A True History of the Isles Part 3 – Celtic Culture

In the previous article we looked at the manner in which the Celts who arrived upon these Isles settled. Today we shall exam in some depth (archaeologists have to do this all the time) the culture and society of The Celts.

Once a group of Celts had found a place which they thought was suitable to their requirements the first thing they did was clear away all of the discarded beakers and check on the number of wolves in the vicinity. This done a community was initiated, communities within running and spear throwing distances came to some of agreement (normally imposed by the one with the better aim); those who had horses generally had lesser communities see their point of view and soon larger arrangements known as kingdoms were evolved. These enabled a more structured approach to society and several important layers or roles evolved.

At The Bottom– As it was too early and quite the wrong language anyway churls were not known. But there were tillers of soil and hewers of wood; unless of course they hadn’t had the proper Celtic education and did things the opposite way; if they did they were most likely signed up for the warrior class. Anyway these were the basis of society and in these days would be feted as the Common or Ordinary people. In those days nobody asked their opinion, unless there was a particularly stubborn tree that needed hewing (or in some cases tiling).

Farmers– Someone had to make sure there was enough to eat and warn everyone the weather was going to be awful. Although Farmers could hew and till with the best of them, they were also good at collecting flocks of sheep and herds of cattle, one or two experimented with flocks of birds, but didn’t get very far until hens were imported, a few tried herds of wild boars but soon lost interest when they lost limbs.

Craftsmen –  

Carpenters – As Celtic Society expanded and there began to emerge some social strata, those higher up felt sitting in mud huts was not becoming to their status. They called for more stable structures, after explaining a place for the horses was not what they initially had in mind, houses with wooden frames were invented. Soon a burgeoning class of these skilled artisans were employing their own hewers and telling everyone that you couldn’t rush these jobs.

Metalworkers– The Celts were very proud of their skill in crafting various metals into various shapes (preferably swords, helmets, spears and knives), eventually producing very fine jewellery. The latter being much prized by Celtic warriors to bring back to the ‘little woman’ at the end of a campaign of pillaging someone else; if she wasn’t such a ‘little woman’ then they brought her back her very own sword. Metal workers also repaired damaged weapons. This was a highly ritualised process; the warrior would show the metalworker the item needing repair. The metalworker would shake their head, suck air in through their teeth and say ‘Wot you bin doin’ with this then?” then scratch their head and say “S’ gonna cost y’

Warriors- Although any Celtic was willing to pick up the sword, axe, cudgel, spear or anything else they could do harm with and charge off to battle (to be recalled by the king who hadn’t had the chance to tell them where they were going), kings needed a certain retinue who they could call on quickly instead of rushing about fields and woods calling everyone from tiling, hewing and anything else that young healthy Celts might be doing in fields or woods. These men trained with all type of weapons and depending on the regime practicing either the grim unyielding stare, the fierce wild snarl, or the bold carefree swagger, anyone who tried to mix these disciplines was not taken seriously. Some commentators suggest warrior went into battle naked; this commentator reckons this would have not been conducive to displaying manly warrior prowess in very cold weather.

Kings– In those more liberal days anyone with a few hundred followers and a few dozen square miles or so could set themselves up as a king. If they stayed alive long enough kings became grizzled and grey, at this stage they could to continue being Savage & Warlike, or opt for the more interesting Cunning & Duplicitous, some tried for the very challenging Wise & Fair but this latter was prone to subjective evaluation by neighbouring kings so was usually achieved only after being dead for at least fifty years. Kings were also expected to produce heirs, though their part in the process was rather minimal. Only sons could be heirs; kings usually tried to have a few so that the lads could squabble amongst themselves and leave their old man alone. Sons could train to be the The Favourite, A Thorn In His Father’s Side, A Great Disappointment, A Treacherous Viper in The Bosom, The Wild One He loved Most, or (by far the worse) His Mother’s Favour’d. Any son could change roles at any stage, betray his father or accidentally kill him. There was no shortage of job opportunities. All had to be expected to be called ‘Boy’ by Dad irrespective of their actual age, and since Freud hadn’t been invented yet no long standing harm was caused.

