Animals of the Ancients

Whether cute and furry or fierce and fanged: all types of animals were revered and respected by the Celts and Vikings. These two distinct Pagan races had different gods and spiritual traditions.

Spiritual symbolism of the animals our ancestors worshiped


Whether cute and furry or fierce and fanged: all types of animals were revered and respected by the Celts and Vikings. These two distinct Pagan races had different gods and spiritual traditions. But they came together in viewing the forces of nature as expressions of divine spirits. So mountains, rivers, plants and animals were all spiritually alive and were manifestations of the Divine.

Animals, in particular, were seen as messengers of the gods. The behaviour of animals and birds was observed for the omens it might offer. So seeing a boar on the eve of battle might be seen as a good omen for the fight ahead, whereas a raven flying overhead might be seen as an ill-omen, depending upon your viewpoint and the gods you worshiped.

Gods and goddesses became associated with certain animals, who represented their powers. Also, animals were worshiped for their abilities and characteristics which the Celts and Vikings wanted to emulate. So if you wanted to be swift you might worship the hare, or if you be strong you might worship the bear.

Modern Paganism has revived this reverence for nature and the animal world. Check out each animal below to see its spiritual significance to the Celts and Vikings.


The Boar

For the Celts, the boar was a symbol of strength. This wild and fierce animal was revered for its courage in the face of danger and its persistence in a fight. It's thought that the boar's crescent-shaped tusks were seen as a symbol of the Great Goddess. But the boar was also the emblem of warriors, who would wear boar skins into battle as lucky talismans and adorn war helmets with boar images. In Norse myth, the god Freyr rode around on a huge boar, called Golden Bristles because his fur glowed in the dark! While his sister Freya rode a boar called Battle Swine!


The Raven

With its wide wingspan of striking blue-black plumage, the Raven was an important spiritual symbol to many Pagan cultures. The bird's habit of feasting on dead corpses turned it into an emblem of death and war, sacred to Celtic warrior god Bran and war goddesses Morrigan. The raven was thought to have a direct line to the spirit world, and it was believed to accompany the souls of the dead to the next world. The raven was viewed as an intelligent creature, capable of making varied sounds and even mimicking human speech. Because of this cleverness it became sacred to Odin, god of knowledge and one of the chief gods of in the Viking pantheon.


The Bear

This most physically formidable of creatures had massive appeal for the warlike Celts and Vikings. The Celts worshiped its strength, ferocity and endurance. while Viking Berserkers wore bear skins into battle in the hope that the fearsome qualities if the bear would rush into them during the fighting. Bear skins were also worn during shamanic rituals to emulate the qualities of the bear and attract the favour of the gods. Bears were especially sacred to the people of Finland, who thought bears would reincarnate to walk the earth for eternity.


The Horse

Emblem of the Sun, horses were at the heart of Celtic culture. The horse was worshiped as a god in its own right at points during Celtic history. This was because the horse transformed Celtic society by providing transport for hunting, war and travel as well as farming labour. The Celts often depicted their chief god, the Sun god, as a horse with a human face. The horse goddess, Epona, was the guardian of horses, donkeys and mules. She was the only Celtic god to be adopted in her original form by the Romans.


The Wolf

Feared and admired in equal measures, wolves were an ever-present force in the lives of the early Pagans. Surprisingly to modern minds, wolves usually appeared as benign helpers or guides in Pagan myth. Wolves were companion to the Celtic horned god Cernunnos, and are depicted on surviving Celtic artefacts, including the Gundestrup cauldron. Of course, not all wolves were so friendly. The huge Norse wolf, Fenrir, son of the god, Loki, tried to devour the world until he was restrained by the other gods! But, generally, wolves were revered for their courage and their pack-mentality which was seen as akin to human behaviour.




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