EPITHET The Brown Animal
SYMBOL OF power / resurrection
STAR GROUP Aries (bear) / Ursa Major (big bear) / Ursa
Minor (little bear) / Arcturus (bear)
ASSOCIATED honey / mead
SEE ALSO Art / Arthur / Artio / Math
REMARKS The bear was a mean adversary against a hunter
armed only with a spear or bow, but its fur had many uses
and its meat contained a great amount of fat to mix with
fruit and berries and acorn meal to help ward off vitamin
deficiencies in winter.
The bear was a great fan of honey, from which the
Celts made their sacred drink of mead. Bears also have a
taste for salmon, another sacred food. The moon goddess
Artio was associated with the bear and numerous Celtic
characters were named after the animal including Art,
Arthur and Math.
Because the bear hibernates in winter it has a
supernatural element dealing with resurrection. Many stone
sculptures of the animal have been found in Spain, Portugal
and Ireland. The constellation Aries was known to the
Celts as the bear, and today there are the constellations
Ursa Major (big bear) and Ursa Minor (little bear). The
old North Star was called Arcturus which also means bear.
EPITHET The builder
ALTERNATIVE Beach (Irish) / Gwenynen (Welsh)
SYMBOL OF resurrection / reincarnation / fertility
SEE ALSO Artio / Creide / Uroica
REMARKS The honey bee is a stinging insect with 4 wings
and 6 legs. Their society is divided into 3 casts; the
queen (fertile female), drones (fertile males) and the
workers (sterile females). Because they have a highly
developed parental instinct, they store masses of honey for
their undeveloped offspring in larval state who then
reincarnated into a bee.
An important event in the life of the bee colony is
the nuptial flight of the queen followed by the drones. She
flys straight up where she mates with the strongest drone,
the weaker are then eliminated by the workers. This social
style was imitated by the Amazons, and Celtic women also
chose the best males to mate with.
Another important event of the bee is the swarm. This
happens when the hive becomes too crowded. A queen
followed by up to 30,000 bees will leave the old hive
behind and fly in a swarm until they find a new place to
settle. The Celts used the swarm idea when their territory
Fermented honey, beeswax or honeycomb and water made
mead, the oldest form of fermented liquor. Because the
bees hibernated in winter they were a symbol of
resurrection. They were also beneficial in the
fertilization of flowers. The goddesses Artio and Uroica
and the druid Creide were all associated with bees.
Beeswax was also important in the making of candles
and essential in the casting method called the lost wax
process which was used in making bronze weapons and tools
or ornaments of bronze, silver or gold.
EPITHET The Wild, Savage Beast
ALTERNATIVE Torc (Irish) / sow (fully grown female)
SYMBOL OF war / ferocity / fertility
ASSOCIATED moon goddess / warriors
SEE ALSO Aine na gClair / Amhairghin / Arduinna / Baco /
Cerridwen / Danu / Mac Cecht / Manannan / Moccos
REMARKS The wild boar is a fast powerfully-built animal
with razor-sharp tusks and an ability to eat almost
anything. They are easily aggravated and are known for
their fierce fast zig-zag attacks. They are one of the
cloven-hoofed animals with a short-legged heavy body
covered with a tough bristly hide and a long mobile snout.
The wild boar lived in a unit called a sounder which is
like an extended family or clan.
The boar was revered by the Celts, and was considered
the royal beast of the Danann. They provided a sacred
food, and Manannan had magical boars that could be eaten
one day and were ready to eat again the next. Hunting the
boar was a sacred act accomplished with a spear. In Bronze
Age Ireland, the sacrifice of the boar was a sovereign
right of Danu. Boar hides were also used for armor and
Boars were associated with the Otherworld and fed on
the sacred acorn of the oak tree, as well as on beech nuts.
Because their fur came in the colors red, white and black
they were also associated with the moon goddess. The boars
were prolific breeders and a symbol of fertility. The
deities Arduinna, Moccos and Baco were all associated with
boars in Gaul. In a Welsh tale, Pryderi chased a white
boar with red ears into a fortress that disappeared. He
was also killed over magical pigs which were given to his
father. As a magical animal, the boar was known for its
healing powers. Under Brehon law, the domesticated sow had
three equal divisions: one part for her body, one part for
her anticipated value and one part for her litter.
Warriors were associated with these animals and the
words Torc and Triath both mean "chieftain" (hero) and
"boar". A boar fire also meant a chieftain fire, and Mac
Cecht lit one on a Samhain. Druids were sometimes called
Many Celtic stories make reference to warriors being
turned into boars, and one on Ben Bulben was described as
being a gray-cropped white boar with no tail or ears. Twrch
Trwyth was a ferocious boar and leader of a sounder that
caused destruction throughout Ireland. When the Goidel
conquered Ireland, Amhairghin recited a poem which
contained a line stating that he was the wild boar of
Attesting to their popularity are the great number of
artifacts depicting the boar found throughout the Celtic
world. They appear as decorations on coins, swords,
shields, helmets, and as sculptures in stone, wood and
bronze. There are three Irish words for pig: muc, orc and
torc. Northwestern Spain and northern Portugal have
numerous full-size stone sculptures, and Pictish
pictographs in Scotland often have the image of the boar.
