The Celts and their Dogs
by Cornelia Amiri
Who doesn’t love a cute puppy? The Celtic people have a long history as dog lovers. Scottish Clans march alongside well-groomed Celtic breeds at Highland games across the world. Celts and thier canines, side by side, is as common a sight in modern times as it was in ages past.
The friendship between men and dogs began as far back as the Stone Age when savvy wolves discovered following messy creatures, called men, as they went from camp to camp, was an easy way to forage for food. The wild wolves ate scraps of trash and tasty bones men left behind. As time went on, some of the wolves ventured closer to the humans. The men talked to them, petted them, and tossed them better scraps of food. In turn some of these wolves began to hang around the human camps. As they became tamer, they were eventually domesticated. These were the first dogs.
Men found dogs helpful when hunting and useful in guarding the camps.
Here’s a hunting excerpt from The Wolf and The Druidess:
“I wish we had brought the dogs.” Seren said to Gwydion asshe rode at his side. “But we didn’t want to frighten the deer at the salt lick.”“I will transform.” Gwydion vaulted off his horse. As his body twisted and lengthened in some areas and shortened in others, his face distorted with pain until he shifted into a large white wolf, staring at her with burning amber eyes. He raced off, on the trail of the stag as Seren and the other mounted warriors followed.A wolf’s growl pierced the air as they rode on. Seren drew her horse to a halt as she sighted the white wolf. He’d cornered the large, antlered deer.
When humans began to rely less on hunting and gathering and more on herding, dogs played an important role in herding sheep and cattle as well as guarding them. This encouraged people to breed different characteristics into their dogs from those previously needed.
The Cardigan Welsh Corgi is considered the oldest purebred British dog. It has been traced back to dogs the Celts brought into Wales from the Black Sea around 1200 BC. It’s believed Celts brought hounds to Ireland between 2500 B.C. and 1500 B.C. The Romans discovered wolfhounds and deerhounds when they invaded Britain in first century A.D. A beaker was recovered at the Newstead Roman fort in Roxburghshire from first century AD, which depicted a fierce dog leaping to bring down a deer. Another find at the Newstead fort, was an engraved gem from a ring, which detailed a leaping Celtic deerhound.
Here’s a wolf and cattle excerpt from The Wolf and The Druidess:
Gwydion heard Seren call for him, and howled back. This caught the attention of a huge bull that stalked toward him. Gwydion was more than a wolf, he was a god, he refused to show any fear toward this beast. Hard as stone, he met the bull’s beady black eyes stare for stare.The bull snorted and kicked up dirt, then cast his large head down. The beast released a rumbling bellow. It charged, hooves hammering the dirt as it barreled forward, straight for him.Gwydion eyed the deadly horns and the brown bulk of muscles coming at him. In wolf form, he leaped into the air just before the bull would have rammed him. Gwydion jumped over the beast, landing unscathed.He’d faced the bull and won that match. Gwydion was too agile, too quick, and too smart for a simple beast. It didn’t matter how big he was. The bull would leave him alone now, and let himdrive it back to the tribe.
Celtic warriors considered it an honor to be compared to dogs, because they were loyal, courageous, and vigilant in battle and in the hunt. The name Cunobelinus, one of the most famous British Iron Age chieftains, means Hound of Belinos, the Celtic fire god.
Dogs often appear in Celtic art, placed in a triangular shape, which symbolized the gods. Dogs were also the companions and representatives of goddess Nehalennia and god Nodens as they were associated with healing. Dogs may have been connected with healing because when they licked their wounds the saliva helped them heal. Nehalennia, a goddess of Gaul was portrayed with a dog and a basket of fruit. Also the British healing god, Noddens, was always depicted as a dog. The water dog or dobhar-chu is a mythological Scottish beast, which rose from the sea and roamed the highlands to warn of coming storms. In Cornwall, they gave offerings to a dobhar-chu called Shony, the same name as a water god worshipped in the Hebrides.
Dogs were associated with the otherworld, because of their connection with healing and hunting as both often end with death. There are many accounts of large black dogs mysteriously appearing and chasing lone travelers on the moors. Black ghost dogs, known as madadh dubh, haunted castles in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. In Peel Castle on the Isle of Man a madadh dubh was often seen dozing before a fire. Mortal dogs were also believed to be able to see ghost dogs when their owners couldn’t. Ghost dogs signaled household dogs when a family member was about to die. The mournful behavior of the pet would warn the family of an impending death. In Ireland, black dogs were valued for their clairvoyant gift of perceiving and defending against ghost, fairies, and other supernatural beings.
Dogs and man have forged an ancient, unbreakable bond, beginning in time out of mind and continuing from this life into the next. This friendship is honored at Highland games around the world as Scottish Clans tie tartan bandanas around their dog’s necks and proudly march with their Celtic breeds as the bagpipes play.