Celtic Shrines

The menhir is the symbol of man who aims his aspiration upwards

Celtic Shrines

The spiritual development of the Celtic folk soul – Part 9

(To part 8)

People from the ancient cultures did not distinguish between what they experienced themselves and life in nature: they experienced themselves in nature. They sympathized with the workings of nature with its blossoming and decay as manifestations of the mighty creative gods. They had great respect for these powers and showed the need to worship these natural phenomena. Those who led this worship were the initiates, the priests, who had been trained for these occasions.

The Irish, Scottish and English areas had a primitive population that arose in the first post-Atlantic cultures. In the third post-Atlantean period, the Egyptian-Chaldean culture, they gain more prominence and this culture is called the “Megalithic People” (the people of the great stones).

The menhir is the symbol of man who aims his aspiration upwards. The place where the menhir stands is the place where an offering is made to the gods and where the deity receives it. These high stone columns, menhirs, were also called world columns, as if they were the carriers of the universe.

The Germans, for example, worshiped high wooden poles and they called such a pole an Irmin column, which also means world column. In such holy places priests or priestesses communicated with the gods and lit sacrificial fires.

Earthly markings are known all over the world indicating places with the common factor of worship, and everywhere they express “the inner way.”

In Egypt, for example, people entered the dark, most holy of the temples, and in Ireland the priests entered the dolmen or cromlechs in order to observe the spiritual workings of the sun even in the dark. However, there were also differences.

The Egyptian temple was a human size; the passage inside was, as it were, an experience of one’s own incarnation within the body. The darkness of the dolmen led the priests out into the elements of the cosmos. The Druid entered the dark space that kept out the sunlight. In this darkness the Druid perceived the hidden powers of the sunlight and experienced this ‘sunlight’ more strongly than the light outside the dolmen.

However, there is another major difference: the Egyptian structures were gigantic in size and associated with the highest artistic expression, while the Hibernian cairns were smaller and extremely primitive.

In addition, in Hibernia (Ireland) and Western Europe there were many stone circles that served for astronomical observations. The largest and best known is undoubtedly Stonehenge in southern England. Stonehenge is built with stones that weigh 10 to 30 tons and come from a distance of 800 kilometers. It is a great mystery how these rock formations were built in ancient times! Especially when one takes seriously the various traditions that speak of the building of a stone circle in one night…

According to Steiner, the descendants of the Atlantean peoples still possessed a certain nature magic that was apparently also used for the construction of these places.

Thus the initiates placed menhirs (men=stone, hir=long) at points where man could connect with what was above him: the cosmos and they came into contact with the gods.

Many today think that the menhirs, dolmens and cromlechs are just places where the dead are buried, but this is a one-sided explanation. Of course, the dead were often buried there, but the dead actually contributed to the development of a rapprochement with the spiritual world.

The megalithic buildings are often decorated with different motifs. The main motif of these engraved symbols is the sun. It was depicted as a circle with a point in the middle, as it is now also referred to as the sun in astrological symbolism.

Here are several representations of the sun motif.


Sun motif


The sun symbolism can be found everywhere in Europe as far as Egypt. There the hieroglyph for the sun god Ra was also a circle with a center.

Other engraved symbols are the comb, zigzag, ladder and shell motif.

The bowl can be seen as a receiving symbol and stands for a person who is willing to make his soul into a receiving goblet. It is the ability to receive that which is revealed.

On the central stone in the tumulus of Slieve (Ireland), the shell motif is very appropriately seen at the bottom in order to receive everything that lies above her.



Ladder motif



Scale motif



The central stone in the tumulus of Slieve, Ireland.


Here we see the different symbols of ladder, sun, crest and the shell motif at the bottom as a receiving symbol.

Furthermore, certain places in nature had a cult status with the Celts.

Mountains, caves, running water, springs, forest clearings and certain trees had a sacred status and here the gods were worshipped.

The linden and especially the oak were tree sanctuaries. The oak took the most important place and its mistletoe was endowed with magical powers. The mistletoe was important and even had a healing effect on poison.

The Druid clairvoyantly determined outside the village where there was a holy place where one could experience the gods. These places were usually at a crossroads of lines where earth energy was transported. (These lines can be compared to the meridian circuits in the human body.)

Finally something about the mysteries of the spiral. In different periods in history the spiral has been an important symbol.

For example, Dante’s Purgatory, the path of purification in the realm of the dead, is a spiral mountain and Etruscan royal tombs often have the shape of snail shells or spiral mounds. The moving shape of the spiral is dynamic and compared to the circle it is not nearly as static. It connects that which lies outside on the periphery with the center and vice versa.

The Greek mythical Daedalus depicted the spiral at the gate of the sanctuary in Crete as a labyrinth. Aeneas came there to embark on his journey to the underworld.

Daedalus is said to be the founder of the spiral dance (Iliad XVIII [2]) and of the Delian dance it is known that the counterclockwise direction of the spiral was the way of death and the clockwise direction was considered the way of birth.

The spiral movement expresses the dynamism of polarity, it is the image of life and death, of coming into existence and passing away, and in this way it indicates the threshold between space and the absence of space, between time and eternity and between the physical and the spiritual world.

There were, of course, other pathways that brought about the approach to the spirit world, such as trance, ecstasy, and vision. Magic-ritual texts and sacred dances also contributed to this. In the sacred dances people danced the rhythm of life and death, of incarnation and excarnation.

Spiral dances are still performed today. Think, for example, of the Sufis with their dervish dances in very wide skirts, which continue spinning until the dancers go into a trance.

Finally, in the west, dancing around the maypole is still common in some places, but this has more to do with life and fertility than with death. In anthroposophical circles, dancing around the maypole in spring is still a tradition.


(To be continued in part 10)


[1] Jakob Streit, Sonne und Kreuz [Sun and Cross], Freies Geistesleben, Stuttgart 1977

[2] Homer, The Illiad, ca 800 BC

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Date: November 22, 2021
Author: Benita Kleiberg (Netherlands)
Photo: Unsplash CC0

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