EPITHET To Swell
ALTERNATIVE Tarbh (Irish) / Tarw (Welsh)
SYMBOL OF virility / ferocity / waxing
STAR GROUP Taurus (bull)
ASSOCIATED sun god
SEE ALSO Belenos / Esus
REMARKS The Celtic zodiac at one time began in Taurus
which initiated the waxing half of the year. Belenos was
the sun god of that part of the year. The war god Esus was
also associated with the bull. Druids sacrificed white
bulls to the sun god and performed the bull feast as an
important divining tool.
The vicious war of the Cualnge Cattle Raid was over a
majestic bull and the war ended with a battle between two
supernatural bulls. The ox, on the other hand, was a
castrated bull and was a docile animal of great strength
(dumb ox) used to haul wagons, skids of logs or rocks. The
steer was a young castrated male and was raised as a beef
The bull was a symbol of male fertility and strength
and was a familiar motif in the art of the Celts. Stone
sculptures have been found in northwestern Spain and
northern Portugal, and their images have been found on
cauldrons, coins, sword scabbards, and Pictish stone
pictographs. Stone votive offerings depicting bulls were
reclaimed from the harbor of Burghead in Scotland.
EPITHET The Stalker
ALTERNATIVE Catt (Gaelic) / Tom (M)
SYMBOL OF stealth / waning powers / hunter
STAR GROUP Leo (lion) / Lynx
ASSOCIATED moon goddess / sun god
SEE ALSO Lugh / Cat
REMARKS The cat is probably best known for its ability
to climb and leap great heights and for its incredible
sense of balance. All cats except the cheetah have the
ability to retract their claws completely. They also have
very keen night vision and the female is an especially
notable solitary hunter. A blind cat had special
The cat in Celtic mythology was often associated with
the Otherworld and was an animal sacred to the moon
goddess. Red, white and black cats were of special
interest. The ancient Silures tribe of Wales venerated the
the wildcat and in a cave at Clough in Connacht there was a
chair of silver with a slender black cat relaxing on it.
The Pictish founder of Caithness in Scotland was named Cat,
and the Clanna Stewart of Scotland had the cat as its
totem. The cat totem ruled the waning half of the Celtic
The lynx, which was a common cat in Europe during the
time of the Celts, had a heavy body, tufted ears, heavy
side whiskers and green-gold eyes. They were night hunters
and preferred to spend their days resting in a cool cave or
other lair. The totem of the Danann hero Lugh was a lynx.
In Celtic mythology there was an island called
Lyonesse off the coast of Cornwall which sank beneath the
sea. Lynx is also the name of a constellation between the
Great Bear and Cancer.
ALTERNATIVE Bo (Gaelic) / Buwch (Welsh)
SYMBOL OF fertility / wealth
ASSOCIATED earth goddess
SEE ALSO Boann / Bress / Brighid / Caibre / Cian / Cu
Chulainn / Damona / Ethne / Morrighan /
REMARKS All domestic cattle were originally bred from
the Ur-cow (Aurochs). They were huge reddish-colored
animals that roamed the forest of Europe in the wild state.
The last one died in a Polish zoo in AD 1627.
Cattle were important animals in the mythology of the
Celtic people; the cow was a symbol of the earth goddess
and the bull was associated with the sun god. Cattle with
white hair and red ears were a definite sign of the
Otherworld. Gray was also an Otherworld color for cows and
both Cian and the Fianna had supernatural cows whose names
referred to gray.
The fire goddess Brighid was weaned on the milk of a
white cow with red ears, Boann was referred to as Boann of
the White Cows and the handmaiden Ethne survived entirely
on milk from a magic cow. The Morrighan appeared to Cu
Chulainn as a red cow with 3 teats.
When Cairbre Caithcheann (Cathead), a person of a
service clan, took the position as high chieftain of
Ireland by force, the goddess of Ireland showed her
displeasure by making the udders of all the cows in Ireland
Cattle were used as an exchange value, cows' milk was
the favorite non-alcholic drink of the Celts and cheese was
a major food staple. Cow hides were used to cover their
coracle and for the making of clothing.
The bride price for a noble maiden was 21 cows. The
noble cow was displayed on Pictish stones in Scotland. The
Danann Bress tried to trade the secret of cows with
continuous milk for his freedom. Celtic society was
inseparable from cattle herding.
