The Stag in Ancient Celtic Culture

Stag on the Watch – By Rosa Bonheur (1822–1899) – Public Domain Image

The stag in Celtic mythology is a symbol of the forest. It grows antlers that resemble branches on a tree. It looks as if it carries the forest around with it crowned on its head. The stag is fast, powerful and agile and sexually vigorous. This represents the the energy of nature which is self regenerating. The shedding of its antlers in the autumn and their regrowth in the spring is like the seasonal cycle of the forest trees which shed their leaves each autumn and regrow them each spring.

The Gundestrup Cauldron

Part of Gundestrup Cauldron Depicting Cernunnos – Derivative work: Fuzzypeg – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

One of the finest relics of the Celts is the Gundestrup cauldron. This is a Iron Age silver work cauldron that was found near the Danish village of Gundestrup. The cauldron is ornately decorated with many fine figures of gods, animals and images of nature. Cernunnos, the stag horned god of the Celts is depicted sitting cross legged next to a stag. On another part of the cauldron there is a depiction of a god holding a stag with each hand.

Highly Regarded

The stag appears to be highly regarded in Celtic society and held in reverence over a widespread area. In Luxembourg a depiction of a stag with coins flowing from its mouth has been found.

A carved stone figure found in Rhiems depicts Cernunnos with a stag and a bull that are drinking from a. stream of coins. This is believed to mean that stags are associated with prosperity.

As can be expected, in many areas the stag is associated with hunting. The stag would have played an important part in the economy of the Celtic people. Its flesh provided food, its skin provided clothing and coverings, and its bones provided, tools and weapons such as arrowheads.

In northern Britain, Cocidius, the hunter god, was associated with the stag. In the south of Britain, around Colchester, Silvanus the woodland king, also known as Silvanus Callirius, was associated with the stag.

At a mountain shrine at Le Donon, in the Vosges dedicated to a nature or hunter god. His image was carved in stone showing him wearing the hide of an animal and he had fruit hanging from him. Next to him stands a stag and he has his hand placed on its antlers in what seems to be an act of benediction.

The Celtic Relationship With Nature

Images of hunting and of the forest are shown next to images of prosperity. It shows the relationship and respect the hunter has for the hunted and in doing so reveals much about the Celtic mindset and their relationship with nature.

Burgundy was believed to have been a horse breeding region during Celtic times and a place where the stag horned Cernunnos was revered. A sculpture made by the Aedui tribe shows a “divine couple.” A god and goddess, are shown apparently presiding over the animal kingdom. They are shown in a sitting position next to each other with their feet resting on two stags. Next to the god is a horse that is being offered a drink from a goblet. The goddess is offering a goblet to a horse by her side to drink from, while petting it.

The stag in Celtic terms was a representation of the natural world and the animal kingdom. The antlers are a reminder that nature can be dangerous and violent. It can be violent and harmful, but it can be benign and beneficial. They stag is also a symbol of male fertility, the fertility of the forest and the renewal of nature. As such it played an important role in Celtic society and culture representing the Celtic relationship with nature and the animal kingdom.

References and Attributions

Copyright zteve t evans

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Hungarian Mythology – The Legend of the Wondrous Stag

After The Flood

A long, long time ago across the vast plains of Asia there was once mighty and powerful kingdom.  Around its northern borders stood a range of high mountains and in the south it was bounded by the sea. Two mighty rivers flowed down across the land from the northern mountains and made their way to the sea in the south irrigating the fertile plain that lay between the mountains and the sea.

The people who lived in this land between the mountains and the sea were wonderfully clever and were renowned for their art, science and wisdom.  They were a prosperous people in a fertile land of plenty and abundance. Originally they had come from the northern mountains to settle the fertile plain after the Great Flood and they created a new kingdom.

Nimrod

Their king was a giant called Nimrod. He was a mighty hunter who was a descendant of Noah.  Nimrod ordered the construction of many great buildings.  It was he who constructed the great pyramid that overlooked the city of Babylon.  This was to be as a place of refuge in the event of future floods and also to act as a temple.  It was called the Tower of Babel.

