Saturday, March 29, 2008

Celtic Cat Names

The Celts were nothing less than the ancestors of modern Europeans. Their exact origins remain unknown, but by 400 BC they were firmly settled upon the European continent, dominating those areas we now call Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, Spain, southern Italy, the Balkans, and of course the British Isles. They were a fierce people, masters at the art of war, but they were also a creative people. Their art was well known and influential. Feared as barbarians, they nevertheless had great respect for learning, though they themselves had no written language until the fifth century AD. Above all they were a mystic people. This was the culture of the Druids, High Priests of the pagan religion practiced by the Celtic tribes. Their myths and legends are filled with deities and beings personifying the various geographical terrain with which they were familiar. As thoughtful as they were fearless, it is no exaggeration to say that the Celtic tribes were the primary forces of cultural influence prior to the overwhelming expansion of the Roman Empire. Indeed, the Celts (known as the Gauls to the Romans) had invaded and sacked the city of Rome in the year 390 BC. By 225 BC the Romans had begun to successfully weaken the Celtic armies, but the Celts were not to surrender so easily. It wasn't until 58 BC that Julius Caesar defeated Gaul, incorporating large Celtic provinces into the Roman Empire. By now the Celtic influence was slowly disappearing from the continent, but they still controlled Britain. Then, in the year 43 AD, the Emperor Claudius sent the Roman legions to Britain in massive waves. Within a 40 year period, Rome had conquered most of Britain, thus ending nearly 800 years of Celtic domination. That is, almost. The resilient Celts continued to flourish in Wales, Scotland, and Ireland; regions most often thought of as Celtic by contemporary reckoning. Here Celtic culture and mythology was preserved, influencing to this day many aspects of modern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. As for the Celtic attitude toward cats, it appears that felines were for the most part viewed with guarded superstition, often coming close to fear. Very rarely do cats figure in Celtic myths, but they often played an important part in the enactment of religious rituals. Unfortunately this part was the role of sacrificial offering. Sacrifice the Celtic way meant tossing live kitties into huge bonfires. Not a nice way to go. In time this practice subsided and cats took on a more mystical role to the people of Wales and Scotland, not to mention Ireland where cats are now held in the highest esteem.

ANGUS (AHN-guss; Male): The Irish god of youth. His whole name is "Angus of the Brugh" but he was also known as "Oengus of the Bruig" which is basically the same thing only spelled differently. But that's not all. He'd also answer to the name "Angus Mac Ocf" with the "Mac Ocf" meaning "Young son". Whose son? Why, the son of the Dagda, god of the earth and lord of the heavens, as well as father of all the Irish gods. Everyone was quite impressed by the strong and distinguished sounding name "Angus of the Brugh" until somebody found out that 'brugh' meant "fairy palace". All the same, Angus was an important god overseeing not only youth, but love and beauty also. Since he was portrayed as a somewhat dreamy love-sick character, you might want to give this name to a sweet, kindhearted, pussycat of a..uhhh, you

ARAWN (AHR-on; Male): I swear this is a complete verbatim entry from one source concerning Arawn: "Arawn offered to change places with Pwyll, prince of Dyfed, for a year and a day so that he could get rid of his rival Hafgan." (!) Huh? Other than that bit of enlightening information, all you need to know about Arawn is that he was the Welsh god of the Underworld (… la Hades, Anubis, or Tuoni), and therefore another god whose name we're going to recommend you give to (what else?) a black cat.

ARTIO (AHR-tee-oh; Female): There appears to be a connection between Artemis, Greek "virgin-huntress" deity of the wilderness and untamed beasts, and Artio, the goddess of a bear cult that originated in present day Switzerland during a period of Celtic influence. If your cat retains feral tendencies and delights in moments of atavistic mayhem, this pretty name can provide her with a much needed civilizing element.