The Bard– Celts were a very forwarding thinking folk and wanted to make sure they left a mark in history other than a lot of bric-a-brac or be associated with a stupid big collection of upright stones (which was just jealousy). Thus there arose talented folk who could recount the great deeds of people who were in a position to impress upon the bard just how important they were; this usually involved a sword, axe etc. The accounts were set in sagas and could be sung or spoken, but not danced (unless a woman bard) as this was not then a suitably advanced art form. These days we have Image Consultants, Biographers, Publicity Agents and Press Agents; thus it is quite obvious the art has drastically declined.

Heroes– These individuals were always unintentional or reluctant and irrespective of any attempts by anyone ultimately doomed. They were normally Warriors, Heirs of The King, or a King who didn’t pay much attention to his mundane but essential municipal duties. The status was normally achieved by slaying a large number of foes in honourable face-to-face combat, though the opinions of the foes are of course difficult to come by. The other option was to fight and slay large beasts or other socially irresponsible beings while engaging in an existentialist debate on the Nature of Creation. A few more with overly enthusiastic pretensions to civic works carried out such singular things as felling whole forest, throwing stones into bits of the sea to cause causeways or maybe hack through the odd mountain to create a pass; they had of course no sense of the environmental impact. Heroes were expected to be gloomy introspective fellows or boastful and jovial. As their life expectancy was short married life was not an option but they could have doomed love affairs with young wives of kings, fair maids or treacherous ladies of doubtful character. They died either by betrayal or against overwhelming odds but always in a notable manner. If there was nothing else to do bards always had heroes.

Druids- What with Kings and Heroes running about the place with no true serious sense of overall social order folk were very glad to find the rise of the druids. Druids not only knew how to heal the less dramatic ailments not caused by swords, axes etc, but they also could organise the religious practices, which up until then had involved the king insisting he was right, they also had a pretty shrewd idea of the way the law should be exercised. In fact folk realised Druids could not only talk more sense than a king but they also found solutions to disputes which didn’t involve swords, axes etc. Kings did not see it this way and their comments would have been the origins of the later British political complaint ‘The Church Should Keep Out of Politics’. Also Druids were very concerned about the upkeep of the environment and were often seen advising heroes to leave the countryside alone and go off and find a suitable large number of foes to die heroically against. They were greatly interested in learning and more than a few could be seen around Stonehenge thoughtfully scratching heads.

Womenfolk– Usually women were expected to stay at home cook, create clothing, have children, keep an eye on children and be grateful to their parents for whatever lumpen oaf they’d found for her to be a husband to. More than a few had strong views on this. This explains the instances of women rising in Celtic Society and sudden disappearances of lumpen oafs. No doubt when it came to singing women bards were more popular as the welsh had not coalesced sufficiently to organise choirs. There were also druidesses, healers, princesses, queens, and warriors(esses); though a king would discourage the latter turning up naked for battle as that just spoilt the concentration of his army.

No sooner had Celtic society settled down that problems started to arise (warfare didn’t count). The two earliest were.

Firstly Other Celts– These were very annoying; no one on the Isles could see why they should have to come over in the first place, and started an historical trend amongst the folk of the Isles. The Celts in Ireland were particularly incensed that Celts from The Iberians were arriving there, when everyone knew the correct place to land was on the coast of the south-east of the biggest island; and anyhow what was supposed to happen was that folk from the Isles were to go to the Iberian lands and then only for 14 days every summer; unless they were old, then they could stay.

Secondly The Beaker Folk– It came to the attention some fussy and nosey Celts on noting instances of cheap drinking vessels that some these pesky folk having learnt Celtic ways, customs and snatches of Celtic speech were sneaking back into society under the guise of Other Celts. This furtiveness was bad enough but they were still not letting on what the heck Stonehenge was all about.

Eventually, however the founding Celts had more pressing concerns…. The Romans.

Which will be deal with in the next seminar.

A True History of These Isles-Introduction and Part 1

A True History of These Isles Part 2 The Celtic Colonisation

A True History of The Isles Part 4- The Romans (Part I)

A True History of The Isles Part 5 -Romans (Part II)

A True History of The Isles Part 6 (Romans III- the last part…honest!)

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