Celtic Tarot Cards Meaning from Nature

Introduction D.N. Frost

It is with great pleasure that I introduce D.N. Frost, an exciting fantasy author with a passion for Celtic mythology and traditions. She has graciously provided a guest post about the rich symbolism of nature used in Tarot cards. Welcome D. N. Frost! I encourage everyone to learn more about her and the epic saga Tales of the Known World.

 

DN Frost, Fantasy Author

DN Frost, Fantasy Author

Guest Post: D.N. Frost |Celtic Tarot Cards Meaning | Apollo’s Raven

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Hello there! My name is D.N.Frost, and I’m the fantasy author, cartographer, and world-builder behind the epic saga Tales of the Known World. I love delving into the mythology and traditions of different cultures, and this guest post for Linnea Tanner was inspired by my love of Celtic mysticism. Enjoy!

The world of the ancient Celts teemed with layers of meaning and symbols drawn from nature. Many of these assorted myths and traditions were amassed in detail by Anna Franklin, a well-known Celtic Pagan authority in the British Isles. One of her books accompanied a Celtic-themed tarot deck, and though tarot only dates back to the 15th century, the book and cards are steeped in ancient Celtic heritage.

This card depicts Scathach, a legendary Celtic warrior woman.

Celtic Tarot Card The Warrior

Scathach, Celtic warrior woman of legend

At her feet, a badger appears as the warrior’s familiar, and from the corner grows the magical herb borage. The name for this plant arose from the ancient Gaelic word borrach, meaning “a brave or courageous person.” Celts often soaked borage leaves in wine, which elevated adrenaline levels to evoke power and courage.

Renowned for her skills and strength, Scathach ran a school for warriors in her fortress on the Isle of Skye. Her name meant “the shadowy one,” and her fortress was known as Dun Scaith, the “Castle of Shadows.” Scathach only trained the adept few who were brave enough to invade her fortress and entreat her tutelage within.

She was most renowned for training Cuchulain, the hero of the Irish Ulster saga. Though she is pictured with a sword while preparing for the Lughnasa games, Scathach is best known for the barbed spear Gae Bulg, which she gave to Cuchulain after he completed his training. Some tales accredit Scathach with the power of prophesy, a gift often attributed to ravens.

For ancient Celts, the badger was regarded as the best familiar for the warrior’s intrepid spirit. Seen as unshakable and grounded, the indomitable badger inspired the path of a warrior with its courage and ferocity. The Celts believed that the badger knew all the secrets of Albion, and that its knowledge arose from the depths of the earth in which it dwelt. The badger taught many lessons to the ancient Celts, including the importance of seeking inner solitude.

This card depicts a raven circling the cloudy sky over a youth lost in thought.

Page of Swords

The Omen of a Circling Raven

In the surrounding mountains, tall pines stand as the tree of heroes and warriors, and swaths of bright daffodils paint the springtime valley. This flower symbolized the instinctive sexual energies of spring, sweeping the earth in magical regeneration.

In the Celtic tradition, pine trees symbolized fertility and rebirth, representing the vivacious spring rather than the desolate winter. Pine was one of the chieftain trees in the ancient Ogham alphabet, and its sturdy spirit especially resonated with Northern Celts and heroes like the warrior Scathach.

Ravens were messengers from the Celtic gods, bringers of wisdom and guidance from another plane. For the Celts, ravens were teachers and protectors, especially for seers and spirit warriors. Because they often circled in storm clouds, ravens were said to be thunderbirds that could herald coming squalls. Ancient Celts viewed ravens as prophetic, and their behavior was often used to auger the outcome of battles.

According to legend, the foresight of ravens warned the Irish god Lugh of the Formorian invasion. The head of the Celtic god Bran, whose name means “raven,” was said to prophesy from White Mount, the future site of the Tower of London. Bran’s head protected Britain from invasion until King Arthur removed it to demonstrate his own dominion over the land, but ravens still roost in the tower. Legend has it that Britain will fall to invaders should Bran’s ravens ever disperse.

