Generally speaking, the Celts were a group of ancient peoples of Indo-European origin sharing linguistic, religious and cultural ties, and made up of numerous tribes (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Celtic_tribes for a list of tribes). They are essentially the ancestors of most Europeans, thus, many Americans, but interestingly, relatively little is known of them. This civilization had a central focus in western and central Europe around the Danube, Rhine and Rhône rivers in the first millennium BC. Prior to this, even less is known of them, and they seemed to have almost come from nowhere. It is thought that from central Europe the Celts spread out to settle in areas extending into the British Isles, present-day Belgium, Spain (see: http://irelandsown.net/celtgenes.html , "Genes Link Celts to Basques"), Poland, Turkey, Ukraine and Russia - possibly even northern Tibet. According to the Cs, the Celts were brought to earth and planted in the Caucasus and surrounding areas approximately 80,000 years ago, just prior to the explosion of their home planet, Kantek, which now makes up the Asteroid Belt. If true, this would suggest that their spread in Europe and Asia may have had a somewhat different character than that which mainstream science believes.
When the Greeks encountered these peoples, they called them "Keltoi" or "Galatai". Keltoi meaning either "the hidden people" or "those who are different/strange". It is theorized that this may be because their physical appearance was quite different from that of their Mediterranean counterparts, and/or because their religion was considered secretive. Their religion was perhaps considered secretive or hidden due to the fact that they appear to have had a very strong oral tradition - preferring to memorize their knowledge in place of writing it down (although they did commit some things to writing. Celtic texts have been found in the Ogham script on many stones, for example.)
The Romans called them "Keltae", "Galatae" or "Galli". Was "Keltoi" or "Keltae" a derivation of what these tribes may have called themselves? Julius Caesar refers to them as, 'The Gauls who refer to themselves as Celts.', so it is likely that they used this name themselves, or something quite close.
There are different theories as to the origin of the names, "Celt" and "Gaul", and their variations. The Indo-European word "quel" means "elevated" or "raised", so it is possible that the Celts derived their name from this word, perhaps believing that they were on a level higher than others in a spiritual or material sense, or that others believed them to be so. "Gala" is the Greek word for "milk", which may have referred to the complexions of the Celts/Gauls.
The civilization of the Celts flourished, but by the first century AD much of this fiercely proud, independent, adventurous group of people had been subjugated to the Roman empire. Some maintain that this was at least partially due to the fact that they, being lovers of liberty and equality, despised any central authority. As a result, they perhaps lacked the ability to properly organize all of the various tribes and unite against their conquerors. The Celts were a united people, but not in the sense that one would think of a nation today, as they were made up of many different tribes, inhabiting different areas. What united these tribes were not borders, but culture and beliefs.
The Celts were, by most accounts, ferocious warriors. Their great height, piercing eyes, long, flowing flaxen or red hair, fair complexions, loud, booming voices, and bodies bedecked in colorful, checkered or striped clothing - accessorized by copious amounts of heavy, gold or silver jewelry - often startled their opponents. They were reported to fight naked at times with their bodies often painted with woad (a blue dye), which further disarmed their opponents on first sight. Some were expert charioteers. While highly temperamental, unruly and formidable in battle, they were also known for their hospitality, love of food and drink, great artistic, metallurgical, medicinal and trade skills, and their expertise in philosophy and science. For a description of the Celts from a Roman classical perspective (thus, highly biased against the Celts as the Roman empire sought to stamp them out.), see http://members.optusnet.com.au/~dwkneen/Celts/battle.htm , "Celts in Battle-Celts through Roman Eyes".
It has been said that the degree to which any nation or people can be considered civilized is in direct proportion to the degree of honor, care and respect it pays to the women, children and weaker members of that society. If this be true, then it seems there have been very few true civilizations on the planet down through the ages. However, the Celts appear to be among these few. In ancient Celtic society, women were held in esteem and could occupy a variety of positions in society, including religious and political. A woman could be anything from a housemaid to a warrior if she so chose. Women could own property and were free to chose their own partners. This stood in stark contrast to the Roman Christian view that saw women solely as objects of pleasure and child-bearers. There was an equality, tolerance and harmony in Celtic society, built upon the respect for and honor of freedom, free will and democracy, that seems to certainly be the exception, rather than the rule in our world. The introduction of a static, agricultural existence, as well as the introduction of Christianity into the Celtic world, eventually led to an end to the equality, respect and freedom that women had experienced prior to this period.
