CHASING DEMONS – Celtic Ritual Rattles

UD: June 2019


The use of rattles in folk dances and rituals is recorded in cultures throughout the world, either hand-held or attached to ceremonial costumes to dictate the rhythm of ritual dances, and to summon or repel supernatural beings or demons.


irish rattles g

Globular or pear-shaped rattles from Dowris (Co. Offaly), Ireland  (c. 850 BC)
These three rattles, or ‘crotals’, were part of a large find of bronze metalwork made in Dowris bog in the mid-nineteenth century, which included weapons, tools and elaborate sheet metal vessels.
(See Eogan E. (1983), The hoards of the Irish Later Bronze Age (Dublin)


a - a -a - Late Bronze Age rattle ceramic vogelförmige Tonrassel aus Ichstedt, Ldkr. Kyffhäuserkreis

Bird-shaped ceramic rattle from Ichstedt (Ldkr. Kyffhäuserkreis), Germany (Late Bronze Age)



In Celtic Europe rattles appear in the Bronze Age, and by the La Têne period are recorded at sites throughout the continent. Logically, regional variations are to be observed in decoration and form, and rattles of both ceramic and metal have been discovered.



Decorated ceramic rattle from a Celtic (Vaccean) burial at the necropolis of Las Ruedas (Pintia), north-central Spain (2 c. BC)

Celtic rattles discovered in the Vaccean environment from the northern Iberian plateau have been dated between the end of the 3rd century BC and the beginning of the 1st century AD.

(see: Sanz Minguez C., Romero Carnicero F., De Pablo Martinez, R., Górriz Gañán C., Vaccean
Rattles. Toys or Magic Protectors?, in Jiménez Pasalodos Raquel, Till R., Howell M. (eds.),
Music and Ritual: Bridging Material and Living Cultures, Berlin, p. 257–283)



With eastern expansion, from the 4th century BC onwards, rattles also begin to appear at Celtic sites across eastern Europe. Examples include those from Bucsu in Hungary, Hanska-Toloacă in the Republic of Moldova, Buneşti-Avereşti in eastern Romania, Novo Mesto in Slovenia, Zvonimirovo in Croatia, Čurug in northern Serbia and Kabyle in Bulgaria (Rustoiu A., Berecki S. (2015). A further example of such has recently been published from a Celtic burial at Fântânele – Dâmbu Popii in Romania, dating to the 3rd c. BC.


rattle fan romania

The egg-shaped ceramic rattle from a Celtic burial at Fântânele

(After: Rustoiu A., Berecki S. (2015) The Magic of Sounds. A Ceramic Rattle from the La Tène Grave No. 1 at Fântânele – Dambu Popii and Its Functional and Symbolic Significance. In: Representations, Signs and Symbols. Proceedings of the Symposium on Religion and magic. Cluj-Napoca 2015. p. 259-274)



Ceramic rattle from the Celtic (Scordisci) settlement at Čurug (Vojvodina), Serbia (2-1 c. BC)



Rattles have been discovered in the burials of both Celtic adults and also in funerary contexts belonging to children or youngsters, logically indicating that they were regarded as having a protective and preventive function, regardless of the gender or age of the entombed.
An example of the manner in which such metal rattles were used in Celtic music and dance is provided by the modern custom of “Căluş” or “Căluşari” from Romania, which is a male dance related to pre-Christian solar cults. In this case, the rattles are strapped to the legs of the dancers and dictate the dance rhythm (op cit). Metal rattles quite similar to those used in today’s folk costumes have been discovered in Balkan Celtic funerary inventories, for example in Celtic warrior burials # 4 and 12 from Zvonimirovo in Croatia in which the rattles were, as in modern Romanian and Bulgarian folk dances, attached to the garment or the belt.


zvonimirovo rattle and romania g

Metal rattle strapped on the leg of a modern “Căluşar” dancer from Romania, and a similar rattle discovered in a warrior burial (# 4) from the Celtic cemetery at Zvonimirovo, Croatia (2 c. BC)


( On the Celtic burials from Zvonimirovo see: )











Mac Congail













WHEN DRAGONS SCREAM – War Trumpets in Celtic Europe

UD: Jan. 2020



“For there were among them such innumerable horns and trumpets, which were being blown at the same time from all parts of their army, and their cries were so loud and piercing, that the noise seemed to come not from human voices and trumpets, but from the whole countryside at once”.

