Certain animals held divine providence among the ancient celts, as exhibited in many European cultures. Julius Caesar notes the sanctity of several animals to the Britons, including the cockerel, the goose and the hare. It’s said these animals were never eaten. Roman historian, Dio Cassius, comments on the hare released by Boudica upon invoking the Iceni war goddess, Andraste:
“Let us, therefore, go against [the Romans], trusting boldly to good fortune. Let us show them that they are hares and foxes trying to rule over dogs and wolves.”
When she [Boudica] had finished speaking, she employed a species of divination, letting a hare escape from the fold of her dress; and since it ran on what they considered the auspicious side, the whole multitude shouted with pleasure, and Boudica, raising her hand toward heaven, said:
“I thank you, Andraste, and call upon you as woman speaking to woman … I beg you for victory and preservation of liberty.”
Little is known of the ancient celts’ goddess Andraste, the hare may have been sacred to her, such as the horse to Epona or Freya’s boar in Norse mythology, or it may have been a living representation of the goddess herself, like The Morrígan appearing as a raven. Regardless, this divination technique was common in pagan Europe, the belief that animals, both wild and domesticated, had sacred qualities. Their augury was held with the highest esteem, wars were declared, and prevented based on the results.
Photograph by @alexander.hohenstein, who graciously let us use this wonderful shot for our post. Please check out his page and give him a follow, such a phenomenal photographer deserves a much larger following. I chose this shot as the wolf and its canine descendants have always played an important role in European society, for their association with the healing springs of Gaul, where votive offerings to the gods portray hounds with their masters. Wolves most commonly appear as helpers and guides though, being companions to the ancient celts’ god of the forest Cernunnos, representing honour and loyalty. Other animals signalled out for reverence include stags and boar, cattle, horses and ravens, symbolising virility, spirit and death, respectively. Ravens have even been granted special burials, such as at the Danebury Iron Age hill fort in Hampshire.
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