BALOR (BAH-lor; Male): Let's be frank. Not all cats are wee-quiet-beasties content in purring by the fireplace and napping on your bed. If your cat is a monster, then deal with it. You might begin by giving him this name since Balor was also a monster. He was the hero-king of the Formorians, a species of sea monster (actually half human, half monster), who battled the ruling gods of Ireland-a family of deities called the Tuatha De Danann. In two epic conflicts known as "The Battles of Moytura" Balor and his nasty Formorians fought viciously for sovereignty over the universe. Like the Greek Cyclops, Balor had only one eye centered right smack in the middle of his forehead. And that was his good feature. Formorians only had one arm and one leg which made them appear vulnerable, but what they lacked in limbs they made up for in dentition; each was said to have three rows of razor sharp teeth. Fortunately for the universe the Formorian cause was defeated, with Balor being slain by his own grandson, the great god Lug.

BELENUS (BEHL-eh-nuhs; Male): To the Druids (the priestly order of the Celts), Belenus was their golden boy. His name means "radiance" and he was more than likely a sun god or fire deity. He is often likened to the Greek god Apollo, and it's easy to see why. Both were considered gods of healing and the scientific arts, both were thought of as scintillating gods of light, and both maintained a special friendship with the local priesthood. The great festival of summer's advent (Beltane-May 1 by our calendar) was named for Belenus and was one of the four major "season festivals" celebrated during the Celtic year. On this day huge fires believed to possess healing attributes and generative powers were lit. Around these ceremonial fires wild dancing would take place all in the hope that some of the therapeutic properties contained within the flames might rub off, bestowing upon the faithful a summer of good health and abundant harvest. This popular holiday continued to be celebrated long after the conquering Romans adopted Christianity as their state religion (see the Roman goddess Maia) and traces of its symbolism can still be found in contemporary May Day observations. An important name that exalts even the most average of cats up to divine, "Alpha" status.

BOANNAN (boh-ANN-ehn; Female): We're all familiar with the custom of tossing coins into fountains and wishing wells. I'm sure everyone has done this, regardless of whether one is superstitious or not. The Celts were no different, though they may have taken this action more seriously than we do today. For instance, valuable items such as statues, coins, and even weaponry were offered to Boannan, the Irish goddess of the river Boyne. These items were tossed to the waters out of respect, but also in the hope of securing the healing powers of this potent goddess. This wasn't a situation unique to Boannan and the river Boyne. The Celts had several river goddesses and this ritual of throwing treasures into the watery depths was quite common. In fact, most of the springs and wells used by the Celts were thought of as mystical in one way or another. When Christianity had taken over as the dominant religion, these mystic watering holes managed to retain something of their pagan identity by being thought of as sources of holy water-sites of pilgrimage for countless faithful in search of a healing miracle. If your cat seems to have a knack for soothing your tensions, brightening your foulest of moods, or even bringing you an occasional round of good luck now and then, this might be an appropriate name.

BRIGANTIA (brih-GAN-tee-ah; Female): The world of cats (and animals in general for that matter) knows no sexism. Sure, there are biological differences between males and females of all species that produce different behaviors, but for the most part neither sex is subjected to the other and discrimination is nonexistent. Only humans have the shameful distinction oppressing the female of the species. The Celts, however, were a rare exception to this unfortunate condition. In Celtic society women were as free and powerful as any man. They were respected leaders, wealthy property owners, fearless soldiers, and of course Monarchs. Brigantia ("The Exalted One") reflected this respectful attitude toward women. She was a pastoral goddess, guardian of the beasts of the field, and she was a river goddess as well. Give this name to a bright and powerful that isn't about to take crap from anyone, especially male cats.