(Polybius, Histories, II, 29)


 a - a - a Carnyx


Iron Age Europe produced a wide variety of wonderful ceremonial and war trumpets, ranging from the clay trumpets of the Celtiberian sphere to lavishly decorated bronze examples from Ireland. As well as their functional nature, such trumpets also represent wonderful examples of Iron Age Celtic art.


Clay trumpets with geometric decoration from the Celtiberian city of Numantia (Soria), Spain

(2/1 c. BC)


Wolf-head amplifier (clay) from a war trumpet, discovered at Numantia (2-1 c. BC)

Loughna 1

Loughna 2

1 of 4 bronze trumpets discovered near the royal center of Emain Macha (Armagh), Ireland. An outstanding piece of La Tène art, the decoration on the trumpet’s terminal is executed in the repousse technique, based on the classical lotus-bud motif, the quadrants  being mirror images of each other; each composed of long, sinuous tendrils which  terminate in stylized bird heads.
(1st. c. BC)


However, undoubtedly the most unique and distinct of “barbarian” musical instruments of this period is the Celtic carnyx – a type of elongated war trumpet which was usually (but not exclusively) shaped as a boar’s head. The term “carnyx” is derived from the Gaulish root, “carn-” or “cern-” meaning “antler” or “horn,” the same root as in the name of the Celtic god Cernunnos (Delmarre X. (2003) Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise. Paris. p. 106-107). The instruments themselves were of bronze and played upright, as illustrated by their depiction on the Gundestrup cauldron.


tin n gun

Carnyx from the Gaulish sanctuary of Tintignac (Corrèze, Gaul), and examples depicted on the Gundestrup Cauldron

tin recon

Reconstruction of a Carnyx found at Tintignac. The carnyx was 1.80m. long, and one of 7 found at the site (6 representing a boars head, and one a serpent)

(after Gilbert J., Brasseur E., Dalmont J.P., Maniquet C.  Acoustical Evaluation of the Carnyx of Tintignac. In: Proceedings of the acoustics conference, Nantes 2012. p. 3956-3959)



Besides depictions on coins and other artifacts from the period, archaeological evidence of the carnyx has been found at Celtic sites throughout Europe, stretching from the British Isles to the Balkans, illustrating that it was common to the pan-Celtic tribes across the continent.


caes st

Celtic carnyx depicted on a Roman gold stater from 48 BC


Serpent headed carnyx from Tintignac


Boar headed carnyx from Deskford (Banffshire) Scotland (1st c. AD), and reconstruction.




 a - a- Original du pavillon du carnyx de Mandeure

Fragment of a carnyx discovered in the Celtic settlement of Epomanduodurum (Mandeure) in eastern France (2/1 c. BC)


Corrèze sw France - 2-1 c. BC Bronze

Wild boar terminal from a Celtic carnyx discovered at Corrèze in southwestern France (2/1 c. BC)


“Their trumpets again are of a peculiar barbarian kind; they blow into them and produce a harsh sound which suits the tumult of war”

(Diod. Sic. V,30)



Scientific reconstructions of these strange instruments, based on archaeological finds (Gilbert et al 2012), confirm that the carnyx produced a distinctive eerie sound, unlike any other ancient or modern musical instrument, and was therefore ideally suited to the atmosphere of battle, for which it was created.


g car 1

Carnyx discovered in a ritual pit at the Gaulish sanctuary at Tintignac



How the Carnyx may have sounded:










Mac Congail