When someone says Zeus or Ares or Thor, most Americans can produced a mental picture because Greek and Norse mythology are fairly well known and have been adapted to popular culture. But many people don’t realize how much Celtic mythology has worked its way into American culture. King Arthur, leprechauns, and banshees are all part of Celtic mythology.
If, like me, you don’t know much about Celtic mythology, The Book of Celtic Myths by Adams Media is a great place to start. The myths related in the book concern those found in Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and Brittany. Because the Celts only used writing after the Romans conquered them, and then not often, historical and archaeological evidence is used to understand the myths.
The books describes origins myths, the major gods and goddesses, heroes, and epic stories. As the Celts converted to Christianity, their gods morphed into the the fairy folk, like banshees, leprechauns, sellkies, and other mischievous or malevolent creatures that people had to be careful to avoid.
Celtic fantasy is already a sub-genre of fantasy, and King Arthur and his knights, originally from Wales, is a sub-sub-genre. But I think aspects of this mythology can be worked into a speculative fiction story set in contemporary times.
The Four Hallows
These four objects possessed unparalleled power in Celtic myths.
- The Sword of Light: Belonging to Nuada, an Irish god. None could escape it.
- The Invincible Spear: Belonging to the Irish sun god Lugh. It never missed.
- The Cauldron of Bounty: Belonging to the Irish god, the Dagda. It was “a source of endless sustenance.”
- The Stone of Destiny: This stone “would cry out when walked over by the true king of Tara”, which would make him the high king of Ireland. Some think the Stone of Scone, which now resides in Scotland, was the original Stone of Destiny.
In a speculative fiction story, I could say that these four objects aren’t supernatural but the product of ancient Celtic technology that taps into dark matter. Descendants of the Celts have kept the four objects safe, passing them on to four people, specially chosen from each generation, to use them to serve humanity.
Or a team of archaeologists is looking for them, believing them to be real, and must find the four hallows before an evil billionaire or government spies can locate them.
“Imram” is the Celtic word for the heroic journey. Three tales of this kind, much like The Odyssey, exist in Celtic myth. The “Voyage of Mael Duin, the Voyage of St. Brendan, and The Voyage of Snedgus and Mac Riagla” qualify as imram stories.
Mael Duin begins his quest to avenge his father’s death. St. Brendan sets out as penance for burning a book. A similar tale could be told in contemporary times of a hero or heroine starting out on a journey with a specific goal, maybe searching for a lost relative. The heroine could travel to a distant country or explore the subcultures of her own country, any place where she would be an outsider. She could acquire and lose companions, meet unusual people and situations, all within a realistic setting.
Which ideas appeal to you, the four hallows or the fantastic voyage? Or is there some other part of Celtic mythology that sparks your imagination?