Celtic and Norse mythology
Norse and Celtic are two very old cultures that have a lot in common.
They both came from the same region of Europe, they both had similar customs.
But there are also some major differences between these two groups.
Norse mythology tells tales of gods and goddesses, giants and dwarves, dragons and unicorns. It is a rich and fascinating body of work that has inspired many modern works of fantasy.
Celtic culture, on the other hand, is best known for its art nowadays. Celtic art is characterized by its mystical patterns and knotwork designs.
So which culture is more interesting to you? Norse or Celtic?
Or … Are they the same?
Table of Contents
Is Norse and Celtic the Same?
No, Norse and Celtic are two distinct cultures and languages with many differences – and also with many similarities because of the geographic proximity.
- Norse refers to the culture and people of Scandinavian countries, such as Norway, Denmark, and Iceland.
- Celtic refers to the culture and people of the British Isles and parts of Europe, such as Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Brittany in France.
What is Norse mythology?
Norse mythology is the collection of stories, beliefs, and deities that originated in the Proto-Norse period (around the 1st Century CE) and flourished in Scandinavia and Iceland.
The Norse pantheon consists of various gods with different names but some similarities to those found in Celtic mythology. For example, Odin, Thor, and Ullr all have similar counterparts in Celtic mythology.
Norse Paganism also has an elaborate cosmology which includes an origin story on how the world came into being and 9 different realms (called “voids”). This ancient religion has recently seen a resurgence in interest among modern pagans who base their beliefs around it.
What is Celtic mythology?
Celtic mythology is the body of stories, legends, and beliefs that existed in Northern Europe before Christianity. It primarily originated from Ireland, Scotland, and Gaulish cultures.
Many of the deities in Celtic mythology are part of a pantheon known as the Tuatha Dé Danann who live in an underworld but still interact with humans through sacred sites and folklore.
The celtic gods in this pantheon have names that resemble those found in Norse mythology such as Odin (known as Dagda), Thor (Bri), and Ullr (Lugh). Additionally, both mythologies contain elements from local traditions which may help to explain their similarities.
What are the similarities between Norse and Celtic mythology?
Norse mythology and Celtic mythology have many similarities. Both
- are polytheistic religions that deify gods and goddesses who personify natural forces mainly
- share similar stories and recurring themes, as well as gods with similar attributes.
- a massive world tree is part of the myth
- share deities with similar names, such as Odin, Thor, Ullr and Lugh in Norse mythology and Nuada of the Silver Hand, The Morrigan (war goddess), Cuchulainn and Finn MacCumhall in Celtic mythology.
- have a strong tradition of oral storytelling, with many myths passed down by bards and skalds
- feature heroes who undertake quests and perform great feats of bravery
- have gods associated with animals and the woods (Odin / Lugh / Ravens; Dagda / Serpent-footed Monster).
- have deities of persuasion/coercion (Ogmios / Bragi) as well as sun gods (Belenus / Baldr).
Difference between Celtic and Norse Paganism
The Norse and Celtic cultures spoke different languages and had distinct cultural practices and traditions. Some differences between Norse and Celtic mythologies include:
- The Norse pantheon is centered around the Aesir and Vanir gods, while the Celtic pantheon includes deities with totally different areas of influence
- Norse mythology comes from Scandinavian descent while Celtic mythology has its origins in Irish and Scottish lore.
- Norse myths are part of a larger family of myths called Germanic mythology while the Celts have a much longer history than their Germanic counterparts.
- Norse mythology features a creation myth and a belief in an end-of-the-world event known as Ragnarok, while Celtic mythology does not have a single creation myth and does not have a similar belief in an end-of-the-world event.
- Celtic paganism have not practiced human sacrifice, but Norse paganism have included human sacrifice as part of its regular religious practices
- the gods in Norse myth live in Asgard whereas those in Celtic myth do not live up above but rather on earth before mankind’s arrival there.
Detailed Comparison of Norse and Celtic Mythologies
While there are some conversions between Norse and Celtic mythologies, scholars believe that many of their gods were actually the same but had different names due to simple translations from one culture to another.
For example, Nuadhu is believed to be a later version of Njord while Scathach may have been an altered form of Skadi. Additionally, most primary sources about Celtic mythology come from writings by Romans or after the conversion to Christianity which may be biased in their representation of deities.
Norse and Celtic mythologies have many overlap and parallels. Both are polytheistic religions that deify gods and goddesses representing aspects of the natural world.
They also share similar stories and recurring themes, such as the god’s quest for immortality in Norse mythology or King Arthur’s search for the Holy Grail in Celtic mythology.