Construction of the Tower of Babel – ieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569) – Public Domain Image

Nimrod was also a mighty warrior who built a great empire in north and eastern lands where he and his people moved into after the confusion of languages. They called their new home Evilath, which later became known as Persia.   Here, Nimrod married Eneth, his first wife, who bore him twin sons who he named Hunor and Magor. He later married other wives who bore him many children who went on to become founders of other lands.

Hunor and Magor

Nimrod doted on Hunor and Magor and he kept them close to him while they were growing up in his palace.  As they grew older and stronger he would love to take them hunting with him.

One day on a hunting expedition accompanied by Hunor and Magor and a hunting party, Nimrod gave chase to game that appeared before him and became separated from his son and the hunting party.

The two young men, with their entourage, although separated from their father continued to hunt, thinking he would return to them later. As they continued they came across a wondrous white stag.  In some versions it is a horned hind.

The Chase

HUnor and Magor Hunt the White Stag – Public Domain Image

In awe of the creature they gave chase and were led over many glades and meadows westwards.    As dusk fell they lost it so they decided to make camp and await the morning.

At dawn the stag reappeared and again they gave chase but could not catch it.  It led them further and further a field and out of their own land but still they continued the chase. It lead them over strange and foreign lands and over the mountains of Adjem in western Iran and through wild places and the dangerous swamps of Meotis, believed to be the Sea of Azov.

A New Land

At last they found themselves in a most beautiful country that was fertile with abundant game.   Still they followed the stag which led them to a lake which it leaped into and was never seen again.  The land was surrounded on three sides by sea and on one side a swamp which connected it to the mainland making a natural barrier. There were abundant game birds and animals and the waters around were plentiful of fish.  The new land was situated on the frontier of Persia.

They Return Home

Hunor and Magor are disappointed they lost the hind but decide to return home. When they arrive they ask their father, Nimrod, to build a temple for them in the new land they had found so that they could return and prepare and contemplate on their coming into manhood.

A Great Teacher

Nimrod consents and the twins return and live in the temple for five years.  During the sixth year they were preparing to return home when they were visited by a great teacher who taught them the ways of being a great king.

Hunor and Magor, with their men, then explored the surrounding lands.  As dusk fell they decided to make camp and rest until morning.   At dawn they were awoken by the most beautiful music they had ever heard.

The Alan Princesses

Following the sound of the music back to its source they discovered a group of young maidens who were singing and dancing to celebrate their festival of the horn.  The maidens were daughters of the Alan people and they were led by two beautiful princesses whose father was King Dula.  Hunor and Magor fell in love with the two princesses.  They kidnapped them and married them and married the rest of the maidens to their men, as was their custom.

The Hungarian Nation

In the lake was a great island which was very well protected and on which they all settled on The land bordered their father’s country to the north and east and stretched from the Black Sea to the city of Samarkand in Central Asia.  From the descendants of Hunor and his wife came the Hun nation and from the descendants of Magor came the Magyar nation.  In legend it is believed that from the union of the three nations of Hun, Magor and the Alans came the great Hungarian nation.

References and Attributions
Hunor and Magor - Wikipedia  
Magyar News Online
The Legend of the Wonderous Hind, Fred Hámori 
Nimrod, From Wikipedia 
Image - File:Pieter Bruegel the Elder - The Tower of Babel (Vienna) - Google Art Project - edited.jpg From Wikipedia Artist Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569)  
Image - File:FeherSzarvas-ChroniconPictum.jpg - From Wikipedia – Public Domain Image

The Popular Legend of Lady Godiva

The popular legend of how Lady Godiva rode naked on horse back through the streets of Coventry to save the people from a crippling and unjust tax known as the Heregild, is one of the most renowned stories in British folklore. The Heregild was a tax imposed on the English by the Danish King Canute to pay for his body guard.