EPITHET The Talkative / The Chattering
SYMBOL OF curative powers / patience / augury /
STAR GROUP Grus (crane)
ASSOCIATED moon goddess / willow trees / water / maze dance
SEE ALSO Esus / Manannan / Midhir
REMARKS The crane is a primitive but beautiful bird
which stands on long stilted legs. It has a powerful neck,
large wings and a long bill. Although it is not a water
bird, it spends much of its life with its feet in the water
The Numidian and Balearic Cranes have black and white
feathers with red skin showing through: colors sacred to
the moon goddess. Cranes arranged their catch in a format
that resembles the spokes of a wheel. They place the tails
of the fish on top of each other with the heads pointing
out in a fan. When they fly back to the nest they clamp
the tails in their beaks and the weight of the fish is
evenly distributed. Wheels were symbols of the cyclic
movement of the sun, moon and zodiac. The constellation
Grus was named for the crane.
The Celts sacrificed wild cranes to the moon goddess.
The god Esus was associated with cranes, and Manannan and
the Fianna both carried their treasure in a crane bag.
Mythology also mentions a number of stories where women
were changed into cranes.
The Celts performed a sacred dance called the Crane
Dance (Spiral Castle). The dance (9 steps then a leap) was
performed in a unilateral spiral maze through which the
dead were carried on their way to the Otherworld. The maze
dance was called Troy Town in England, Caer-Droia in Wales
and New Grange in Ireland was referred to as the Spiral
The crane had a dark side and it was forbidden to eat
its flesh. Midhir had 3 cranes who scared unwanted people
from his fortress by screaming out: "Pass By! Keep Away! Do
Not Enter!". A Celtic helmet has been found with crane
decorations on its ear flaps.
EPITHET The breathing, Living Creature
ALTERNATIVE doe (F) / buck or stag (M) / Os (Gaelic)
SYMBOL OF graceful / fleet / timid
ASSOCIATED shape-changing / rebirth
SEE ALSO Flidais / Gilfaethwy / Sadb
REMARKS The deer is an even-toed hoofed mammal and,
except for the reindeer, only the males have antlers which
they drop every spring. The reindeer are also the only
ones of the species to have been domesticated. The deer is
adaptable to nearly all types of terrain except deserts. It
is a very graceful animal and is noted for its visible
breath in the form of steam.
To the Celts, the deer was an animal of the hunt and
venison was one of their main sources of food. The hide
was very useful and the soft doeskin was particularly
In Celtic mythology the deer was the animal most often
used to associate females with the wild. Many women were
changed into deer by wizards and sorcerers. Sadb gave
birth to a human boy, then was changed into a deer and
raised him. The nature goddess Flidhas drew her chariot
with deer. As punishment for raping his cousin, Gilfaethwy
was turned into a doe so he could bear a fawn sired by his
brother who had been turned into a stag.
SYMBOL OF death / health / protection
STAR GROUP Canis Major (large dog) / Canis Minor (small
dog) / Canes Venatici (hounds) / Sirius
(dog star) / Procyon (lesser dog star)
ASSOCIATED sun god / moon goddess / hunter-gods / healing /
underworld / eyesight
SEE ALSO Annwn / Belenos / Celtchair / Cerridwen / Cu
Chulainn / Cunobel / CuRoi / Mac Da Tho /
Taranis / Tuireann
REMARKS The wolf was the first European animal to be
domesticated by the Paleolithic hunter around BC 10,000.
Through the millenia, the dog began to develop as a species
with different shaped heads and round eyes.
Dogs were admired for their keen senses of sight,
smell and hearing. Their primary functions became those of
guard and hunter's helper. Through the ages, the hound
became important in the hunting of deer.
Most dogs have 5 claws on the front feet and four on
the back, associating them with both the moon and the sun
deities. The hound was associated with the Underworld and
Arawn used a pack of hounds to hunt the souls of the dead.
Dog saliva has long been thought to contain curative
powers. Dogs were sacrificed to sun gods at curative sites
such as pits, wells and for the foundations of buildings.
Blind dogs had a supernatural association and many
goddesses were associated with lapdogs.
Numerous warriors were associated with dogs. Cu
Chulainn was named for a smith's wolf-hound and given the
job of guarding the cattle of Ulster. Celtchair died when
splattered by the blood of the dog Doelchu, and poisoned
dog blood was used to cover the blades of weapons. The
hound Ailbe who belonged to Mac Da Tho was the excuse for
the battle between warriors of Connacht and Ulster.
Many stories revolve around people being changed into
dogs. Tuireann was changed into a bitch and gave birth to
her sons in the form of hounds. Cerridwen changed herself
into a hound to catch a hare. There were also the hounds
of Belenos and the hero Cunobel was called the hound of
Belenos. The hounds of Taranis stole the sacrifices left
to other gods. Several constellations and stars have been
named in association with the dog.
STAR GROUP Delphinus (dolphin)
ASSOCIATED sea goddess / underwater worlds
SEE ALSO Nehalennia
REMARKS Dolphins are salt water mammals who live in
herds. They are recognizable by their distinctly-shaped
snouts, bulbous foreheads and large visible eyes. The
dolphin's skin is black on the back with white belly and
grayish-yellow striped flanks.