BRIGIT (brih-JET; Female): This goddess of poetry and fertility was deified throughout Britain, Wales, and Ireland, as well as Gaul and Spain. She was a daughter of the "Father God", Dagda, progenitor of all the Irish gods. Brigit was honored in her temple by a select priesthood restricted to females. There were 19 of these priestesses-19 because that was the number of years within the Celtic cycle known as the "Great Year". If these 19 priestesses weren't enough, Brigit also had within her retinue a bevy of hallowed prostitutes (officially sanctioned by the temple itself), and an army composed entirely of thieves, cutthroats, and other assorted rapscallions and ne'er-do-wells. With all this, when did she ever have time for poetry? Once Christianity had replaced the indigenous pagan religions, fertility goddess Brigit became Catholic Saint Brigit. It's obvious that the characteristics of this goddess make up a most unique and enigmatic individual giving you plenty of reasons to name your cat after her. Of course, the temptation is to adopt this name in honor of the French actress Brigitte Bardot. Well, don't. The spelling is different, the pronunciation is different, and besides, do you really want to name your cat after a "sex kitten?" (Sorry.)

CARIDWEN (KAHR-ed-wen; Female): Her name means "white grain" which is appropriate since Caridwen was the goddess of corn. Perhaps you are familiar with the book, "White Goddess" by Robert Graves. Well, this is she. Besides being the Celtic corn goddess, Caridwen was also the Moon goddess as well as the all encompassing goddess of Nature and was even thought of as something of an alternate poetry goddess to boot (see Brigit.) She was also associated with a cat cult because she had once given a kitten to the people of a place called Arvon. This kitten soon grew to the size of a horse and continued to swell toward gargantuan proportions, eventually maturing to become none other than the Cath Palug, a.k.a. the Palug Cat (after the sons of Palug who had discovered the prodigious mouser.) The Palug boys decided to keep the huge cat, hoping that it would protect their town of Anglesey. But this cat was no protector. Instead of keeping beneficent watch over the township as hoped, the titanic feline brought nothing but destruction wherever it went. Thus did the Palug Cat fulfill its role as one of the three curses of Anglesey. Anyhow, this name is just aching to be given to a pretty white cat. Due to the nature oriented, bucolic characteristics of Caridwen, this name befits a cat drawn to the fresh air of the great outdoors. Of course, let's not forget that Caridwen was also the local Moon goddess, so naturally the name goes well with cats of a mystic disposition. But most of all this name is practically custom fitted for any cat possessing destructive traits that you might well recognize as those of the Palug Cat herself. And if you do happen to know such a cat, you have my condolences.

CERNUNNOS (sir-NOO-nohs; Male): One of the most important of all the Celtic gods. Cernunnos was the horned god of fertility, sexual love, the wilderness and wild animals. He was known as the stag deity and as such was portrayed with an impressive set of antlers sprouting from his head. Since he was so popular, the Catholic Church discovered that the Celts were extremely resistant to abandoning his worship for the sake of a new religion called Christianity. So the Church decided that instead of ignoring Cernunnos altogether, they would simply incorporate his horned image with the Catholic notion of "Satan." ABRACADABRA!-with a wave of the hand one Celtic nature god becomes a Christian devil (this is why Western culture often depicts Satan with horns.) Apparently the tactic worked since to this day horns are, more often than not, linked symbolically with diabolical matters. This is a most telling example of the extreme contrast between the pagan religion of the Celtic Druids and the dogmatic authoritarianism of Christianity. The Celts lived in harmony with the sacred experience of the natural world that flourished all around them. All phenomena were considered divine and worthy of respect and veneration. Christianity on the other hand sees nature as something to be controlled and conquered. In other words, the Celts (and all pagan cultures for that matter) believed themselves to be of nature; Christianity spread the notion that humans were above nature. Since Cernunnos embodied the raw state of untamed virility, his name might be good for a big, strong Tom-cat (obviously one that has avoided castration.) If you happen to notice small, boney protuberances growing from kitty's head, don't panic. Horns do not a devil make. If, on the other hand, he grows a goatee, turns red, and sprouts a sharp, pointy tail, you might want to call the vet.

COVENTINA (koh-vehn-TEE-nah; Female): Isn't this a pretty name? She was another goddess of waters and springs. She was said to travel the rivers and lakes upon a leaf boat. In each hand she held an item that symbolized her domain-one was a cup from which a steady flow of fresh water poured representing the source of all the earth's waterways and lakes; the other was a beautiful water plant symbolizing life which rises from water. A lovely goddess with a charming name suitable for any cat at all.

