Paula here. By my birth in Ireland, I am a Celt. I wanted to find out more about the rich lives of Celtic women. I hope you enjoy the facts I found, plus my inevitable comments (be they wise or otherwise!) Celts lived in Ireland, Scotland and Europe.
The Celts derived their name from the Greek word “Keltoi” meaning “hidden people.” We could say that for centuries lesbians were ‘hidden people” and today, in many homophobic countries, they remain that way.
The Celts had women priests called Druids of whom many could read and write in Greek and Latin, they preferred to pass on knowledge and their way of life in an oral tradition. Perhaps, they did not want this knowledge to fall into enemy hands – (maybe they had men in mind). It was later in the 6th and 7th century that Irish monks recorded Celtic history/herstory and of course, illuminated the Gospels in the famous “Book of Kells.”
Legends and Folklore
Gods and goddesses are featured in the ancient Celtic tradition. Literature abounds in savage war-goddesses and male sea gods. Like the Greeks there were tales of heroic feats, of giants and beautiful maidens. All of creation was sensed by the Celts as female and the culture embraced women as wise and spiritual leaders. There was a mother goddess that brought joys that were female – fertility, birth, love and healing and leadership. Men obeyed and recognized this gift – the blood of the monthly cycle which mysteriously gave new life.
Females Grew Up With Choices
Young females were blessed with independence and power. They could bear arms, become Druid priestesses, engage in politics, own land and choose whichever womanly path that called to them.
Young girls grew up learning the power of women from the oral Celtic myths and stories of goddesses. Stories around a fire solidified the world of women be they fearsome female warriors or romantic heroines. There were messages in the tragic stories of wronged queens or women who ignored the wise ways and perished. There were wise women and powerful queens who took up the sword to banish evil. All stories spoke of the human frailty of life: love, problems, heartaches and triumphant journeys. Along with the strong women were women whose characters were vicious and revengeful. Very seldom are there mention of weak women, if mentioned, they were soon despatched and overtaken by strong females. In these stories, women are admired as much for their minds as their bodies.
Celtic Women – RULE!
Compared with her European sisters, the Celtic woman could rise to any of these powerful positions: doctor, warrior, judge, doctor, poet or priestess. The women who were warriors were held in high esteem particularly when they led men into battle. A group of captive Celts were brought before the Emperor Claudius. According to their custom, they paid homage first to his wife. The thinking was that she was a warrior and above her husband in ranking.
Celtic women were equal with men in the law’s eyes. They could own property and it remained in their possession even if they married. They had a choice in whom they married and could divorce their husbands. If molested, they could claim damages.
Beware of Enraging A Female Celtic Warrior
The Romans were aware of the valor and viciousness of female Celtic warriors and wrote that the Gauls (French) were as tall as their men. They described the women as charging with swords and axes with “hideous outcry.” Frequently it was women warriors who trained young boys in the art of war.
Sgathaic – The Warrior Queen is an example of a woman who ran a military training castle in Scotland. There are legends that her home, Dunscaith Castle, was built in a night by a witch or faerie. It was said to be protected by a pit of snakes and beaked toads.
Training of Irish Champion Cu Chulainn.
If you visit the main post office in Dublin, Ireland, you will see a statue of the warrior Cu Chulainn. In 1916 the post office launched Ireland’s bid for freedom from England who had dominated it for over 300 years. Cu Chulainn remains a Celtic hero. It is interesting that he went to visit Sgathaich and learn fighting skills from this Celtic woman. Celts came from Ireland and parts of Europe to learn skills in self-defence. The training was rigorous but it paid off. No one wished to fight a male or female warrior who had been trained by Sgathaich.
Celtic women can be hard on their men and this was the case of Cu Chulainn’s love, Emer, the neice of Ulster King Terara. Even though Cu Chulainn was said to be a giant and a powerful bodied man, Emer told her father. “He is a green boy. If I wed, it will be to a man who can match me in every way. I am tired of boasting youths with their tedious feat of arms. The man I marry must be the greatest champion ever. He must be capable of protecting me from every danger.”
It appears that Emer was a woman warrior of some magnitude. It took three attempts on a perilous journey before Cu Chulainn was able to train under Sgataich. Celtic children were raised to realize that to accomplish victories each person must be tested. Great stories surround Sgataich and Cu Chulainn. One of the battle tools she gave him was a “belly ripper.” She was one tough fighter. Children would learn from these two characters that, if brave, there would come help from sea gods and magic from unseen forces. It is said that Cu Chulainn could become invinsible.
Sgataich – the Celtic Negotiator
Sgataich was not only a famous female Celtic warrior, she was skilled in negotiations. If she traded in martial skills, she expected something in return. Again, Celtic women were no “push overs.” Cu Chulainn was forced to pay for his learned skills by fighting battles for Sgathaich. Her main enemy was her sister, Aoife. Cu Chulainn fought Aoife and tricked her into peace with her sister. Aoife, on the other hand, seduced Cu Chulainn and bore a son. Yet, this could not keep Cu Chulainn from returning to Ireland to marry his love.
Perhaps, out of guilt or love Cu Chulainn gave Aoife his gold ring to give to their son. It was hoped that the son would be sent to Ireland and would be recognized by the ring. Time passed and Aoife became angry. The son named Conlaoch was now a grown and fierce warrior. She put him under a spell on her son that forbade him to tell anyone of his identity. It also commanded him never to refuse to fight. Conlaoch travelled to visit Cu Chulainn but upon arrival refused to identify himself.
Cu Chulainn accused him of being arrogant and sent several of his men to kill the haughty intruder. Each man fell to Conlaoch blade until Cu Chulainn was forced to fight him. Conlaoch lay dying and it was only then that he realized that he had killed his son. From this story comes the moral that Cu Chulainn could not deal with his short- comings of pride and anger.
The great warrior was stricken by his lack of control over his emotions and spent the rest of his life mourning his son and striving to become a better human being.
Two Celtic women are revealed – the fierce warrior Stagaich who seemed to be forthright (if not demanding), but she was within her rights to ask for something in return for her training. Aoife, her sister, while being a fierce warrior was seen to be devious and used her charms to trap Cu Chulainn into a relationship. Not allowing him to love his true love, she showed her cruel and revengeful nature.