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    Naturevolume 135pages10031005 (1935) | Download Citation

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    Celtic Mythology In his Sir John Rhys Memorial Lecture for 1934, “Aspects of Celtic Mythology” (Proc. Brit. Acad., 20. Separate, Oxford, Humphrey Milford, pp. 44. 3s. net), Dr. A. G. van Hamel puts forward the view that the mythical and heroic lore of the Celtic world in its succession of oath-strengthening gods, divine magicians, spirits of the land, and exemplary heroes, functioned as a guarantee of undisputed possession of the land. Gods are rare in the original sources of Celtic lore, and there is little evidence, except as reported from Gaul, of worship or sacrifice. The Immortals operated through magic, and the important element in relations with them is to avoid the infringement of taboo. Throughout Irish myth and legend runs the idea of protection of the land, which is especially ensured by knowledge of the local traditions. This gives power over the demoniacal forces associated with these localities. There is a graduation in the magic of protection. Highest come the ‘divine magicians' who, while not actually gods, are immortals who protect the spirits of the land and the heroes such as Finn and his followers. Next come the spirits of the land, the Tuatha de Danann in Ireland and the Children of Llyr in Wales; and thirdly there are the heroesâ Finn in Irish story, Arthur with his knights, corresponding in Wales; and with them are the kings to whom the actual function of ‘protection’ is entrusted. Although a great deal of folklore has gathered around both Finn and Arthur, it is improbable that either of them existed as men, although it is possible that in the latter a pre-existing function of ‘protection’ may have been attached to some prominent figure. The common elements in the function of ‘protection’, which is directed especially against magical forces, as seen in their exploits of slaying wild animals, especially boars, points to the mythical origin in the two instances. The significance of these heroes lies in their exemplary character. They are paradeigmatic, that is, the recitation of the legends in analogous circumstances ensures the like event. Hence the importance of the legends in education and the prominence of apprenticeship in the Druidical system.

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    https://doi.org/10.1038/1351003a0

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