DAGDA (DAHG-dah; Male): More properly known as THE Dagda, he was the Irish earth deity-father of both gods and men. In this respect he was the Celtic equivalent to Cronus and/or Zeus of the ancient Greeks. Being the earth god meant that he controlled the orderly passage of seasons. This cycle was maintained through the guiding melodies produced by a magical harp only the Dagda could play. Since an earth god is sort of a personification of matter and "stuff," the Dagda owned something called the Undry which was a gigantic pot of abundance filled with an infinite supply of "stuff." One of the Dagda's many names meant "Good God," but "good" in the sense of being good at doing things. He was a jack-of-all-trades, skilled and accomplished in all his endeavors. Well, for the most part. Apparently his imagination wasn't all that "good"-when his wife bore him three daughters in succession he named each one of them Brigit (One of which we've already listed as the goddess of poetry and fertility. As for the other two Brigits, one was goddess of metal workers, the other was the goddess of statutes and legislation.) As you might expect, the Dagda had a gargantuan appetite for all the worldly pleasures earth had to offer. He ate so much that he became ridiculously fat. When it came to his sexual hunger, he was just as gluttonous. What better name for a large, overweight cat of leisure?

DANU (DAH-noo; Female): Where there is a father god, there is a mother goddess close at hand. Danu was the mother of the Irish gods, just as the Dagda was the father of the gods. She was the progenitor of the family of gods known as the Tuatha de Danann (meaning "Children of the goddess Danu") of which the Dagda was the leader. Naturally a goddess of Danu's stature ruled over many important things. She was a Moon goddess and held the secrets of sorcery and magic. It was Danu that bestowed prosperity and wisdom to those deserving such gifts. Considering her many exalted qualities, this is a name to reserve for felines of a grand and august temperament, refined and matronly to the very end.

EPONA (eh-POH-nah; Female): The goddess Epona was the patron deity of horses. This was no small matter to the horseman of the Celtic war machine. Famed throughout the ancient world for their remarkable equestrian skills, these Celt riders and charioteers worshipped Epona as the primary source of their greatness. Since the breeding of horses was one of her major concerns, Epona was something of a fertility goddess, even managing to secure "Mother Goddess" status. Now, the practicality of such a goddess did not go unnoticed by the ever resourceful Romans. Realizing that they lacked a deity to watch over and protect horses and horse related issues, the Romans (true to their character), simply borrowed Epona from the Celts to worship as their very own goddess of the cavalry. There's one thing you should know if you're thinking about naming your cat after this goddess; for some reason Epona was also a patron deity to dogs. Just thought you might appreciate that bit of trivia.

LIR (LEER; Male): Though not related to the primary family of Irish gods, Lir was nervertheless the powerful lord of the sea. With that in mind, you may be surprised to learn that this personage was the very source from which William Shakespeare drew inspiration for his character and play "King Lear." One of the most important sagas featuring Lir concerned the destinies of his many beloved children, including: Manawydan, god of the seas (like father, like son); Branwen, the beautiful goddess of love; and two sets of twins that had been transformed into musical swans. This name might be appropriate for that rare sort of male cat that actually plays a nurturing role in the care of newborn kittens.