The constellation Delphinus is named after the
dolphin. The sea goddess Nehalennia was associated with
the dolphin and the inner plate of the Gundestrup cauldron
with Cernunnos depicts a dolphin. The dolphin was also an
image used by the Picts on their stone pictographs.
EPITHET The Sharp-Sighted One
ALTERNATIVE Dragun (Irish) / Driag (Welsh)
SYMBOL OF sun / moon
STAR GROUP Draco (dragon)
ASSOCIATED champion warriors
SEE ALSO Caer / Creddylad / Fedelm / Fingin / Lludd /
Medbh / Prydain / Uther
REMARKS The etymology of dragon makes so many references
to sight (to see, make distinct, bright, clear, discern,
look at etc.) that it stongly suggests a person who has
attained a level of perception and understanding far beyond
the norm. This would indicate people within the druidic
category or someone who has had special training such as a
The red dragon was the guardian of the intellect (sun
cycle) and the white dragon was the guardian of the
emotions (moon cycle). Because they danced to different
beats they would have a yearly conflict, but only settled
their differences every 19 years.
When the Britons conquered England, Prydain put an end
to the Dragon Tyranny (state of continuous warfare). Lludd
had a problem with two dragons that fought every year, then
changed into wild boars as they tired. The filidh Fedelm
prophesied for Medbh that her troops would be colored
crimson and held at bay by a dragon in his youth. Uther's
epithet Pendragon meant "dragon head", a reference to the
spring equinox. The dragon's tail is a reference to the
autumn equinox. Dragon head and tail are terms used to
denote the ascending and descending nodes of the moon and
Fingin the druid was described as having the sharp
sight of the dragon. The fertility goddess Creddylad was
fought over by two dragons every year. The filidh Caer
lived on the lake of the dragon while she was in the form
of a swan for half the year. The star constellation Draco
was named for the dragon and one of its stars, Alpha
Draconis (Thulban), was once the pole star.
EPITHET The Diving Bird
ALTERNATIVE drake (M)
SYMBOL OF fertility / death / reincarnatiion
REMARKS The duck is a broad-beaked, web-footed, short-
legged water bird. They are easily domesticated and were
symbols of fertility.
There is a small Celtic sculpture of a duck carrying a
human head on its back. A votive sun chariot with 3 wheels
(4 spokes each) carries a god with a bird head and has 3
ducks positioned in a way which implies that it is being
hauled or led by them. Another small ritual wagon carrying
a funeral urn has 2 ducks at each end, with the pairs
pointing in opposite directions. A cauldron has tiny
sculptures of ducks affixed to the rim, suggesting
reincarnation, and a belt was found with ducks and sun
symbols alternating. Most Celtic associations with ducks
seem to imply a connection with death and the Otherworld.
ALTERNATIVE Iolar (Gaelic) / Eryr (Welsh)
SYMBOL OF reincarnation
STAR GROUP Aquila (eagle)
ASSOCIATED sun god / sky god
SEE ALSO Culhwch / Gwrhyr / Llew / Mabon
REMARKS Eagles are the largest members of the hawk
family. They have strong hooked beaks with sharp cutting
edges. They are birds of prey and totally carnivorous,
eating animals from hares to young fawns, as well as fish.
They tend to make their nests in remote and inaccessible
Celtic images of eagles have shown up on the crests of
helmets, on coins and as tiny figures on a cauldron flesh
hook. One cauldron has mounts in the shape of bulls with
eagles perched on their head. In Scotland, the Picts used
the eagle on many of their pictographs.
The mythology of the Celts has associated the eagle
with shapechanging and the zodiac. In the Welsh story of
Culhwch, Gwrhyr the interpreter questions the eagle as to
the whereabouts of Mabon. In an Irish story, Llew changes
into an eagle in an attempt to escape his predicament.
ALTERNATIVE Vixen (F)
SYMBOL OF cunning / intelligence
STAR GROUP Vulpecula (little fox)
ASSOCIATED moon goddess
REMARKS Foxes are small, slim animals with elliptical
pupils and bushy tails. Their fur colors include red,
silver and black, associating them with the moon goddess.
Foxes are nocturnal hunters, feeding on small animals,
birds, fruit and insects. In winter they often steal the
burrows of badgers and rabbits but in the summer they sleep
out in the open. In April the mature vixen gives birth to
4 or 5 young, forming a family called a skulk.
The body of a sacrificed druid found in a bog in
England was wearing an armband of fox fur which Dr. Ross
suggests may have been his totem animal. The constellation
Vulpecula means little fox.