I hope you enjoyed this foray into the world of the ancient Celts! For more fun with prophesy and magic, visit me at DNFrost.com, on Twitter @DNFrost13, and on my Facebook page.

My love of cultures and mythology inspired an epic fantasy saga.

Let me send you my free ebook today!

References

  1. Anna Franklin, The Sacred Circle Tarot: A Celtic Pagan Journey; Llewellyn Publications, 2000.
  2. Paul Mason, The Warrior; Mixed media illustration. Sacred Circle Tarot: A Celtic Pagan Journey; Llewellyn Publications, 2000.
  3. Paul Mason, The Page of Swords; Mixed media illustration. Sacred Circle Tarot: A Celtic Pagan Journey; Llewellyn Publications, 2000.

Ancient Celtic Religion: Ancestral Gods and Mother Goddess


Myths of the Great Goddess teach compassion for all living beings. There you come to appreciate the real sanctity of the earth itself, because it is the body of the Goddess
—Joseph Campbell

 

Introduction

As we continue exploring the mystique of the Ancient Celtic religion, we discover their beliefs have similarities to the Greeks and Hindu Brahmins. The belief in the immortal soul can be tied to the darker Celtic side of keeping enemy heads so they can capture their power. There were 374 names of gods and goddesses recorded throughout the vast area once inhabited by the Celts in Europe, from Ireland to Turkey. Of these names, about 305 of these only occurred once and are thought to be names of local deities particular to each tribe. Only twenty names occur with great frequency in the areas where the Celts once resided and were often associated with the Roman pantheon of deities.

Unfortunately, written accounts by the Celts were sparse. Today, we must rely on Greek and Roman writers, Irish Christian monks, and archaeological artifacts to piece the Ancient Celtic religion together. Classical writers were biased by their perception of Celts being barbarians. Celtic myths written by Christian monks were heavily redacted to reconcile them with the Christian beliefs. Even though the evidence is fragmentary, we can glimpse some of the religious ideas and rituals connected with the pantheon of Celtic deities and their roles by studying the mythology and comparing it to archaeological evidence.

Below is an overview of how the ancient Celts viewed their ancestral god and their belief that the Mother Goddess was involved in the creation of the universe.

Collapse White Cliffs Wall Britain

Coastal White Cliffs Near Dover, Britain


Ancient Celtic Religion

Ancestral Gods

Caesar and the insular literature indicate the Celts did not look upon their gods as creators but as their ancestors—more as supernatural heroes and heroines. In the lives of these gods and heroes, goddesses, and heroines, the lives of the people, in their emerging patriarchal society and the essence of their religious traditions, were mirrored. The gods and goddesses were depicted as human and were subject to all the natural virtues and vices in an idealized form: love of nature, arts, games, feasts, hunts and heroic single-handed combat. Their intellectual powers were equal to their physical abilities. This depiction of gods as ancestors also appears in Hindu myth and saga.

Panel on Gundstrup Cauldron

Cernunnos, Antler-God of the Forest, Portrayed on Panel of Gundestrup Cauldron

Pomponius Mela, a Roman historian at the time of Claudius 43 AD, states, “The Druids profess to know the will of the gods.” Hence, the Druids were viewed as the conduits between the moral and immortal world. There is an old Irish passage in which the Druids, like the Hindu Brahmins, boasted they had made the sun, moon, earth and sea. In Vedic mythology (historical predecessor to modern Hinduism), creation began with space (aditi) in which sky and earth were formed and were regarded as the original male and female elements.

Lunar Eclipse

Blood Moon


Mother Goddess

The ancient Irish bards deemed the river’s edge, the brink of the water, was always that place where wisdom, knowledge and poetry were revealed. Irish tales suggest the Ancient Celts believed creation evolved around the Mother Goddess.