Lady Godiva, by artist John Collier – Public Domain Image

According to the legend the event happened on a market day and had profoundly beneficial consequences for the people of Coventry.

The problem with legends is that there are often more than one versions of the same story and events that happened in the distant past get changed and exaggerated until it is difficult to discern the accuracy of accounts.  This article presents a version of the popular legend of Lady Godiva as it exists today and has been put together from a number of other versions.  It is the first of a planned series on the subject each of which will present different view points on the legend, such as the historical and pagan contexts of the story.

The Heregild Tax

Earl Leofric was a powerful lord loyal to King Canute and owed his position to his goodwill.  As such he was not prepared to risk losing that goodwill.  He strictly imposed the Heregild on the people and made sure it was collected

Lady Godiva was also rich and owned valuable land and assets in her own right in the area and was very fond of the local people.  One of those assets was the town of Coventry. She was a devout Christian and was renowned for being pious, virtuous and faithful to the Christian Church and its ideals.  In comparison, it was said that Leofric, although thought to be a Christian, did not hold quite the same religious convictions as his wife.

Leofric’s Challenge

Lady Godiva could see the suffering it was causing to her beloved people and persistently begged Leofric to put an end to the tax.  With his patience running thin through his wife’s continuous pestering he is reputed to have told her that she would have to ride naked through the streets of Coventry before he would repeal the tax.. He probably said this out of exasperation, thinking his very prim and pious wife would never do such a thing. However, Leofric badly underestimated his wife’s devotion to the people and her determination to help them.

Lady Godiva takes up the Challenge

Godiva took up the challenge and rode naked on a horse through the streets of Coventry.  There are a number of variations to the legend, but one says that the people of Coventry were so grateful to Godiva, that they kept to their homes and covered the windows and no one took advantage of the situation to try and peek at her.

Peeping Tom

Another later variation tells how she had sent out messengers to clear the streets in front of her as she rode. All the citizens of Coventry obeyed except for one who tried to peep but was immediately struck blind.  His name was Tom who was a tailor, and from that day on he became known as Peeping Tom.

In Coventry’s Cathedral Lanes Shopping Centre there is a rather peculiar carved painted wooden effigy said to be a depiction of Peeping Tom.  Its eyes are blank possibly because the paint has worn off or possibly for other reasons. Either way, Lady Godiva completed the ride veiled only by her long golden hair which was long enough to cover her body, leaving only her face and legs visible.

Leofric Keeps His Promise

It seems her husband, Leofric, was so impressed that his demure and pious wife would dare to do such a thing for the people of Coventry and so amazed that no one had seen her that he changed his own religious convictions.  He regarded it as a miracle and keeping his word to his wife he repealed the hated Heregild and founded a Benedictine monastery with her, although no trace of this remains today.

The grateful people of Coventry held an annual fair keeping alive the story of Godiva and her heroism.  Unfortunately this was banned during the Reformation.

The Godiva Procession

Around 1678 the fair was revived with a representative of Lady Godiva riding through the streets on a snow white horse accompanied by a man making lewd and suggestive gestures.  The Godiva Procession is an annual event which takes place in June.

Future Articles

Although the naked ride of Lady Godiva is one of Britain’s most famous legends there is no proof that it actually happened though Godiva and Leofric were both historical and important figures in their day. It is still debated whether this was the same Godiva or a different person.  Historically, back in the days when the event was supposed to have happened Coventry was just a small settlement and nothing like the city we know today. Many scholars think that the legend has its roots in pagan ceremonies such as the May Queen.  These and other ideas will be dealt with in future articles.

References and Attributions
Lady Godiva - From Wikipedia 
BBC – Lady Godiva 
LIBER GENTIUM MEDIEVAL BIOGRAPHY - Lady Godiva - the eleventh century Coventry legend
Image - File:Lady Godiva by John Collier.jpg - From Wikipedia - Lady Godiva, by Artist, John Collier (1850–1934) Credit line Photographer, user:Hautala