EPITHET The Leaper
ALTERNATIVE Geit (F) / billy (M) / kid (young) / Gabhar
(Gaelic) / Gafr (Welsh)
SYMBOL OF fertility / virility / sure-footedness
STAR GROUP Capricorn (goat horn)
SEE ALSO Cernunnos
REMARKS The goat is a cloven-hoofed grazing animal with
long hair and rectangular pupils. Both sexes are bearded,
have hollow horns on the tops of their heads and are known
for their head-butting. The billygoat has a strong odor.
The meat of the male kid and the milk and cheese of the
females were a source of food for the Celts.
The Aryan root "ghaid" means to leap or spring,
reflecting a typical behavior of the animal. The goat horn
was the symbol for the constellation Capricorn in the
zodiac. In mythology, Cernunnos was shown with the legs of
a goat. Goat hair was important for weaving, and goat
hides made the best skins for shaman drums.
ALTERNATIVE gander (M) / gosling (young) / geese [pl]
SYMBOL OF fertility / combat / augury / Otherworld
ASSOCIATED sun god / moon goddess / warriors / guards /
SEE ALSO Dianos / Cu Chulainn / Lugaid / Ocelos
REMARKS The goose is a heavy water bird, larger than a
duck and smaller than a swan. The bird has a long snake-
like neck, hisses when irritated and will give a vicious
bite when threatened. The wild birds breed in the north.
Geese were domesticated very early and their feather and
down were collected for their warmth. Because of its
territorial nature and aggressive behavior, the gander
makes an excellent guard.
In Celtic mythology, the birds are sacred to the moon
goddess and are also associated with the sun gods such as
Ocelos. A votive offering from Roquepertuse shows geese
pulling a sun chariot. A sculpture of a goose sat on the
central column of the entrance of the sanctuary at
Roquepertuse and another sat between the heads of the god
Dianos on the sculpture from the same site.
The goose was also thought to guard against disease,
and although it was normally taboo to eat, it was a special
food at Samhain. As Cu Chulainn offered to serve goose to
his friend Lugaid, it must have been at the time of
Samhain. Pictographs of the goose are found in the
Scottish Highlands on the Pictish stones.
EPITHET The Gray Animal
SYMBOL OF fertility / combat / augury / swiftness
STAR GROUP Lepus (hare)
ASSOCIATED moon goddess (Great Mother)
SEE ALSO Boudicca / Cocidos / Froech / Gwion
REMARKS The hare is a very fast large rodent with long
ears, divided upper lip, short tail, large feet and
powerful hind quarters. The fur is usually gray but some
have a reddish-brown color. Hares live in the open and can
remain perfectly still even when its pursuer is almost on
top of it. During the March mating season, hares become
frenzied or eccentric and the males battle each other.
The hares were considered a sacred animal and were
taboo to eat among the Celts. They were a symbol of
fertility and were associated with the Great Mother, as
well as with the war/nature god Cocidos. Boudicca used a
hare to augur the outcome of her upcoming battles. Gwion
turned himself into a hare to avoid detection, and Froech
captured 7 hares on his way to Raith Cruachain. The
constellation Lepus was named for the hare.
ALTERNATIVE Egret (white heron)
ASSOCIATED sun god / bull / willow / water
SEE ALSO Esus
REMARKS The heron is a large wading bird with a long
neck, long straight beak, long legs and a long tail. The
bird's back feathers are usually black and white. They
prefer to nest in tree-tops.
The wild egret eats the parasites from the back of
cattle. Esus, a god of death and war, was shown in
association with 3 egrets or cranes.
EPITHET The Runner
ALTERNATIVE Mare (F) / steed or stallion (M) / Echo (Irish)
/ March (Welsh)
SYMBOL OF fertility / virility
STAR GROUP Pegasus (winged horse) / Equuleus (colt)
ASSOCIATED moon goddess / sun god
SEE ALSO Abarta / Arawn / Atepomaros / Epona / Etain /
Ferghus / Figol / Lugh / Mabon / Macha /
Manannan / Medbh / Morrighan / Niamh / Oisin /
Pwyll / Red Riders / Rhiannon / Rudiobos
REMARKS The horse is a single-hoofed animal, a powerful
runner and relatively easy to domesticate. Through the
ages, the horse was used to ride and to pull wagons or
chariots. Mankind has a long record of symbolized and real
mating with horses, mares representing the moon goddess and
studs representing the sun god. Etain, Rhiannon, Medbh and
Macha all represented the mare goddess, and Epona was the
Divine Mare, protector of the species.
In Ireland, the high chieftain was ritually mated with
a horse and the success of the tribe depended on the
success of that relationship. Many men had epithets such
as Eochaidh, meaning stud, having mated with the mares
(women) who had the epithet of sovereignty. Ferghus mac
Roig had such a large penis that he was called The Great
A horse or horses also hauled the chariot of the sun
god across the sky. The sun god Atepomaros had horses
sacrificed to him and the war god Rudiobos had a sculpture
of a man-horse dedicated to him. The sun god Lugh claimed
to be the first person to use a horse in Ireland but at the
same time the filidh Figol told Lugh he would bind the
urine of the Fomorii warriors and their horses with his
Red horses were associated with death and the
Otherworld, such as those ridden by the Red Riders of the
Sidhe. The war goddess Morrighan rode a chariot that was
pulled by a red horse with one leg.