Rhône River Hillside

Saône River Hillside Near Lyon, France

In one tale, the children of the Mother Goddess, Danu, arrive in Ireland to battle the evil Fomorri, whose own Mother Goddess is Domnu. The Irish epic tells of several struggles between the Children of Danu, representing darkness and evil, and the Children of Danu, representing light and good. Only after the Children of Danu break the powers of the Fomorri at the second Battle of Magh Euireadh did the good gods prevail. Interestingly, the Children of Domnu are never completely overcome or eradicated from the world.

The Children of Danu came from four fabulous cities where named Druids taught them skill, knowledge and perfect wisdom. Further, the Children of Danu brought special treasures from these cities:

  • Lia Fáil (Stone of Destiny) from Falias
  • Sword from Gorias (the forerunner of the famous Excalibur)
  • Spear of victory from Finias
  • The Dagda’s cauldron of plenty from Murias
Celtic Cauldon Gundstrup

Gundestrup Cauldron

The Dagda is portrayed as the father of the gods in this epic tale. This is significant because The Dagda is Danu’s son by Bilé. As the sacred waters leave from the heavens, Danu waters the oak, Bilé’s male fertility symbol, and gives birth to The Dagda—the good god who fathers the rest of the gods.

Dagda Gundestrup cauldron

The Dagda Portrayed on Gundestrup Cauldron

Bilé is the Old Irish word for a sacred tree which was also used to denote a ‘noble warrior.” Bilé’s role in transporting the souls of the dead Celts to the Otherworld is significant. Transportation is usually via rivers like the Thames or out to the sea. He is, in essence, transports souls to the divine waters – his consort Danu, the Mother Goddess. Hence, Danu takes precedence as the primary source of life. More will be discussed below about the association of Bilé with Apollo.

Cork Oak Tree at Arundel Castle and Gardens

Cork Oak Tree; ‘Druid’ derived from ‘dru-wid’ — “Oak Knowledge”


Overview of Celtic Dieties

Celts did not visualize gods with exclusive roles. Not only did their deities have different functions – and therefore were polyvalent— they also appeared in various forms—and thus were polymorphic. Another common feature associated with these deities is votive offerings that were offered at lakes and rivers to win the favor of the gods. Their links with water, trees, and groves suggest the Celts worship earth gods as opposed to the sky gods of the Greeks and Romans.

Bath Roman Bath Britain, dedicated to Celtic goddess Sulis, whom the Romans identified with Minerva

Bath Roman in Bath Britain; Dedicated to Celtic goddess Sulis, whom the Romans identified with Minerva

Julius Caesar associated the Celtic gods in Gaul with Roman deities as follows:

“They [Celts] worship chiefly the god Mercury; of him there are many symbols, and they regard him as the inventor of all the arts, the guide of travelers, and as possessing great influence over bargains and commerce. After him they worship Apollo and Mars, Jupiter and Minerva. About these they hold much the same beliefs as other nations. Apollo heals diseases. Minerva teaches the elements of industry and the arts. Jupiter rules over the heavens and Mars directs war.”

Minerva, Goddess of Wisdom

Minerva, Roman Goddess of Wisdom

Caesar also recorded the Celts in Gaul believed they were descended from Dispater, which the Romans associated with the god of the underworld and of the night. The 18th Century French Historian, Henri D’Arbois de Jubainville, identified the Dispater as the Celtic god Bilé (also known as Bel, Belinus and Belenus). His feast day was celebrated on 1 May (Beltane). As discussed above, Bilé appears to be a god of the dead and is portrayed as Danu’s consort.

Beltane Celebration

Bonfire During Beltaine Festival Celebrated 1st May

Writing a century after Caesar, the Roman poet Lucan gave particular prominence to the names of three gods: Teutates, Taranis and Esus. Taranis could be equated with Jupiter, as the name survives as toran in Welsh and torann in Irish which are interpreted as meaning thunder. Esus was considered to be equivalent to the god of war Mars.

