Celtic women were free of many of the constraints women in other cultures had to live under and that made marriage into something different and viable. Celtic women were sexually free, and they were free to be warriors, judges, midwives, priestesses, ambassadors, mediators and landowners. While men overtly had power over women, Celtic women had the freedom to choose who to marry or divorce. And since women could own their own land or business, they had a great deal more independence than most ancient women. They were, in fact, very much like women today.
The Celts could marry in one of ten ways. As in other civilizations, marriage was considered an economic union, although love came into play just as often. The first three types of marriages required formal, pre-nuptial agreements. All the other types of marriage included the assumption of financial responsibilities for child-rearing. There were no illegitimate children in Celtic society--that nasty concept grew out of the Church.
Under Brehon Law, there were 10 forms of marriage, each diminishing in importance, legal rights and desirability (thanks to Epona Perry for this simplified list):
- A first degree union takes place between partners of equal rank and property.
- A second degree union in which a woman has less property than the man and is supported by him.
- A third degree union in which a man has less property than the woman and has to agree to the management of the woman's cattle and fields.
- A fourth degree union is the marriage of the loved one in which no property rights changed hands, though children's rights are safeguarded.
- A fifth degree union is the mutual consent of the man and woman to share their bodies, but live under separate roofs.
- A sixth degree union in which a defeated enemy's wife is abducted. This marriage is valid only as long as the man can keep the woman with him.
- A seventh degree union is called a soldier's marriage and is a temporary and primarily sexual union (a one night stand).
- An eighth degree union occurs when a man seduces a woman through lying, deception or taking advantage of her intoxication (equivalent to the modern definition of "date rape").
- A ninth degree union is a union by forcible rape.
- A tenth degree union occurs between feeble-minded or insane people.
I love that the Celts considered the love lives of insane people! As you can see, the Celts acknowledged the power of love as well as the power of power. They believed that marriage was between two equal partners, and unlike the Romans, did not believe that the woman became the property of the man. Celtic marriage was essentially contractual and social, not at all religious, but based on the freedom of the husband and wife.
Divorce was a relatively simple matter and could be requested by either party. Divorced women were not looked down upon and were always free to remarry. The ancient Celts were polygamous and Celtic women could have multiple husbands. Most of us might not want to be polygamous today, but we're certainly prone to having affairs. Perhaps the old Celts can give us new ways of looking at love and relationships. Maybe we can begin to have grown-up relationships that are loving and free. May that day come soon!
So Mote It Be!
From the Bard's Grove,