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date: 18 August 2018


A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology

James MacKillop


Several species of this large mammal, family Ursidae, were common in western and northern Europe until modern times so that the bear was, along with the boar, one of the most ferocious native beasts a person might encounter. Not surprisingly, then, the bear figured often in the Celtic imagination. Bears are found on Gaulish coins and statuettes. The bear-goddess Artio, also known as Andarta, was venerated at what is now Berne (‘bear city’), Switzerland. Another bear divinity was Matus or Matunus, venerated at Risingham, north of Hadrian's Wall. Names deriving from native forms for ‘bear’ are cited often in Welsh and Irish genealogies. The Welsh for bear is arth or arthen; cf. Bret. arzh, giving rise to the Gaelic personal name Art and possibly also Arthur. Archaic OIr. for bear is math; OIr. and MidIr. mathgamain; ModIr. mathghamhain; ScG mathghamhainn. See also BEITHIR.