Teutates Celtic God of War on Gundstrup Cauldron

Teutates on Gundestrup Cauldron

Celtic gods were often depicted with female companions. When patriarchy replaced the “mother goddess” concept, the new male gods had to consort with the old female river goddesses to retain continuity with the old beliefs. A raven, the Celtic symbol of death and battle, perches at their feet. The marriage of a chieftain god with a Mother Goddess was viewed as assuring the people of protection and fertility.

Mythological Raven

The Raven, Celtic Symbol of Death and Battle

After Christianity achieved dominance in the Celtic world, the ancient gods were relegated to dwell in the hills. In Irish, the word sidhe means mound or hill and denotes the final dwelling places of the Dé Nanaan, the Immortals, after their defeat by the Milesians. The ancient gods, thus driven underground, were relegated in folk memory as the des sidhe, the people of the hills or in later folklore as simply fairies. The most famous fairy is the banshee (bean sidhe), the woman of the fairies whose wail and shriek portends a death. Each god was allotted a sidhe or hill in Ireland by The Dagda before he gave up his leadership of the gods.

Bilé’s Association with Apollo

To judge from inscriptions, the most venerated god was Belenus who can be most closely equated to Apollo. There is evidence of his cult in southern Gaul and northern Italy, and he may have given his name to Beltane, the Irish festival celebrated on the first of May. Worship of him proved to be enduring. Ausonius of Bordeaux, writing in the 4th Century, mentioned a contemporary of his who was a grandson of Phoebicius, a temple priest of Belenus, and whose family bore names associated with the great Apollonian shrine at Delphi.

Apollo-WaltersArs

Apollo, God of Sun; Associated with Celtic God Bilé, also known as Bel and Belenus

There are many places named after Bilé throughout Europe. In London, Belenus’ Gate is known as Billingsgate (Bilé’s gate). Presumably the heads of the dead at the original Celtic settlement, and later at the Roman occupied city, were taken though this gate to the river Thames—tamesis, the dark or sluggish river. The human heads were used as votive offerings or simply placed for Bilé to transport them to the Otherworld. Hundreds of skulls from the Celtic period have been discovered in the Thames, around London, with other votive offerings.

As previously discussed in APOLLO’S RAVEN, the ancient Celts believed the soul reposed in the head, not in the region of the heart as Western Christians now have it. That is why the head was so venerated and prized. In one Welsh tale, the mortally wounded Bran the Blessed urges his companions to remove his head and take it back to the Island of the Mighty (Britain) for burial. It takes many years and Bran’s head eats, drinks, and instructs the soldiers on the journey back. The head is buried (legend has it that the site was Tower Hill in London) looking toward France so that, in accordance with Celtic custom, he could protect the land against invasion. Many other examples of talking heads of slain heroes are found in Celtic myth.

Stonework at La Roquepertuse Cult of Head

La Roquepertuse Doorway of Skulls

Connecting the many human skulls found in the Thames, together with exquisite swords, shields, helmets and other votive offerings, suggests the Thames could have been a sacred river for the British Celts, occupying the same role as the worship of rivers, springs or wells in Central India.

Celtic Battersea Shield

Celtic Battersea Shield

Bilé was incorporated in many personal Celtic names, the most famous being Cunobeline, who ruled just before the Roman invasion of AD 43. His name means ‘hound of Belinus’. He was later immortalized as the King of Britain in the Shakespearean play entitled, “The Tragedy of Cymbeline.”

To be continued

The next post will provide a more detailed description of the Celtic gods and goddesses.

References

  1. John Davies, The Celts: Prehistory to Present Day; 2005; Sterling Publishing Co., New York.
  2. Julius Caesar, translated by F. P. Long, 2005. The Conquest of Gaul; United States: Barnes & Noble, Inc.
  3. Peter Berresford Ellis, The Druids, 1995William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI.
  4. Steve Blamires, Magic of the Celtic Otherworld: Irish History, Lore & Rituals, 2009, Llewellyn Publications, Woodbury, MN.
  5. Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth with Bill Boyers, 1991Doubleday, New York, NY.

Raven Powers

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Raven Powers

What does Baltimore have in common with Celtic warriors? Answer: Raven Powers.

