The Giant's Daughter: Neolithic Cosmology in Celtic myth?
Since the pioneering work of the Rees brothers in the 1960s much work has been done on identifying the Indo-European background to Welsh and Irish mythology; however, one area that has received little attention (something true of Indo-European myth as a whole) is the astronomical origin of much of this imagery. In this talk we will consider two myths - one Irish and one Welsh - (The Death of CuRoi and Culhwch and Olwen) - and propose that the overarching theme of each myth, especially the actions of the female protagonists, derive much of their symbolism from the heavens, especially the appearance and 'behaviour' of the Milky Way around the winter solstice. We will then see how astronomical alignments of certain Neolithic and Bronze Age ceremonial sites in Britain, as well as iconography from Neolithic Britain and Europe, suggest an interest in the same astronomical events as detailed in the myths, leading us to question the ultimate age and origin of the Celtic myths and languages, as Renfrew (1987) has proposed. Might these medieval tales contain remnants of a Neolithic cosmology?
Bradley, R. 1998. The Significance of Monuments. Routledge
Rees, A and B. 1961 Celtic Heritage. Thames and Hudson
Renfrew, C. 1987. Archaeology and Language. Jonathan Cape
Silva, F, and Campion, N (eds). 2015 Skyscapes: The role and importance of the sky in archaeology. Oxbow
John Grigsby is a PhD student at Bournemouth University; his thesis 'Skyscapes, Landscapes and the drama of Proto-Indo-European myth' supervised by Tim Darvill, aims to identify and reconstruct the 'shaping mythology' that Richard Bradley (1998:108) has suggested must lie behind the planning of ritual sites of the Neolithic of the British isles (most notably henges) utilising the twin sources of reconstructed proto-Indo-European (PIE) mythology and archaeoastronomy; primarily it asks whether the imagery, symbolism, and cosmologies represented in this mythology contributes anything to the understanding and interpretation of the structure and use of the ceremonial monuments, especially in regard to their relation to what Silva terms the 'skyscape' (2015). He holds an MA in Celtic Mythology from Bangor University. He is the author of 'Beowulf and Grendel: The Truth behind England's Oldest Legend' (Watkins 2005)