Tell Me A Story…

When you think of the Celts, you think of epic legends, y0u think of mysticism and lore, and, of course, you think of all those amazing stories.

Celtic tales are known as long, twisting sagas of heroes and heroines, of feats of strength and battles of wit.

*Fun fact: Many of the surviving tales have remarkable resemblances to themes, stories and even names in the tales of the Indian Vedas, written in Sanskrit at the start of the first millennium BC*

The Celts held the word so sacred that it was forbidden in their culture to write anything down; therefore, their stories were memorized and passed from person to person, generation to generation through oral storytelling. It wasn’t until the arrival of the Christian monks that the Celts’ stories were finally penned.

Their stories, however, were censored by the monks to the point some scholars argue what we know of the myths and legends of the Celts today is highly fragmentary. Other historians argue just as vehemently that it is possible to discern the true Celtic mythology behind the Christianized tales regardless of any censorship.

There are many, many well-known Celtic stories. One popular tale is that of King Arthur. Everyone knows this one. But what you may not know is that the real Arthur was a sixth-century warlord who fought against the Anglo-Saxons for his people’s freedom. The Celts would tell their stories of his bravery, even after his eventual defeat. Throughout the centuries, the historical details of Arthur became lost, and were soon replaced by the bards’ creative imaginings. And so, King Arthur was born.

Another popular story is of the time-honored romance of Tristan and Iseult. This is centered on the traditional Celtic elopement tale and features Iseult, the King of Cornwall’s new wife, running away with her lover Tristan, the King’s nephew. Hmm…this does sound familiar, doesn’t it? There are literally thousands of tales loosely based on this original theme. Hollywood has given us many examples of elopement tales, one being the obvious, “Tristan + Isolde,” of course, but another is the movie, “Troy,” in which Helen, the Queen of Sparta, runs away from her husband, the king, to be with Paris, one of the princes of Troy.

Finally, one of the most popular Celtic heroes was Finn, or Fionn Mac Cumhaill. Legends have it that he was the leader of the Fianna Eireann, and is described as being tall, fair-haired, and handsome. In typical hero fashion he is credited with such traits as strength, courage and visionary wisdom. As is true for the Arthurian Sagas, there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of tales of Finn and his Fianna, their battles and their romances.

“Celtic mythology, the legends and oral storytelling tradition, constitute one of the brightest gems of European culture. It is both unique and dynamic. It is a mythology and folklore which should be as well-known and valued as its sister Indo-European cultures of Greece and Rome. Perhaps it should be prized that much more because it gives us a direct path back to the dim origins of civilisation in this part of the world.” – Peter Berresford Ellis

So, talk to me. What is your favorite Arthurian tale? Do you know of any Finn Mac Cumhaill stories? Which Celtic myths or legends are your favorites?

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17 thoughts on “Tell Me A Story…

  1. Hi Kate,

    I came across your blog from twitter. I love mythology. In India, we draw a lot of truths about human existence from mythological stories. The stories I often read these days are from Ramayana and Mahabharata. They are epics written by ancient saints. Thanks for sharing this post!

    Best,
    Suma.

  2. I just love your Celtic posts. I didn’t know about Finn – I’ll have to do some research on him. One thing that always amazes me about the Celts is that we don’t know much about them, but when you dig deeper, you find that many of our traditions are based on their traditions from long past. All over the British Isles you can feel the mark of the Celts. It’s remarkable.

    1. Hi Tamerie! It IS remarkable! In doing research for my wip…er, one of my wips lol…I came across a lot of myths and legends that reminded me of traditions and stories I’ve heard growing up. Here’s a fun one…I came across an old Scottish legend that eventually birthed the story of Cinderella! How’s that 😉

  3. I’ve never heard of Finn Mac Cumhaill. I love Celtic stuff, but now that you ask the question, I’m blanking on my favorites! Lol. I didn’t sleep much last night. *reaches for coffee* This is my third cup (in my life, not this morning).

    1. Angela…you crack me up lol I find myself falling for Finn Mac Cumhaill a.k.a. a.k.a. Fionn Mac Cumhaill a.k.a. Finn McCool. He’s something of a superstar among Celtic myths and legends. I haven’t had a chance to really dig deep into his particular stories, but he’s top priority on my list and you’ll be reading more about him soon 🙂

  4. Fabulous post, Kate. Reading about Celtic legend and history so well written makes my Celtic heart swell. Thank you! While a fan of Celtic history, lore, and paranormal, I have no stories of my own to share … yet. But please keep the marvelous posts coming!

  5. I have always loved the various Arthurian Legends. Mists Of Avalon is a favorite, as it is told from the female perspective. Of the cinematic versions, King Arthur with Clive Owen and Kiera Knightly is my fave, simply because Gwyn is a butt kicking heroine.

    My wife seems to like First Knight the best. Something about a younger Richard Gere I think. However these tales get spun, they never seem to lose their appeal.

    1. I am a big fan of both the older and newer King Arthur movies. I’m pretty simple though…just entertain me ;p More recently, I became hooked on the new King Arthur tale, “Camelot” on STARZ. While I’m not a huge fan of the actor they have portraying Arthur, I do like the rest of the cast, and the storyline.

      I completely agree with you…the stories are never boring!

  6. I have always been fascinated with the mythology surrounding the Loch Ness Monster that I recently wrote a romantic fantasy wrapped around that creature. Someday, I will travel to Scotland and Loch Ness, sit on the banks, and say “What if?”

    1. lol…well, the great thing about a lot of these myths and legends is that there is something for everyone. Weapons and battles for you blood thirsty types, and life lessons and romance for the rest of us ‘normal’ people ;p

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