Gray horses were also associated with the Otherworld.
A filidh named Abarta had a supernatural horse that carried
16 warriors across water, and Arawn from the Land of the
Dead also rode a gray horse. Herne the Hunter rode a black
horned horse, probably indicating that it wore a head
shield with horns, similar to some which have been found.
Niamh rode a white steed that carried her and Oisin
across water. Rhiannon rode a supernatural white mare when
she was trying to attract the attention of Pwyll, and Mabon
rode a horse called White Brown-mane during the chase of
the great boar. Manannan also had two white horses that
drew his chariot across the crested waves.
Horses were prized by warriors as animals of combat,
and some were trained to fight in order to help their
masters. Horses were high on the lists of gifts that noble
gave each other, and were often decorated in gold, bronze
and precious stones. Horse remains have been found in
chariot burials and their images were engraved on vessels,
coins and the earth itself, such as at Uffington.
Many warriors were born at the same time as their
horses and they became bonded with them. The great female
horse warriors, the Amazons, sacrificed horses to a deity.
The Picts left pictographs of horses in Scotland and the
ancients named star groups Pegasus (winged horse) and
SYMBOL OF strength / power
STAR GROUP Taurus (bull)
SEE ALSO Garbh
REMARKS The moose is the largest member of the deer
family and can weigh over 1000 lbs (500 kg). Moose have
broad antlers and their tough hide was used for leather.
They feed on the young shoots and leaves of willow and
birch as well as on moss and lichens. They keep to the
more secluded parts of the forest and in the summer prefer
the swampy areas.
The Celts hunted moose for their meat but during the
rutting season the males were extremely dangerous. The
Welsh giant Garbh used moose to haul her chariot.
EPITHET The Water Animal
ALTERNATIVE water dog
SYMBOL OF playfulness
SEE ALSO Cu Chulainn / Froech
REMARKS The otter, an aquatic mammal, has thick dark
brown fur, webbed feet and a long somewhat flattened tail.
It is a carnivorous water animal and lives in burrows in
river banks and salt water lagoons. Otters like to eat
fresh and salt water fish and shellfish, and often lay on
their backs while they eat, holding their food in their
paws. They particularly enjoy salmon.
Froech caught 7 water dogs on his way to woo
Finnabair. It was prophesized that Cu Chulainn would see a
dog lap up his blood just before he died. The prophecy was
fulfilled by an otter (water dog).
EPITHET The howler
ALTERNATIVE Owlet (young) / Blodeuwedd (Welsh)
SYMBOL OF intelligence / stealth
ASSOCIATED moon goddess / night time
SEE ALSO Blodeuedd / Gwrhyr / Mabon
REMARKS The owl family are nocturnal birds of prey with
large heads and big eyes. They are known for their silent
flight, sharp night vision and quick dives and hard hits as
they grasp their prey in strong talons.
Blodeuedd (flower-face/owl) was turned into an owl as
punishment for her treachery against her husband so that
she would never enjoy the sun again. Gwrhyr the
interpreter questioned the Owl of Cwm Cawlwyp on the
whereabouts of Mabon. Images of owls have appeared on
coins, jewelry, cauldrons and other Celtic artifacts.
EPITHET The Croaker / Messenger of the Gods
ALTERNATIVE Bran (Welsh) / Fiach (Irish)
SYMBOL OF prophecy / messengers
STAR GROUP Corvus (raven)
ASSOCIATED magic / shape-changing / battle / death / curing
SEE ALSO Badbh / Bran / Culhwch / Gwrhyr / Lugh / Mabon /
Macha / Morrighan
REMARKS The raven is the largest bird of the crow
family. The omnivorous bird has a large, strong black
bill, glossy purple-black feathers, black legs and piercing
black eyes with steel-gray lids.
Ravens pair for life and tend to use the same nest
every year, building it in remote rocky regions. The
mating rituals of the raven involve dramatic aerial
displays with power dives that cause their feathers to beat
The ravens are the largest of the songbirds and will
mimic numerous animal sounds, including human speech. They
are very talkative birds and carry on conversations with
each other even when they are long distances apart. It is
these qualities that have earned the bird the epithet of
Messenger of the Gods.
As scavengers, the ravens were associated with battle
scenes and became linked to the goddesses of war such as
Macha, Morrighan and Badbh Catha, associating them with the
Raven's Croak (to foresee evil). Lugh and Bran were two
war leaders who had ravens in attendance. The bird was
also associated with sorcery and shapechanging. In the
story of Culhwch, Gwrhyr the Interpreter interviewed the
raven in his search for Mabon. The champion charioteer
Laeg wore a cape of raven feathers, personifying the image
of death to his enemies.
