Celtic festival celebrating the peak of Summer or Mid-summers eve. The Celts believed that during this time evil forces could be banished through the light of the sun and Litha was seen as a time of great renewal and regeneration. Wiccans celebrate Litha by honouring the Sun and the Sun God. Litha is also seen as a good time to celebrate handfasting or marriage ceremonies by Wiccans.
- Lughnasadh: Celebrated on the 1st of August, Lughnasadh is one of the four primary festivals which make up the Celtic calendar. Lughnasadh was celebrated by the Celts in honour of their God Lugh and heralded the start of the harvest season. Lughnasadh is celebrated by Wiccans as one of the greater of the 8 sabbats and marks a time of abundance, gratitude and prosperity. Wiccans may celebrate Lughnasadh by holding a feast. Lughnasadh is also considered an appropriate time to celebrate handfasting or marriage ceremonies.
- Mabon: Celebrated between 21 – 24th of September, Mabon is thought to have been a traditional Celtic festival celebrating the Autumn equinox. Note: There is some controversy as to whether Mabon was really celebrated by the Celts with some sources stating there is no historical evidence to suggest that Mabon was celebrated by the ancient Celts at all. Mabon is celebrated by Wiccans as the 7th of the 8 sabbats. Mabon is seen by Wiccans as symbolising the time during which the Horned God makes his exit, in preparation for his death during Samhain. Mabon represents a time of introspection and Wiccans use this time to remember that everything in life temporary, that no season lasts forever and that light must always move towards dark before becoming light again.
- Samhain: Celebrated on the 1st of November, Samhain is one of the four traditional Celtic harvest festivals along with Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasadh. Samhain was seen by the Celts as a liminal time during which the boundaries between this world and the Otherworld could be crossed. Wiccans celebrate Samhain as one of the four greater Sabbats, along with Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasadh. For Wiccans, Samhain is celebrated as a time to commune with the dead, honour the ancestors and give thanks for the abundance of the passing year.
So my loves, I hope this answers all your pressing questions on the difference between Celtic religions and Wicca!
Until next time,