Now that I am more than half-way through the first draft of my second novel with the working title, Raven’s Black Fire, I was pleasantly surprised to find inspiration from the Baltimore Ravens in their play-off and Super Bowl games. During this time, my Celtic heroine, Catrin—a spiritual warrior—was also discovering her hidden Raven Powers.

For the previous three weeks, Bronco fans had been grieving the loss of Denver to Baltimore. Yet I sensed Baltimore was destined to win the Super Bowl.

Bird Auguries

The bird auguries in Colorado foretold Raven Powers would finally overcome their formidable opponents. I told my husband, who wisely remained nameless after he lost his gamble on the Forty-niners, that bird signs predict Baltimore would triumph in the Super Bowl. It only made sense. Baltimore had Raven Powers.

My husband said,“No way. The Fates are against Baltimore.”

“Ye of little faith,” I said. “Animal spirits always prevail.”

Day of Game

While my husband and I drove through Fort Collins on game day, I saw tens’ of crows, close cousins of the ravens, flying to a gnarly tree. I pointed out this ominous bird gathering to my husband and foretold, “Ravens will see their opponenst vanquished in the Super Bowl’s battlefield. This is surely a sign that Ravens would finally win the respect of the odds maker.”

Ironically, at half-time, Beyonce was garbed in what could be described as black raven feathers, another prognosticator of the Raven’s victory.

At the beginning of the second half, the stadium went black and lost all power. But behold! From darkness the truth illuminated the arena—Ravens would soon defeat the Forty-niners in a hard-fought contest.

I raise my wine glass in tribute to Raven Powers and the inspiration the Baltimore football team provided me as I wrote about a Celtic woman warrior from Celtic Britain, a great nation who still keeps ravens captive at the Tower of London. A superstition holds if these ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it.

Raven Protecting Tower of London

Raven Power at Tower of London

Despite the Raven Oracle, my husband unfortunately bet heavily on the wrong team with his friend and my editor, Bob. I love you both!

 

Quest for Catrin: Photographic Adventure—Celtic Spiritual Warrior (Part 3)


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I have fled in the shape of a raven of prophetic speech —Taliesin’s Song of his Origins, 6th century

Raven Tattoo

One of the challenges in the photo shoot was to transform my eleven-year-old granddaughter, Maylin, into the adolescent Celtic warrior princess, Catrin—the heroine in APOLLO’S RAVEN. Isabelle Kai, a makeup artist from Boulder, worked with Rebekah West (Rebekah West Photography), and myself to design a raven tattoo for placement on Maylin’s forehead. The raven is the protector animal that guides Catrin and helps her prophesy.

Isabelle created a unique stencil template that was used to spray paint the raven on Maylin’s head. The British Celts were known for tattooing their bodies by using the leaves of the Woad plant to create a viscous blue dye. The indigo paste was tapped into the skin with needles to force the stain under the skin layers. In addition, feathers were pasted on Maylin’s face to highlight the strength she garners from her raven spirit.

Celtic Spiritual Warrior

Catrin, Celtic Spiritual Warrior

Mythological Raven

The mythology of ravens is widespread throughout the world, including North America, Europe, and Asia. Ravens have been associated with prophesy and wisdom, but they also conjure dark images of bad luck and death (discussed below).

Raven Animal Protector

A spiritual warrior society, the Celts revered animals as protectors and teachers. They believed the physical world is one level of existence. Overlaying this mortal world is the Otherworld, the world of spirits and forces which can guide and help us. Ravens, in particular, were revered for their ability to bridge these two worlds. They served as messengers from the Otherworld and acted as guardians and protectors.

Celtic Warrior Princess

Catrin, Celtic Spiritual Warrior Summons Raven

Raven Light Symbolism

In Greek and Roman mythology, the raven was associated with both Athena (Roman: Minerva) and Apollo—deities closely affiliated with the sun and the light of wisdom. Apollo was an oracular god, and thus, the association between the conversational raven and the god of divination made sense.