1. Norse vs Celtic myths: the Origins
Norse and Celtic mythologies both originated from the Common Germanic mythology, which in turn goes back to a common Western Indo-European mythology. Both mythologies also contain elements of the Green Man archetype, with gods associated with rebirth and regeneration responsible for the return of spring.
Norse myths feature gods such as Thor who wields a mighty hammer Mjolnir while Celtic myths have deities like Taranis whose name means “thunderer” (similarly named deities can be found across other cultures influenced by the Indo-European).
Furthermore, while there has been extensive contact between the two civilizations over time resulting in mutual cultural influences such as usage of Viking symbolism or ships becoming models for later Irish ship designs; it was not without leaving traces such as Vikings settling on British Isles where they assimilated into society but left their mark on culture (e.g., Donar’s oak worshipped by pre-Christian German pagans).
2. Norse vs Celtic: Ancestry
Norse and Celtic mythologies both share the Green Man, who is not exclusively Celtic but can be found in ancient cultures throughout the world.
The main difference between Norse and Celtic mythologies is their ancestry; Norse mythology is thought to originate from a common Indo-European mythology while Celtic mythology is thought to originate from a Western Indo-European one.
3. Norse vs Celtic: the Pantheon
The Norse and Celtic pantheons both have gods associated with nature and animals, as well as powerful war gods. For example,
- Odin is associated with ravens and the woods while Thor wields a hammer.
- Celtic god Lugh is known for his affinity with ravens while Dagda has a jovial personality.
- Both pantheons also have minor deities that share similarities such as the Fates (Norse) and Morrigan (Celtic).
There are also distinct differences. For example
- Odin is known for his wisdom and power in Norse mythology, Lugh is more powerful than him in Celtic lore.
- although Thor slays a serpent in Norse mythology he does not have an exact counterpart in Celtic mythology
- Cernunnos does exist in both mythologies albeit with different characteristics such as appearance or area of influence.
- Norse myths focus more on gods associated with war and fertility while Celtic myths focus more on gods associated with nature and magic.
4. Norse vs Celtic: Deities
The deities of Norse and Celtic mythologies both have gods associated with various aspects of life, such as war, fertility, love, death, and wisdom. For example:
- Odin is the All-father or ruler of the Norse gods and is associated with ravens, intelligence, poetry and the arts. He also has close connections with animals and the woods.
- Lugh was one of the most powerful Celtic gods who had affinities with ravens and was known for his intelligence and love of poetry/arts.
- Thor is a fierce warrior god in Norse mythology who wields a hammer (Mjolnir) to protect his people from evil forces; in Celtic mythology he has a similar counterpart named Dagda who also wields a powerful hammer (Aife).
5. Norse vs Celtic: Runes and Alphabet
Both Norse runes and Celtic alphabet are alphabets used to write various languages. Both alphabets have letters that represent sounds, and both can be used for both spoken and written communication.
6. Norse vs Celtic: Magic and Lore
In both Norse and Celtic mythology, magic was used to shape the world around them, as well as gain power over others. Many deities in both pantheons were known for their magical abilities, such as Odin’s ability to shape-shift into many forms or Angus Mac Og’s ability to create illusions with his music.
However, Norse mythology often features gods using runes for divination or spell-casting while Celtic mythology tends to focus more on supernatural creatures such as fairies and giants that possess magical powers.
7. Norse vs Celtic: Worship
The worship practices of Norse mythology differ from those of Celtic mythology in that they focus more on individualized religious devotion while the Celts worshipped their gods as part of a larger community effort.
Norse worshippers often sought out personal interactions with their deities while the Celts believed that deities could only be approached through intermediaries such as druids or priests.
8. Norse vs Celtic: Female Warriors
Both Norse and Celtic warriors were well-known for their skill in battle. Both groups lived in small tribes or clans, were farmers, blacksmiths, and artisans. Women in both societies could fight alongside their men, own property and initiate divorce proceedings.
However, it is important to note that while Celtic women were trained alongside their men in the use of weapons and allowed to choose their husbands and sexual partners, Viking women did not have the same rights as men in society. Literature does exist that depicts the Celts as living in women-dominated (matriarchal) cultures but most scholars disprove this as false.
9. Norse vs Celtic: Thunder Gods
Both Norse and Celtic thunder gods are powerful, war gods who wield hammers. They are known for their jovial and full of good humor personalities. Both Odin and Thor have associations with ravens, intelligent people, and love of arts.
10. Norse vs Celtic: Mistletoe
Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that grows on trees and has white berries. In Norse mythology, it was believed to have magical powers and could be used for healing or as an aphrodisiac. In Celtic mythologies, mistletoe was also considered sacred and associated with fertility rituals.