EPITHET The Leaping Fish
ALTERNATIVE Bradan (Irish) / Eog (Welsh)
SYMBOL OF wisdom / knowledge / insperation
ASSOCIATED hazel nuts
SEE ALSO Cerridwen / Gwion / Finn / Cu Roi / Culhwch
REMARKS The salmon is a large fish of 4-5 ft (1.5 m)
which is born in fresh water and only after more than a
year swims downsteam and into the saltwater of the ocean.
After several years in salt water, the salmon then
begins its return to its birth-place to spawn. Returning
to its spawning areas often involves leaping up rapids and
falls, and never eating until it reaches salt water again.
The Salmon Leap was a feat performed by champion warriors
such as Scathach and Cu Chulainn.
The salmon is a blue-silver color when mature, with
pale red or pink flesh of firm texture. The fish is a food
source for bears, eagles and Celts.
In Celtic mythology Fintan the salmon was the oldest
of living things and, having fed on the nuts of knowledge,
had attained supernatural wisdom. Fionn ate the salmon
Fintan who had escaped from Segais Well when it overflowed
1500 years earlier and thus obtained supernatural knowledge
himself. Salmon is an excellent source of selenium,
recommended for optimizing cerebral functions.
In the Welsh story of Culhwch, Gwr questioned the
salmon of Llyn Llyw in relation to the whereabouts of
Mabon. The Celtic warrior CuRoi kept his soul in the body
of a salmon and when Tuan mac Starn was reincarnated as a
salmon he was eaten by a woman then born as a human. The
Picts of the highlands of Scotland left many stone
pictographs of salmon.
SYMBOL OF meekness
STAR GROUP Aries (ram or bear)
REMARKS Sheep are grazing animals with hollow horns on
the sides of their head, known for their wool or fleece. In
ancient times the natural territory of the sheep was
restricted to small areas east of the Mediterranean, as
opposed to the wide European distribution of the boar and
Varieties of wild sheep were available in Celtic times
and the wool was plucked from its fleece rather than shorn.
However, the popularity of the domesticated sheep in Celtic
territories came only with the Christians as they replaced
the cattle and the goat with their eastern Mediterranean
religious symbol of the sheep. They associated the image
of the goat with the devil (evil).
Aries was the Ram in the Greek zodiac, but was
represented by a bear in the Celtic. There is little
literary or visual reference to the sheep or ram in Celtic
mythology. The skeletons of sheep and goats are extremely
difficult to tell apart, and most bones found by
researchers are tagged as sheep, an animal they are
EPITHET The Slitherer
ALTERNATIVE Serpent / Nathair (Irish) / Neidr (Welsh)
SYMBOL OF healing / fertility / wisdom / regeneration
STAR GROUP Serpens (snake) / Ophiuchus (Serpent Holder)
ASSOCIATED healer goddess / moon goddess / earth goddess /
SEE ALSO Cernnunos
REMARKS Snakes hear by low vibrations (100-700 Hz)
transmitted from the ground to their bones and skulls. They
have excellent eyesight with no movable lids, and taste the
air with their tongues. The snake has small overlapping
scales on top and broad plates underneath. The male has a
multiple penis and the female lays a large number of eggs
that are self-sufficient from the time they hatch.
The serpent was a totem of an ancient seafaring race.
The symbolism of the snake (dragons and serpents) was that
of wisdom. The 3-, 5-, 7- and 9-headed snakes are totem
symbols of the ancient Aryan peoples which spread
throughout Europe and Asia by the roving tribes. The snake
was the symbol for the invisible force that linked the
spiritual world to the physical, called Nwywre by the
Snakes were also associated with the moon goddess and
fertility. The Crane Dance was performed in a unilateral
spiral maze which represented the path of the snake (The
Great Mother) as it coils and uncoils. Sometimes there was
an altar with a horned snake which represented male
fertility. Cernunnos held a horned snake (male) in his
hand and was accompanied by a snake (female). Most healing
deities such as Abilus, Damona and the water goddess Sirona
were also associated with snakes.
When Conall Cernacht was in the process of attacking a
Pictish fortress, the serpent that was protecting the fort
jumped into his pouch until the battle was over, then
circled his waist and left him. When the warrior Mechi was
killed, it was discovered that he had 3 hearts with a baby
snake in each. The harper sons of Boan had the images of
snakes, dogs and birds on their harps, showing their powers
to heal with music.
Many torcs have snake heads for terminals, and the
image of the snake is common in the Pictish stone
pictographs. Two constellations refer to snakes: Serpens
(snake) and Ophiuchus (Serpent Holder).
