The ancient Gaulish worldview can only be known in general outline, and then mostly from linguistics. We have no great literature in Gaulish, as we do in Greek, Latin, Irish, and Welsh. We have only inscriptions and what can be pieced together from comparative studies. Still, given the paucity of evidence at our disposal, it is surprising how much we can know. We can get ideas of seasons and cosmic principles, of Three Worlds in space, of directional symbolism,, good, evil, honor, destiny and Fate, animal symbolism, and the soul. Together, these comparative scraps of evidence allow us to sketch the lineaments of a worldview.
Built into the Celtic languages and worldviews are two great cosmic principles that exist in a system of complementary duality. Each is needed to complete the cosmos. Neither by itself can support life and wholeness. We have no direct evidence as to whether the Gauls had words for such principles, but linguistic reconstruction suggests that the words existed in Old Common Celtic, so it would be surprising if the words didn’t survive into Gaulish.
Here, we use the terms from Alexei Kondratiev’s Apple Branch, with meanings taken from Kondratiev, the Brothers Rees’ Celtic Heritage, and a touch of intuition.
Samos: The cosmic principle of the summer, the light, daytime, the Upper World, the living, order, the tame, and the mundane.1
Giamos: The cosmic principle of the winter, the dark, nighttime, the Lower World, the dead, chaos, the wild, and the magical.2
The alternation of these principles, in the form of day and night, or summer and winter, or waxing and waning moons has profound meaning. It is the means by which time and the calendar are generated.3 It determines which spiritual influences are dominant at any time, and which activities are of good omen.
The Three Worlds:
Modern, Irish-based Celtic Reconstructionists tend to use the three worlds of Land, Sea, and Sky in their practice.4 They base this on well-founded mainstream scholarship of early Irish cosmology, which finds the belief reflected in the Irish epic the Táin Bo Cualigne, as well as in various oaths and prayers. 5
There is evidence for this same belief among the Gauls as well, in the form of Strabo’s famous quote that the Celts on the Danube “feared nothing so much as that the sky might fall on them”.
Celtic linguists recognize native words for “Heaven”, “Earth” or “the World”, and “the Deep”, in the Celtic languages, that have similar connotations to Land, Sea, and Sky. These include attested words in Gaulish6 The archaeological evidence of Gaulish sacrifice, while ambiguous and of many types, reveals at least two kinds that are most likely to celestial and infernal deities.7
With that in mind, we can sketch the outlines of a cosmic system. Essentially, it consists of Sky, This World, and the Deep, with the possibility of a World Tree linking them, though this last is conjectural. It resembles the system of Land, Sea, and Sky closely, though I see no reason not to use the Gaulish terms for these things, since we have them, and their connotations are quite different from any words in English.
Albios: The Sky, home of celestial deities, celestial bodies, with connotations of light, purity, and Truth, source of power for the Samos principle8
Nemos: Sky, another word for Albios, above, though perhaps more restricted in meaning to the physical sky.9
Bitus: This world, home of humanity, animals, plants, and various spirits, acted upon by the Upper and Lower worlds.10
Mori: Sea, another word for Dumnos below, though definitely more restricted in meaning to the watery sea.11
Dumnos: The Deep, home of Chthonic Deities, spirits of the dead, and certain dark spirits, connotations of darkness, fertility, and mysterious power, source of power for the Giamos principle. 12
Bilios: A tree, by extension the World Tree, linking the Three Worlds. Conjectural.13
Celestial and Chthonic:
According to Delmarre, there were also attested Gaulish words for “celestial” or “uranian” and “chthonic”.14 This supports our argument here that the Three Worlds and two cosmic principles were important elements of Gaulish cosmology. That there were words for worlds, descriptive terms for things from above and things from below, and differences in ritual in some places and times, all suggest the centrality of a cosmic system emphasizing the shining Heavens, the dark Deep, and the world between them, over which they alternated influence.