11. Norse vs Celtic: Proximity
The Norse and the Celts lived in geographically close areas at various times in history. The Vikings even invaded lands once settled by the Celts during their vast expansion throughout Europe. Despite their close geographic proximity, they lived in different eras. Scholars believe that some of their gods were the same and that their names were simple translations from one culture to the other, such as Nuadhu and Scathach (Norse counterparts are likely Njord and Skadi).
12. Norse vs Celtic: Tree of Life Symbolism
The concept of a “tree of life” or “world tree” is a motif that appears in both Norse and Celtic mythology as a symbol of the connection between the different realms of the universe and the continuity of life.
- Both are depicted as a large, solid tree
- Both are seen as a symbol of the interconnectedness of all things
- Both are associated with the idea of renewal and the cyclical nature of life
- In Norse mythology, the tree of life is called Yggdrasil and is associated with the nine worlds of Norse cosmology. In Celtic mythology, the tree of life is often depicted as a sacred oak or an apple tree and the tree is associated with the concept of eternal youth and immortality.
- The role of the tree in Norse mythology, Yggdrasil is the center of the Norse universe and serves as a kind of cosmic axis, a world tree, around which all the nine worlds revolve. In Celtic mythology, the tree of life is often depicted as a provider of nourishment and sustenance and is associated with the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.
13. Norse vs Celtic: Modern Paganism
Modern paganism is a religious movement that seeks to revive the ancient belief systems of pre-Christian societies. It mainly focuses on the worship of deities from various cultures, such as Norse or Celtic deities. Modern pagans also have their own cosmology which includes an origin story about how the world came into being and different realms that exist within it.
Actually, modern paganism encourages its followers to engage with culture beyond religion by learning languages, music or dance from certain cultures which I personally like very much.
How did Norse and Celtic mythology influence Viking lore?
The Vikings may have encountered Celts early in their expansion throughout Europe, which could have led to some overlap in their belief systems. Some scholars believe that some of their gods were the same but had different names depending on which culture they came from, such as Nuadhu / Scathach and Njord / Skadi.
What type of runes were used in Norse and Celtic mythologies?
In Norse mythology, the runes were a set of symbols used for magic and divination. They are believed to have been developed from two distinct sources: pre-runic symbols found in various Bronze Age rock carvings and names of the runes derived from their meanings (such as sun, horse, etc.).
In Celtic mythology, the Celts used an alphabet known as ogham which consisted of lines intersecting at right angles to represent different sounds. Each line had a specific meaning related to its shape or direction.
Are norse and celts related?
Yes, Norse and Celtic mythology are related. Both are the mythologies of human societies in the north-western part of Europe during the first millennium CE. An example is the “Green Man” which is not exclusively Celtic, but faces made from or surrounded by leaves, fruits, vines or branches and men with green skin can be found in ancient cultures throughout the world.
This is often associated with deities of rebirth and regeneration responsible for the return of spring in that society’s climate.
Joseph Campbell popularized a theory known as The Hero With A Thousand Faces which posits a basic structure for myths based upon Jungian archetypes.
Many linguists agree that ancient Germanic languages such as Norse and Celtic share common roots dating back to Proto-Indo-European language some 6000 years ago.
There has been extensive cultural contact between these two cultures due to their geographic proximity over time which has allowed for mutual influences on each others’ culture such as ship design/weaponry etc.
Is celtic mythology the same as norse?
Norse mythology and Celtic mythology both have gods for example, Odin, Thor, and Ullr all have similar counterparts in Celtic mythology. However, the two mythologies are different in many ways. The gods in each pantheon have different names and the stories are more vague in Celtic myths due to Christian influence on writings that remain today.
Norse mythology is more popular than Celtic mythology due to its widespread use in modern mainstream media such as games and movies, series which has helped increase its popularity among modern audiences.
Yule tree vs Christmas tree
Yule and Christmas are both celebrations that originated from pagan practices and centered around the winter solstice, which is the re-appearance of the Sun. Also both involves a tree. The Yule tree is thought to be the predecessor of Christmas tree.
Are Vikings Norse or Celtic?
Vikings are considered to be Norse, while Celtic refers to the people who inhabited parts of Ireland and Scotland during the Viking age. The Vikings lived between 793 AD and 1066 AD, while the Celts had mostly died or transitioned into stationary communities of Englishmen, Scots, etc by that time.
Both groups were polytheistic and believed in gods tied to nature, but Vikings and Celts were not exactly the same. Several Scottish clans have Norse–Gaelic roots (such as Clan MacDonald), while Irish families have similar roots (such as O’Donovan).