The religion and intellectual life of the Celts were overseen by priest-scholars called Druids. It could be said that the religion of the Celts taught by the Druids was a religion of Ethics, Nature and Knowledge - i.e. a science - and one with a rich mythology that included the idea of transmigration of the soul (reincarnation). The Celts revered Nature, understood the cyclical nature of existence, and were initially worshippers of the Goddess - the Creative Principle (until these ideas were almost totally supplanted by the patriarchal worldview of Christianity as brought by the Romans). The woodlands, streams and lakes were their "temples". Holly, mistletoe and groves of oak trees in particular were considered sacred. To them, the Divine was everywhere and in everything. It could not be confined within a man-made structure.
One idea that seems to be Celtic is that of the Third Force as represented by the Triskele, which can be seen on Celtic artifacts, including coins. That is to say that there are always three things involved and which should be considered in any given situation in order to make a judgement and determine a course of action. Laura wrote of this in Ancient Science while referencing Homer, whom it is suspected may have gotten the idea from a more ancient source, possibly Celtic, since the traditional Greek philosophy was dualistic in nature and the ancient Greeks regarded Celtic philosophers and intellectuals highly. Laura writes:
"According to Homer, the philosophy of the ancient world was that there was a third element that linked the opposing elements. Between the body and the soul, there is the spirit. Between life and death there is the transformation that is possible to the individual, between father and mother there is the child who takes the characteristics of both father and mother, and between good and evil there is the SPECIFIC SITUATION that determines which is which and what ought to be done.
"In other words, there are three simultaneous determinants in any situation that make it impossible to say that any list of things is "good" or "evil" intrinsically, and that the true determinant is the situation."
While some things were written down by the Celts, knowledge of the druidic initiates was transmitted orally and committed to memory. (This was a lengthy process. Caesar explained that the Druids trained for 20 years, for example, and the bard [poet] was required to memorize thousands of poems, sagas, and genealogies prior to acquiring the rank of bard.) That is, the initiates were expected to utilize their own brains as libraries to store the information then, rather than have that information stored in manuscripts outside of themselves. In this way, the knowledge became a part of them in a very deep and real sense, perhaps even being the key to unlocking DNA that could ultimately lead to transformation. (See Ligands and Receptors)
The Roman conquerors of the Celts brought with them Christianity. Religious tolerance was unknown to these empire builders and they meant to obliterate all traces of the pagan religion of the "barbarians" by any means necessary. Many were given the choice between converting to the "true faith" or death. Others migrated to escape having to make such a choice. Still, the paganism of the Celts would not go quietly, and ultimately many pagan elements were incorporated into the Christian beliefs of a given area in order to accommodate and make conversion to Christianity more appealing.
The Celts were demonized and propaganda was spread of them practicing any number of horrendous rites and rituals (such as human sacrifice and head-hunting) in order to destroy this pagan belief system and bring Christianity to the Celts. The Celts and their priest-scholars, the Druids, were a threat to Rome and Christianity since their ethical philosophy, science and worldview - which was spiritual, tolerant, honored freedom and detested central authority - directly clashed with the materialistic, colonial, hierarchical belief system of Roman Christian society. Most of what is left in writing which records anything of the Celts is not written by Celts themselves, but by classical authors who were writing the history of the victors. This is not only due to the fact that the Celts relied primarily on memorization and an oral tradition to teach, transmit and safeguard their knowledge, mythology and literature, but also because much of what they did write down was destroyed by their occupiers. It is said, for example, that Saint Patrick destroyed most of what few Celtic manuscripts existed in Ireland when he converted it to Christianity.
We have seen this syndrome of entire groups of people being the targets of imperial aggression and victims of oppression and genocide repeated down through history: Jews, Arabs and Cathars during the Inquisition and Crusades are but one example. We see much the same in the present time. The current Christian fundamentalist American government could certainly been seen as instituting a Modern Crusade against the Moslem world, and anyone else who might disagree with their policies. Propaganda and lies are spread to demonize the "enemy" now, just as was the case previously in history. Christianity is considered the "true faith" and anyone believing anything else is a "barbarian" now, just as was the case earlier. Anyone disagreeing with the policies of the American government is an "enemy/terrorist" now, just as it was then.
However, despite the extreme efforts to rid the world of the Celts and their cultural and linguistic heritage, their ethical, scientific and social systems, these things have nonetheless survived to the present day, which one might say tells us something about the resilience of the Celts.