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The Sakas

March 28, 2017 by  

As we have said before,

the encounter between the Sakes and the Britos was, in fact, the third encounter between Celts and Iranians, the first being very ancient indeed, usually called “Indo-European” by many people, as there is no way to date it, the second being the result of the westward expansion of the Scythians. Elements from all these encounters are very numerous and varied, and occur in the literatures of the Celtic and Iranian peoples, as well as many other aspects. So, it is quite wrong to assume that every affinity between Celtic and Iranian literatures is the result of late Saka influence, as we shall see.
In the book Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales by Alwyn Rees and Brinley Rees, one can hardly find a page without a reference to the Vedas or the ancient Iranians. we have encountered some of this in the essay on Persian music.
Like the Magi, the Celtic Druids had their sacred fires, call “atarsh” in Avesta “ata” in Pahlavi Says Henri Hubert:
“… in Kildare (Ireland) the nuns of Ste. Brigid – who took the place of an ancient goddess (of the same name) – avoided with the same care as the Persian Magi the contamination of the sacred flame with their breath.”
In pagan times the sacred fires were far more numerous. In pagan Ireland the main fires were at Tara, the site of the royal palace, and at Uisnech, traditionally the geographic center of Ireland. In the Rig Veda it is said: “Agni (god of fire) is at the center of the universe.”
We have a fist-hand, eye-witness account of a ceremony practiced in Ireland as late as 1085 AD which is virtually identical to the Vedic “asvamedha” or “horse sacrifice”.
At least in certain periods, Celtic chiefs were buried in a manner identical to that of the Scythian chiefs, even in the detail of the life-sze monolithic stone sculpture topping the mound.
The number “۳” is sacred to the Druids, Magi and Brahmins. The Celtic Trinity was Brian, Iuchar and Iucharba. In pagan Ireland, the sacred fires, including those at Tara and Uisnech, were always triple: two main fires and one auxiliary fire. Likewise, among the ancient Indo-Aryans the sacrificial
fires were always triple, called Garhapatya, Arhavaniya and Dakshina, following the same pattern as in Ireland. In Sassanian times in Iran, there were also three classes of sacred fires: Farnbag, Gushnasp and Burzin Mihr.
The Trinity of the Vedas is Indra, Mitra and Varuna, and in later Hinduism is brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The Trinity of the Achaemenian Persians and Parthians was Ahura Mazda, Mithra and Anahita. In Spain as in other countries with a Celtic background, June 23, St. John’s Eve, the eve of the day of St. John the Baptist, the old Celtic midsummer festival, or the festival of the Summer Soltice, is celebrated with enormous bonfires. A song known all over Spain but especially popular in Asturias goes:
To gather clover, clover, clover
the night of st. John
to gather clover, clover, clover
my loves go
In Iran, bonfires are also part of the celebration of “Norouz”, the Persian new year, which falls on the date of the Spring Equinox. To this day in Iran it is a custom to jump over the bonfires of Norouz. Jumping over the bonfires of St. John’s Eve (June 23) is also a custom in Spain, where I have seen young men burned doing this.
There is a word in Gallego (language of Galicia in northwest Spain) called “aturuxo” (pronounced “aturusho”). It is the name of a dance which done indeed resemble a ritual dance around a sacred fire, and of a sort of yell which is generally believed to be derived from a Celtic war cry.
Said word is clearly not derived from Latin, nor does it mean anything in any of the surviving Celtic languages. However, note its resemblance to the Avestan “atarsh” (Sanskrit – “atarva”). How apparently Zoroastrian: the word “aturuxo” associated with a sacred fire! Perhaps at one time the Celtic languages had a word for “sacred fire” related to the Avestan word “atarsh”, and that said word survived in Spain, in Galicia and Asturias to be exact.
Water as well as fire was a sacred element to the Druids as well to the Magi. The Celtic goddess of water was Danaan, at times called Anu, equivalent to the Vedic Danu and the Iranian Anahita. Memories of this goddess linger in the names of rivers from the river “Don” in Ukraine to the river “Don” in Scotland, and in an infinite number of sacred wells and springs. Said relics are particularly abundant in Spain.
It is difficult not to see a dim memory of this goddess in the multitude of sacred springs throughout the length and breadth of Spain, perhaps the most famous of which is Fuensanta (Holy Spring) near Murcia, with its patroness “Madre Mia de la Fuensanta” (Our Lady of the Fuensanta” say the Murcianos.
Near the large marshy area known as “Las Marismas” not far from the mouth of the Guadalquivir is the shrine known as “Donana” pronounced “Donyana”. Now, in Spanish “Dona Ana” means “Lady Anne”. However, “Donana” is always pronounced as though it were one word and not two, and there is no tradition whatever concerning a “Doria Ana” for whom the shrine could have been named. “Donana” is the shrine of “Nuestra Senora del Rocio”, “Our Lady of the Mist”, one of the multitude of sights sacred to the Virgin Mary. It is obvious enough that the name “Donana” is derived from the name of the Celtic goddess “Danana” or some local variant of it. Donana is perhaps the most popular pilgrimage site in western Andalusi, from whence the song “Camino de Rocio” ۱۱ (Pilgrimage) Road to (the Shrine of) Our Lady of Rocio”. The very marshy area and the name “Rocio”, which means “mist”, are certainly appropriate for the goddess Danaan….
On the outskirts of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia is a strong spring of very good water. Beside this spring is a medieval chapel called “A Nosa Senora da Fonte” (Our Lady of the Spring), and very nearby is one of the traditional site of fires on the Night of St. John. The continuity with pre-Christian Celtic times is obvious.
