The horse has a long history with the Celtic people and at times was a deity unto itself. Horses were associated by the Gauls with both gods and goddesses and were emblems of the sun. The horse was a tremendously important animal to the Celtic tribes, and its domestication transformed their culture from a society of hunters to a community of powerful warriors, traders, and farmers. Horses were not only a source of meat and milk but also provided labor for agriculture, transportation for people and goods, and allowed huge improvements in hunting and warmaking capability.
The horse was of such importance to the Celts that it was associated with the sun itself. In some ancient cult statues, the god Taranis appears as a horse with a human face. The horse is also linked to a number of ancient goddesses, particularly those of warfare. The best-known of the horse goddesses is Epona. The god Teutates, “Father of the People,” was often portrayed as a bearded horse, and one of the names of the Dagda, “Eochaid,” comes from a root meaning “horse.”
The Welsh revered a goddess similar to Epona, called Rhiannon. Rhiannon, whose son Pryderi/Peredur is also linked to horses, makes appearances as a riding goddess in many later tales. A curious story of Peredur's birth related in The Mabinogion tells that he is abducted at birth and left alongside a foal in a farmer's barn. His mother is accused of his murder, and she is sentenced to carry visitors to her husband's estate on her back. She continues in this manner until her son comes to the gate and is recognized. In this tale again are echoes of transformation, rebirth, and redemption through recognition of true nature.
By the time the Romans took notice of the Celts, they were already accomplished riders, and the Romans even borrowed many Celtic techniques from the Celtic cavalries for their own armies. The Romans were likewise impressed with the Celtic horse goddess, Epona, who was the only Celtic deity to have a temple within the boundaries of Rome.
Hounds were another domesticated animal the Celts found invaluable. The hound was the companion of hunters and even of the gods. Hounds were prized emblems of courage and loyalty and were frequently given as gifts by nobles. When bestowed on a courageous warrior, the appellation “hound” was a badge of honor rather than an insult, and the name was even applied to gods, most notably Cuchulainn, the “Hound of Culann.”
Hounds were also protective creatures, and a Celtic home seldom went without. Hounds were so well regarded that they were even believed to accompany the souls of the dead to the Otherworld.
The bull was an emblem of fertility, potency, prophecy, and regeneration. The bull was important to the druids, an important element in sacrificial ritual and seership. According to numerous accounts, a druid seeking prophetic or poetic inspiration would slumber under the skin of a sacrificial bull, a ceremony also employed in the elections of kings.
The bull was connected to the sacred crane and was the emblem of the mysterious Gallic god Esus, “Lord.” Several mysterious Gallic monuments dedicated to Esus contain images of a bull figure with the inscription Tarvos Trigaranus, or “bull with three cranes,” an image of a bull or bull's head with three cranes perched atop his head or back.
The symbolism has never been adequately explained and defies any attempt to decipher it although some have made very tenuous connections between the iconography and the stories of the divine hero Cuchulainn. The bull is the central symbol of Cuchulainn's story, the Tain bo Cuailnge, or Cattle Raid of Cooley, wherein the countryside is laid to waste and the god killed, all over a prized magical bull.