Wednesday 12 April 2017

Exploring the Celtic Way of Life by Tony Halker

Last Updated: 27 May 2024

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I have imagined and written about a time, hundreds or a thousand years before the Romans threatened the Celts of Britain, about their civilisation, values, order, myths and relationships; about emerging hidden art and sounds we may call music.

It is impossible not to be in awe of peoples who thousands of years ago mixed metals in exact proportions to refine the properties they needed to harness, to make agricultural implements and weapons, then being able to repeat the formula time and time again. They did these things without the benefits of chemical analysis. Perhaps an ingot would ring or sing when hit in a certain way with stone, telling them whether they had achieved the right mix for their purpose.

Tony Halker landscape photo

We talk of the Celtic nations today, but before the Romans came much of Britain and Europe were peopled by the Celts and their Druid Priests' class. We have romanticised who and what they were, the legacies they gifted us. We can walk the places they did and see remnants and beauty they created as gifts to the Goddess Nature.

In folklore, the Druids seem to imbue who and what we were before the Roman invasion and therefore what we are now. Their society did not use writing, so we have very few hard facts about what they valued and revered or from where they came. Most of what we think we know is either Roman propaganda or what we glean from wonderful artefacts often found hidden in the UK landscape and indeed all over Europe. Celtic Druid cultural remnants, values and genes are in many of us, yet we often rely on the words of their enemies to define them.

Celts were in their own time originally seen as outsiders, people on the fringes of what considered itself the “civilised” world: Greek and Roman civilisations. The colonial marketing machines of those civilisations wanted to define the Celts as savages at their fringes to be brought under Roman “guidance”.

Tony Halker landscape photo 2

My fiction is set long before the coming of the Roman Empire. At a later date, it is clear that the Celts were a threat to Roman expansion in terms of culture, military prowess, organisation and the extent of their own linked civilisation through Europe. In later times the powerful Celtic remnants were on the fringes in England, Wales and Ireland.

No civilisation and culture suddenly appears or disappears, even when it seems that way in the archaeological record. Foundations are laid, tribes develop, technologies become important, power structures organise peoples who prosper and spread. I envisage Druids as a learned warrior and craft priest caste, providing balance to tribal clan power. The Druids exercised influence through, knowledge, learning, connections with the Deities of nature and monopolies of valuable trade.

I like to imagine their lives in our landscape because we know so few facts and can use folklore and landscape to invent these peoples from the nano information we really do have; the canvas on which to reinvent them is almost blank, but a few items of beauty and enigma are there to look at and enrich the imagination. Folklore passed down the ages and festivals still sung, danced and celebrated also inform our view.

Tony Halker landscape photo 3

Much of the landscape they inhabited has hard stone remnants built or “created by the gods” before Celtic times, during the stone age. The circles, standing stones, dolmen and mounds we see today existed in and on the landscape when the Celts and Druids first emerged, were there before them. Therefore these great structures helped form the ancient Celts' views of ancestors and gods, perhaps especially the Mother Goddess.

I am motivated by the craggy hard stark and powerful landscapes in which so many of these remnant artefacts nestle. I can imagine Druids in these places and while I know they came from more mellow lands across England and Europe, I prefer to think of them on today's Celtic coast, in the mountains and gulleys of North Wales and Ireland.

These peoples were much more important than the Romans would admit; they were more than an irritant and had a culture that survived Roman domination and brutality. Twice the Romans attacked Anglesey and its sacred Druid groves. When Boudica rose up and attacked Colchester the Roman military governor was away beating up the Welsh Druids on Anglesey. Seventeen years later they had to go back to finish the job since this persistent, organised rich culture was threatening again.

An efficient thriving society needs, organisation, structure, technology, culture and values. I have taken, places, landscape, beautiful artefacts and Roman propaganda and imagined the way these people were and lived. They needed trade; their pots and jewellery are found all over Europe as are common designs for swords, spearheads and shields. Rich trade would have been controlled. Perhaps it was Druid networks through Europe that prospered with trade and undermined Roman merchants, perhaps it was a society where women held sway and shared power that threatened Roman patriarchy.

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About Tony Halker

Tony Halker author photo

Born in London, Tony Halker studied geology at Leeds University after which he worked as a geologist, travelling extensively overseas. Following an MBA at Cranfield School of Management, he became a manager in hi-tech business and later a businessman and entrepreneur. His writing is inspired by powerful natural landscapes and his interest in the people and technologies emerging from those hard places.

For more information about Tony Halker, visit his website or blog.

What do you think? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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