Ueronados: From above, pertaining to Albios, celestial.15
Andernados: From below, pertaining to Dumnos, chthonic, infernal.16
The orientation of the directions in Celtic cultures is well-accepted in Celtic linguistics, and in Indo-European linguistics more broadly. The person at the center stands facing East. The West is behind him or her. The South is to the right hand, and the North to the left hand. The South is of good omen, and the North of ill omen17 The system below reproduces all that, and adds my own conjecture that the East, being the place of sunrise, is to be associated with Samos, while the West, being the place of sunset, is to be associated with Giamos. I also add ideas from the Brothers Rees on the importance of the Center. I do not use the rest of the Irish directional system preserved in The Settling of the Manor of Tara, because I find little convincing evidence of its being known in Gaul.
Are: East, before, in front of, direction of Samos. 18
Dexsiuos: South, at the right hand, favorable.19
Eri: West, behind, rear, direction of Giamos.20
Tutos: North, at the left hand, unfavorable.21
Medios: Of the middle, central, the center.22
1 Alexei Kondratiev, The Apple Branch: a Path to Celtic Ritual, pp. 97-104; Alwin and Brinley Rees, Celtic Heritiage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales, pp. 83-89
2 Kondratiev, The Apple Branch, pp. 97-104; Rees and Rees, pp. 83-89
3 Rees and Rees, pp. 83-89
4 Erynn Rowan Laurie, Aedh Rua O’Morrighu, John Machate, Kathryn Price Theatana, Kym Lambert ní Dhoireann, Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism, in: Telesco, Patricia [editor] (2005) Which Witch is Which? Franklin Lakes, NJ, New Page Books / The Career Press ISBN 1-56414-754-1, p. 85-9.
5 Loughlin, Annie, Sources for the Three Realms, http://www.tairis.co.uk/cosmology/sources-for-the-three-realms
6 Delmarre, Dictionnaire de la Langue Gauloise, pp. 37-38; pp. 76-77; pp. 150-151.
7 Jean-Louis Brunaux, The Celtic Gauls: Gods, Rites, Sanctuaries, pp.119-125
8 Xavier Delmarre, Dictionnaire de la Langue Gauloise, pp. 37-38; Rees and Rees, pp. 83-89; Kevin Jones, A Consideration of the Iconography of Romano-Celtic Religion with Respect to Archaic Elements of Celtic Mythology, http://www.summerlands.com/crossroads/library/kevin_dissertation.html; Ceisiwr Serith, Deep Ancestors: Practicing the Religion of the Proto-Indo-Europeans, pp. 25-34
9 Xavier Delmarre, Dictionnaire de la Langue Gauloise, pp. 233-234
10 Delmarre, pp. 76-77; Rees and Rees, pp. 83-89; Serith, Deep Ancestors, pp. 25-34
11 Xavier Delmarre, Dictionnaire de la Langue Gauloise, pp. 228
12 Delmarre, pp. 150-151 and others; Rees and Rees, pp. 83-89; Serith, Deep Ancestors, p. 25-34
13 Delmarre, p. 75; Serith, Deep Ancestors, p.25-34
14 Delmarre, p47, 315
15 Delmarre, p. 315
16 Delmarre, p. 47
17 Serith, Deep Ancestors pp. 33-34
18 Delmarre, p. 52; Rees and Rees, pp. 122-123, 173-185; Serith Deep Ancestors, pp. 25-34; Raimund Karl, The Court of Law in Iron age Celtic Societies, pp. 8, 16
19 Delmarre, pp. 142-143; Rees and Rees, pp. 122-123, 173-185; Serith, Deep Ancestors, pp. 25-34; Karl, The Court of Law, pp. 8, 16
20 Ranko Matasovic, Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic, p. 118; Rees and Rees, pp. 122-123, 173-185; Serith, Deep Ancestors, pp. 25-34; Karl, The Court of Law, p. 8, 16
21 Matasovic, p. 387; Rees and Rees, pp. 122-123, 173-185; Serith, Deep Ancestors, p. 25-34; Karl, The Court of Law, pp. 8, 16
22 Delmarre, p. 221; Rees and Rees, pp. 122-123, 173-185