By Marina Storino Holderbaum
First of all, it is necessary to explain the concept of classes in the Celtic society, for the Celtic social division doesn’t seem to fit in the traditional concept of class, full of Marxist theories, neither in that of the castes, which carries an insurmountable stiffness. The Celtic class division happens in the function’s scope, which are well defined in the social structure, but allow the individuals to transcend the functions defined in their born beyond the accumulation of honor-value. In any way, the Celtic Model of classes fits in the Marxist definition of the term since the distinction between classes is purely functional, with no interest confront among them. Le Roux and Guyonvarc`h display to us a good explanation of how the division of classes were.
“Esta flexibilidade de concepção, oposta à rigidez das castas indianas, explica o motivo pelo qual, nos relatos épicos, um filho de druida pode ser guerreiro e, inversamente, um filho de guerreiro pode tornar-se druida. Mas não é essa a regra: em geral, a fidelidade à tradição faz com que um druida seja filho de outro druida e um bom rei filho de outro rei. No entanto, a tradição não é restritiva. Devemos lembrar que esta ausência de restrição, juntamente com o respeito pelo trabalho manual, nos revela as extraordinárias capacidades técnicas dos Celtas – pelo menos os que viveram os períodos de Hallstatt e La Tène – no âmbito do trabalho do metal e da madeira. A julgar pelos inúmeros objetos provenientes das escavações arqueológicas, o artesão podia também ser um artista, certamente honrado e respeitado.”
To the Celts, the king was the link between the fertility of the soil and the people. The druid was the representative of the fertility of gods itself by inspiration and spiritual and religious knowledge. And the productive class was the representative of the fertility in the material aspect since they were responsible for the practical maintenance of the productive cycle, preparation of the soil and the seeds, planting and harvest, cattle breeding and milking, and holders of the “artisan skills”.
It is important to clarify how these “artisan skills” were relevant to the Celtic Society. Although the Celtic Society didn’t have such rigid class division as the Hindu castes, they were well-defined and the cases of swift between the classes were rare events, though, quoting Anne Ross, the members of the religious class were chosen from the members of the warrior aristocracy. One of the only means of individuals from the productive class ascends to the aristocratic class was through an exceptional technique in one of the “artisan skills”, of course that the notorious military expertise and extreme heroism in combat were factors capable of influence the value of honor of an individual born at the productive class too, but it is necessary to remember that in any of these circumstances, the social ascension was a rare case and just occurred when, truthfully, the abilities were appreciated and the author fame was exceptional.
We need to understand that for the Celts, the concept of profane didn’t exist, and they didn’t differentiate sacred form “mundane”, for them the Otherworld was very close to the human world, and frequently they interfered with one another. So the ordinary social and artistic activities were also related to fertility through the fulfillment of creativity and spiritual inspiration. The “Auraicept na N-Éces” tells us the myth of how Ogma invented the Ogham using his skill in poetry and his manual ability.
“Ogham from Ogma was first invented in respect to its sound according to matter, however, ogum is og-uaim, perfect alliteration, which the poets applied to poetry by means of it, for by letters Gaelic is measured by the poets; the father of Ogham is Ogma, the mother of Ogham is the hand or knife of Ogma.”
Another relevant thing about the Celts which reinforces the idea of the valorization of the “artisan skill” singularly “inspired” or expert is the existence of the ollam title given to those who were incomparable in a determinate profession, being this title offer as recognition to the excellence to those gifted with exceptional creativity or dexterity in their technique. The Irish Celts considered those who had a special knowledge or talent in great honor and called them Áes Dána, or people of art. Since the Irish Celtic Society was based in the notion of value of honor, the ollam title can’t be considered only as an individual title, for it had a huge social valor and through this an artisan was capable of transcend his own class by the gain of reputation. In “A Civilização Celta”, Françoise le Roux and Christian-Joseph Guyonvarc`h exposed the importance of this title to the Irish Celts.
“Mas se a Irlanda confere a cada um o seu lugar preciso, de acordo com a categoria ou o mérito, ignora – como também a Gália devia ignorar – a definição romana das artes liberales, opostas às artes serviles. Era honroso e honrado todo aquele que detivesse um saber ou uma técnica, intelectual ou manual. Fazia parte das áes dána ou “gente de arte” e, por vezes, acontecia o ferreiro ter direito, em virtude de sua competência profissional, ao título de “doutor” (ollam) ou mesmo de “druida” (druígoba), sendo aqui o nome druida um simples prefixo superlativo.”
In the Celtic Ireland, the manual and intellectual skills constituted an important part of the social structure, for it was an element capable of promote the obtaining of honor, and as a consequence, promoting the possibility to transcend social positions. All the classes had their own functions in the social system, but for dexterity or merit an individual could ascend socially, although this was an exception and not a rule.
CALDER, George (Ed. e Trad.). Auraicept na N-Éces (The Scholar’s Primer). Edinburgh, John Grant 1917.
LE ROUX, Françoise & GUYONVARC’H, Christian‐J. A Civilização Celta. Mem Martins: Publicações Europa América, 1999.
LE ROUX, Françoise & GUYONVARC’H, Christian‐J. A Sociedade Celta na ideologia trifuncional e na tradição religiosa indo-europeia. Mem Martins: Publicações Europa América, Portugal, 1995.
ROSS, Anne. Pagan Celtic Britain. Academy Chicago Publishers, Chicago, 1967.