In all northern Spain rivers named “Deva” or “Diva” abound. This Deva or Diva is simply the Sanskrit “Deva”) a god), the Avestan Daeva (a demon), in Old Gaelic “Dia” (nom), “Dee”) gen, “Deuo” in Gaulish, “Suw” in Old Welsh. Said name retained its original form fossilized in place names. Once again, the farther back one goes in time the nearer are the Celtic languages to Sanskrit, Avestan and Persian. Con fusion between “L” and “R” is rather common, and I do not refer to jokes about the Chinese who orders “flied lice” or the Japanese who says: “You are surprised that I speak yourrangrage; I study at UCRA.” Confusion between “L” and “R” is notably common in parts of Andalusia. The etymology of the Saka tribal name “Alan” is unknown; many say that it is the local word for “Aryan”. This brings us to the etymology of the name “Andalus” or “al-Andalus”. which is, in fact unknown. The old theory that it is derived from the Vandals is not discredited in academic circles, and there is really no accepted answer, only a number of unproven theories. I warn the reader that my own theory, is just that: a theory, not a proven fact.
The Hispano-Muslim historian Isa ibn Ahmed ibn Muhammad al-Razi (9th-10th century says that the name al-Andalus derives from the Alandalush, a pre-Roman people of Spain descended from Japhet who were “Majus” or Magi, i.e., Zoroastrians by religion.
Now, al-Razi, as his name indicates, was of Persian ancestry, so he almost certainly had at least a slight knowledge of Zoroastrianism.
Obviously, al-Razi had heard something concerning the “Alandalush” which led him to believe that they were Zoroastrians.
Al-Razi’s text certainly indicates that the “Al” at the beginning of “Alandalush” is part of the name and not the Arabic article “al-” Since the name “Alandalush” has no possible Arabic etymology, writers in Arabic confused the “Al” of “Alandalush” with the Arabic article “al-” The name “Alandalush” fits in perfectly with Celtic phonology, and could therefore have a Celtic etymology; indeed. the number of possible Celtic etymologies is quite large.
There a Celtic god known as “Lug”, whose name is derived from the Indo-European word for “light” Place names derived from Lug’s name are particularly abundant in Spain and Portugal. “The name “Lug” also has a variant, i.e., “Lus”, from whence comes “Lusitania”, a name for Portugal, which name in turn comes from the Lusitania” a Celtic tribe one of whose leaders was “Viriatus”, the Torque Wearer, who resisted the hated Romans so fiercely and today is a great national hero of both Spain and Portugal. During the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39, about 8,000 Portuguese came to fight on the Nationalist side in Spain and were known as “ Viriatus”.
We have noted that many believe that “Alan”, the name of the famed Saka tribe, is a variant of “Aryan”. The Celtic genitive preposition “Da” “De”, or “Di”, which passed to Vulgar Latin and later to French, Provencal, Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, and Italian, now enters the picture so that we have “Alan da Lus”, i.e., the “Aryans of (the god) Lus”. Another possible Celtic etymology for “Alandalush” would be from “Atarsh”, The People of the Sacred”. The initial “A” of “Atarsh” would be sonorized, something common in the “patois” of many parts of Spain, and very notable in Portuguese. The “T” could be sonorized to a “D”, the “R” changed to an “L”, and we have ‘’Andalush”. Recall the word “aturuxo” (pronounced “aturush”) still used in Galicia and Asturias on St. John’s Eve to mean a cry, said to be derived from a Celtic war cry.
As we have noted, all Aryans are Indo-Europeans, but not all Indo-Europeans are Aryans. In fact, there are only three Aryan peoples: Indo-Aryans, Iranians and Celts. So, the ancient period which many scholars call “Indo-European”, for our purposes it would be more accurate to call the “Aryan period” as it refers only to Iranians and Celts, with at times a reference to the Indo-Aryans of the Vedic period.
The total number of affinities between Celts and Iranians is vast indeed, including a huge number of characteristics, so, it is a topic which could fill a large number of volumes. Among said characteristics is ‘ literature; said affinities in the field of literature between Iranians and Celts go back to the Aryan Period, probably to the period of Scythian expansion towards the West, and finally to the Sarmatian and Alan cavalry troops brought to Britain in the 4th-5th centuries AD.
In the chanson de geste of Kievan Rus’ (۱۱th-12th century), known as “The Song of Prince Igor”, or in a more exact translation, “The Song of Igor’s Campaign” are found abundant Iranian elements, a heritage of Scythians, Sarmatians and Alans, as would be expected. However, Vladimir Nabokov, who translated said Kievan chanson de geste to English, noted that in said chanson are also Celtic elements, far too close and numerous to be coincidence. It is to be done more research into the Celtic field – Nabokov’s only source in this matter was the works of the Highland Scottish scholar James MacPherson – he would no doubt have found a great deal more Celtic elements in The Song of Igor’s Campaign. James MacPherson’s works deal only with the Irish-Highland Scot branch of the Celtic epic, and so, any influences of the Sarmatians and Alans brought to Britain by the Romans.
In other words, the Celtic influences which Nabokov found in the Kievan chanson de geste must date back to the Aryan Period, or to the time of Scythian expansion to the West at the very latest.
Nabokov theorized that the Vikings had served as the bridge between Celts and the Russian and Ukrainian steppes. However, had Nabokov done any research in the Viking sagas, he would have discovered that there is no resemblance between the Celtic epic and the Viking literature, neither in content nor in poetic form or prosody, so the Viking sagas formed no sort of literary bridge between the Celts and Kievan Rus’. Also, attempts to find Viking influences in The Song of Igor’s Campaign have failed.
This is at least slightly ironic, since the name “Igor” is itself Viking, derived from the Old Norse “Ingvar”.
So, there are deed affinities between Iranian literature and Celtic literature which are far more ancient than the transplanting of Sarmatian and Alanic cavalry to Great Britain. We shall not explore some of this.

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