ALTERNATIVE buck / Poc (Irish) / Bwch (Welsh)
SYMBOL OF speed / fleet / majestic / aggressive
ASSOCIATED shape changing / rebirth
SEE ALSO Cernunnos
REMARKS The stag (a male deer after its 5th year) is the
lord of the forest and the most majestic of woodland
creatures. He seems almost telepathic in his ability to
escape during the hunt. Great attention was paid to his
racks which are the measurement of his age and virility. In
the fall when the new antlers shed their velvet, the
rutting season begins. Stags fight for the privilege of
herding the does for themselves, and science has shown that
the fighting increases their sperm count and guarantees
that only the best can reproduce. Celtic society imitated
The Celts loved to hunt deer, singularly or with dogs.
Pictographs in Val Camonica in Italy even show hunters
using nets and stockades. Fionn and the Fianna were the
hunters for the high chieftain in Ireland. In Celtic
mythology, many warriors were changed into or born as
A chariot burial in the Marne region of France
revealed a stag in the trapping and harness usually
associated with horses. Mythology mentions a number of
goddesses who used antlered animals to haul their wagons,
and the Amazons were also known to ride antlered animals.
Cernunnos wore antlers on his head and was shown with
a stag at his right hand. He was master of the forest or a
shaman of a hunting society. Cu Chulainn captured a wild
stag, showing mastery over wild animals, and his charioteer
Laeg wore a stag-hide tunic. Gwrhyr the interpreter
questioned the Stag of Rhedynfre as to the whereabouts of
Mabon. The Picts of the Scottish Highlands used the image
of the stag in their pictographs.
EPITHET The Singer
ALTERNATIVE Alarch (Welsh) / Eala (Irish)
SYMBOL OF diligence
STAR GROUP Cygnus (swan)
ASSOCIATED love / shape changing / death
SEE ALSO Anghus / Caer / Cu Chulainn / Derbhorill / Etain
/ Lir / Midhir
REMARKS The swan is a very large water bird with an
extraordinarily long neck, short legs with webbed feet, a
featherless face and snow-white feathers. The birds mate
for life and make a reed nest lined with down where they
lay 5-10 eggs which are called cygnets when they hatch.
To the Celts, the swans were divine creatures
associated with love, shapechanging and the moon goddess.
The birds were thought to sing their most beautiful song
just prior to their own death.
The Fomorii love goddess Derbhorill changed herself
and her maidens into swans to follow Cu Chulainn because he
had saved her life and she had fallen in love with him.
When Caer agreed to go with the love god Anghus, they
changed into swans. When Midhir and Etain fell in love,
they also changed into swans and flew away.
The children of Lir were changed into swans for 900
years. Cygnus (swan) was the name given to a constellation
and in Galicia the Celts built coracles in the form of
swans, called Swan Boats.
STAR GROUP Cetus (whale)
SEE ALSO Daire / Fruich
REMARKS The whale is the largest living air-breathing
mammal. It has no neck, no external ears, a nostril on top
of its head, large tail fin and a large mouth.
In Celtic mythology the supernatural swineherd Fruich
reincarnated as a whale, and the warrior Daire was
swallowed by a whale. There is a constellation known as
EPITHET The Loper
ALTERNATIVE cub (young) / Mactire (Irish) / Blaidd (Welsh)
SYMBOL OF lycanthropy / survival / loyality / family
STAR GROUP Lupus (wolf)
ASSOCIATED moon-goddess / oak-god / shamans / hunters
SEE ALSO Cernunnos / Cerridwen / Cormac MacAirt / Cu
Chulainn / Mac Cecht / Morrighan / Vosegos
REMARKS The wolf is the wild member of the dog family.
It is carnivorous and has a keen senses of sight, smell and
hearing. It has a strong jaw, slanted eyes and can weigh
around 90 lb (40 kg) and stand about 30 in (80 cm) at the
shoulders. The wolf has a fur color range from black
through gray and red to white.
In the summer the wolf is more of a lone hunter but
when the cold weather sets in it forms into a family unit
called a pack. The wolves are gregarious animals and not
overly agressive, so they must chase their prey or nip at
each other to get themselves into a frenzy in order to
attack a larger animal.
In Celtic mythology they were associated with the moon
goddess and shapechangers. The Morrighan attacked Cu
Chulainn in the shape of a red-furred wolf. The nature god
Vosegos wore a wolf-pelt cape, and Cernunnos was also
associated with the wolf. Cormac macAirt was raised by
wolves and Mac Cecht had to fight off a wolf who was
scavaging the battlefield. The Pictish highlanders used
the wolf image on a number of pictographs, and the
constellation Lupus was named after the wolf.
ASSOCIATED moongoddess / willow tree / snakes
SEE ALSO Conall Cernacht
REMARKS The Wryneck is a bird of the woodpecker family
named for its snakelike neck which it uses to dig out ants
from trees. It is gray-colored with brown markings on top
and cream-colored with brown markings on the belly.
The wryneck hisses like a snake and in the spring it
builds its nest in a willow tree where it lays pure white
eggs. It was considered sacred to the moon goddess. Conall
Cernacht was named for his wry-neck.