Celtic Sun Worship


It seems like virtually every ancient culture indulged in sun-worship at some point. But did the Irish? Or more specifically, the early Celtic settlers in Ireland?

The Irish don’t seem to have had a particular god or goddess of the sun, or a name for the sun as a deity. Lugh has sometimes been seen as a sun god, but that seems to have originated in Victorian times, the way so many other historical inaccuracies did, thanks to the Romantic poets of the time. Lugh’s history says he was descended from the Tuatha de Danann on his father’s side and the Fomorians on his mother’s side, and is regarded as an ancient high king. The holiday that seems to refer to sun worship, Beltaine, on May 1 (technically April 30 evening. Days began and ended at sundown for the Celts) was one of the main festivals. The Celtic year was divided into Summer and Winter, with Summer beginning on May 1, and Winter beginning on November 1. While the Celts had an animistic view of nature, viewing various natural features like wells, springs, caves, trees as possessing spirits, these would have been local. There were other widely known deities as well which would have been recognized throughout large areas of Celtic settlements, but there is no anthropomorphic sun god. They no doubt venerated the sun as holy or divine, but as far as I have been able to discover there was no actual god of the sun, like Apollo or Helios.

Be that as it may, this is the opening sequence from Riverdance, and one of my favorite parts of the show. The poetry is not on the soundtrack CD, I’d forgotten about it. My sleuthing tells me the male lead dancer is Breandán de Gallaí; Michael Flatley was long gone from the show by this time. I believe this is from a televised performance in Geneva in 2002. Music by Bill Whelan. This is called “Reel Around the Sun.”

Interestingly, as the circle starts to form, they’re moving counterclockwise, or anti-sunwise, also known as widdershins in pagan circles. The inner circle eventually begins moving clockwise/sunwise, but most of the dance is reversed. Not sure what that’s about.

Out of the dark we came
Out of the sea
Where the long wave broke on the shore
As the day broke and the night rolled back
There we stood
On the land we would call home
Out of the dark we came
Out of the night,
The first of many mornings in this new place
When the sun rolled back the mist
We rose like a strong wave on land
Now we were the people of this place
What burns through through the mist?
What banishes rain and dark?
What makes the children straight and bright?
What makes the mountain sharp?
The sun is our lord and father
Bright face at the gate of day
Comfort of home, cattle, and crop
Lord of the morning, lord of the day
Lifting our hearts we sing his praise
Dance in his healing rays

Blessed Beltain.

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10 thoughts on “Celtic Sun Worship

  1. Thanks Susannah 🙂 Don’t get too excited about the followers, that’s blog and Twitter combined!! I don’t know how to turn off that feature, I don’t like it. I’ll have to take another look. Most of my Twitter followers never read the blog.

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  2. Thank you. 🙂 I dunno, it seems kind of weird to me. But then again, other sites show the avatars of followers, so maybe anonymous numbers aren’t so bad. I’ll think about putting it back up.

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  3. Love the article and the video. In reading on Celtic mythology, you mostly get what other civilizations thought about it, since the Celts didn’t write it down for us. And really, who cares what the Romans thought, much less the Victorians. Thanks for sharing the video. I love the music!

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  4. Thanks Liz! That’s very true, history is often interpreted through the lens of other cultures. The Victorians dreamed up a lot of hooey that people now accept as gospel, like horned helmets on Vikings (completely false). Glad you enjoyed the music 🙂

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  5. Liz made a great point about the lack of records from the Celts, themselves. And in cases like that, not only is it even easier for victors to change things to make themselves look better, even well-meaning folks often rewrite history by romanticising things.

    I’m thinking of the Romantics (who I do love) who idealized a past that never really was.

    Anyway, great post, DD.

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  6. Thanks Tasha. That’s very true. Historians tend to interpret cultures based on knowledge of others, which can lead to incorrect assumptions. And of course those who want the past to line up with current beliefs and values will try to spin it to their advantage. With no written records from the Celts themselves marginal similarities can be misinterpreted.

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