Gods and Goddesses of the Celts
The Gallic Celts had no supreme or all-pervasive deities. Gods and goddesses were usually particular to geography, tribe, and place, although they shared many characteristics. Most Celtic gods had an amorphous character. Later, the Romans recognized many Celtic gods as their own in character, and under Roman rule many Celtic gods became strongly associated with Celtic deities.
Scholars typically sort Celtic deities into three main classes. The first group of deities comprises the ancient Gaulish deities. What little that is known about them comes from the writings of the Romans, from inscriptions and from images on ritual artifacts, and from their assimilation into the Irish pantheon.
The second group of deities is the Sidhe, or Tuatha Dé Danann, the Irish pantheon of legend whose myth tales are the best-known in Celtic lore. They are often referred to as the chthonic gods because they are believed to reside underground, in caves and Sidhe-mounds.
While the three main groups of Celtic deities once belonged to separate pantheons, they are often muddled together in late mythological stories. Lugh, for example, is of the older, Gaulish deities, but appears in many tales of the Irish Tuatha Dé Danann.
The third group is known as the rebirth or resurrection gods because of their close association with healing waters. The origin of the rebirth gods is unclear, but later tales give their descent from the sea. These sea-gods have largely passed out of memory, but they exist in vestigial form as mythical creatures such as mermaids, selkies, and kelpies. Of the few who transitioned into the Irish pantheon are Mannanan mac Lir, the sea-god, and Etain, a goddess who lives and is continuously reborn as her own daughter. There are also numerous local deities of wells, streams, and rivers, whose names are mostly lost to history.
The Gallic Gods
Little is known about these ancient, pre-Irish Celtic gods. They were similar in many ways to the Northern gods; when the Romans encountered the Celts, they found that the Celtic gods closely resembled their own. The Gallic gods are also referred to as continental deities, referring to the area of Britain and Western Europe, excluding Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, whose deities are detailed separately.
Some of the better known of the ancient Gallic gods are the following:
Teutates, a war god closely related to the Norse god Tyr or Tiw
An unnamed father god called by the Romans Dis Pater, (Latin for “Great Father”)
Ogmios, likened to the Greek Hercules
A stag-horned god of the hunt, called Cernunnos (“Horned One”) by the Romans
Epona, a goddess of horses and patroness of cavalrymen
Lugos, the sun god, called the Celtic Apollo, who would become Lugh or the Dé Dananns and Lleu to the Welsh
Succellos, “The Good Striker,” a hammer-wielding god of good fortune
Esus, the spirit of the oak, closely identified with the Norse Odin
Taranis, god of thunder, associated with the Norse Thor and the Roman Jupiter
The Matronae (“Mothers”), a triplicity of earth goddesses who symbolize nurture, fertility, and abundance
Belenos, the personification of the sun; the annual Beltaine festival was held in his honor