Mythological Raven

Apollo’s Raven

In Norse mythology, the god, Odin, was pictured with two ravens on his shoulders: Hugin representing the power of thought and active search for information; Mugin, representing wisdom and its ability to understand by intuition. Odin would send these two ravens out each day to spy upon the lands. They would return to tell him what they learned on their journeys.

Raven Dark Symbolism

Ravens are associated with predators, particularly wolves, which kill prey for ravens to scavenge. As human civilization became more war-like, fostering conflict and the spread of disease, ravens often picked at the bloody remains of fallen warriors in battle. People interpreted this predictable biological response as a supernatural sign and came to view ravens as omens of bad luck and harbingers of death. The sight of elongated beaks pecking into corpses reinforced the nightmarish images of ravens.

The Morrigan was the shape-shifting Celtic Goddess of war, fate, and death. She soared over battlefields in the form of a raven and frequently foretold or influenced the outcome of the conflict.

Soaring Raven

Raven Over Battlefield

The Norse god, Odin, was also known as the Raven God. His daughters, Valkyries, would transform into ravens and whisper to the souls of fallen Norse warriors to follow them to Valhalla in the sky.

My next series of posts will continue to unfold how Rebekah West prepared for the photo shoot that transformed Maylin into a Celtic warrior princess based on historical accounts in Ancient Britain.

(To be continued—Quest for Catrin: Photographic Adventure)

 

Apollo and Coronis; White Raven; Association with Healing


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 As soon as Apollo was born on Delus among the goddesses who helped him into life, he defined his spheres of influence: “Let the lyre and curving bow be possessions to call my own, and for humans let me proclaim the unerring counsel of Zeus” (Homeric Hymn to Apollo, 131f).

Apollo and Coronis

In Greek mythology, there is a tale of  Apollo who fell in love with Coronis, a Thessalian princess of unsurpassed beauty. He commanded his divine messenger, the white  raven, to guard Coronis. Though Coronis was pregnant with Apollo’s child, she strangely did not care for her divine lover, but gave in to the advances of a mere mortal, Prince Ischys. She did not consider that Apollo, The God of Truth, could never be deceived.

When the raven brought news to Apollo of his lover’s infidelity, he became enraged that his faithful messenger had not pecked out the eyes of the prince. Apollo flung a curse so furious, the raven’s pure white feathers were scorched black. Apollo killed Ischys and sent his sister, Artemis, to slay Coronis with her deadly arrows (other accounts indicate Apollo killed Coronis himself).

In spite of his ruthlessness, Apollo felt a pang of grief as he watched Coronis be placed on the pyre and the flames roar up. At the last moment, he removed his son from the womb. Apollo gave his newborn son, Asclepius, to the wise centaur, Chiron, who taught him the art of healing herbs. Thereafter, Apollo became associated with healing through his son, Asclepius, the god of medicine and healing.

Coronis was set among the stars as Corvus, the crow (korônê in Greek).

Mythological Raven

Apollo’s Raven

Rome’s Association of Apollo with Healing

The Romans closely associated Apollo with healing. The Roman historian Livy recounts a plague in 433 BCE when the Roman people vowed to build a temple to Apollo and performed rituals to quell the wrath of the gods so the pestilence would not spread. Two years later, the Romans dedicated a temple to Apollo who they attributed for ending the epidemic. Up to the time of Emperor Augustus, the temple of Apollo Medicus was the only temple of Apollo in Rome. In 212 BCE the Romans instituted games in his honor, Ludi Apollinares. After the Roman conquest of Gaul, archaeological research shows inscriptions at Gallic healing sanctuaries combining “Apollo’ with the native names such as Apollo Belenus or Apollo Grannus.

Apollo

Statue of Apollo in Marseilles France

 

References:

Fritz Graff, Apollo; Printed 2009 by Routledge, New York.

Edith Hamilton, Mythology; Printed 2013 by Back Bay Books, New York.

Refer to website: http://www.theoi.com/Heroine/Koronis.html