LUG (LOOG; Male): All right, this name isn't the prettiest, nor the most impressive sounding in this book, but the god Lug (a.k.a. Lugh, Lugus, and even Lleu Llaw Gyffes) certainly cut an impressive image. He was the greatest of all the Celtic gods. So widespread was his fame that shrines were constructed to him as far as Switzerland. Even the Romans were intimidated by his cult-so much so that it was thought best to rename his great harvest festival (Lugnasad) after the Emperor Augustus, thus transforming it into what is today known as August first. Lug was a mighty hero, often portrayed as a blond muscle-man, all decked out in magnificent armor complete with helmet and shield of gold. As the story goes, Lug came to the glorious palace of the Dagda expecting to be welcomed as a full fledged member of the "god fraternity" right there on the spot, no questions asked. But the palace guard did question him. In order to take a seat among the immortal gods, one had to possess a skill not already covered by one of the deities. When the guard asked Lug to name his unique specialty, the mighty hero-god declared that he was particularly competent in the art of war. The guard shook his head. They already had a war god. Lug then called out several of his many expert abilities. Could they use a god of healing? Nope. A water god? Nope. How about a god of magic? Of music? Commerce? Nope, nope, and nope. Finally reaching his wits end, Lug lashed out at the guard and demanded to be admitted since none of the gods were masters of all skills like he was. This worked. Soon, Lug was leading the gods into battle against the barbarous Formorians. The gods eventually secured a victory over those beasts, but not before Lug slaughtered his own grandfather, Balor, the king of the Formorians. Clearly this is a name for a clever feline, a jack-of-all-trades as far as cats go, intelligent, strong, and prone to displays of his stalking dexterity.

MACHA (MAH-cha; Female): I like Macha. So what if she was the ruthless and bloodthirsty goddess of war? She had style. I mean, how can you not like a warrior goddess that feasts upon the heads of her fallen enemies? Apparently the Celts thought highly of her, which is only appropriate for a culture of head-hunters. It was not an uncommon practice for Celtic warriors to decorate the exteriors of their domiciles with the severed heads of soldiers they killed in battle. Not only did these household heads serve as an offering of thanks to the goddess, but they also bore witness to the combat proficiency of the inhabitant. Ahhh, home sweet home. There were other admirable characteristics unique to Macha besides a taste for decapitation. She was initially one of those numerous "Mother Goddesses" we hear so much about. Naturally this meant that she ruled over matters of fertility and such. This dual aspect of her nature-patroness of fruitfulness and productivity as well as fierce and ruinous warrior-brought her the mighty title of "Mother of Life and Death." She held absolute dominance over males, intimidating even the most virile of men with the sheer force of her insatiable sexuality. And yet Macha did eventually learn the harsh lesson that all things must pass. Challenged to run a race against the swiftest horses in Ireland, Macha accepted, not the least bit worried that she was pregnant and due to give birth any second. It was a close race, but Macha crossed the finish line first. At once she fell to the ground and went into a difficult labor culminating with the birth of twins, whereupon the mighty goddess drew one final breath and quietly passed away. Like I said, she had style. A name to remember if your cat exhibits this sort of aggressive style, especially if she likes to intimidate and domineer any and all male cats.

MIDIR (MY-der; Male): Simply put, Midir was a god of the Underworld, comparable to fellows like Anubis, Hades/Pluto, and Tuoni. Chances are, if you previously had reason to consider one of these names for your hell raising moggie, you'll find the same reasons are applicable to this name also.

NUADA (noo-AH-dah; Male): We all know that cats are compelled to reach for the goldfish that are swimming about the aquarium, and most of us have tiptoed silently around a cat basking in the sun. Nuada was a Welsh/Irish god that just so happened to be associated with these very feline activities. Well, sort of. God of fishing (and water in general), as well as the Sun god, Nuada also filled the role of healing deity which is odd since he himself had suffered the loss of an arm that he apparently could not heal. No matter. Nuada replaced his arm with one made of silver. Before you christen your fish-chasing, sun-loving puss with this unusual name, you should know that Nuada was also the god of dogs. It was believed that divine mutts assisted this god in the art of healing. How? First of all (according to the legends), should a person require Nuada's curative auspices, they were supposed to visit his temple and leave a small replica of his silver arm as an offering. Then the afflicted individual fell into a deep sleep whereupon they were attended to by the therapeutic pooches. How these mongrels administered their healing techniques is unknown, but one is tempted to suppose that licking somehow played an important role. One need only imagine various bodily ailments requiring attention to appreciate just how unpleasant this treatment must have been. Give me the hypodermic needle any day.

No comments: