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There are many images on Celtic coins that are visually powerful but difficult to interpret. Sometimes the imagery and symbols are unknown, sometimes the picture is clear but the meaning is obscure.
In this little sortie I will be looking at art that has grabbed my imagination. Please feel free to dream your own dreams….

Big Bird Hat

I have only recently come across this coin image. It comes from the same area of North Central Gaul that produced many of the cockerel, man-cock, fighting cocks imagery. Here, though both bird and man look different. Crow Man, Raven Wizard. Sometimes similar images resemble warrior’s helmets ( often following the Classical helmeted Goddess profile), but the shape here looks more like a floppy hat – Wizardly Hat, Druid Head…

There are two birds here. One is the brim, conversing, whispering into the man’s mouth. Eye to eye. Vision Bird. The dreadlocks behind the ear doubles as this bird’s legs. Dreadlocks or earrings: earrings are quite commonly represented in coin art. Men are usually shown with long, drop earrings.

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The detail of the hat is hard to make out on the example I have seen, perhaps the upper bird is attacking the lower, or perhaps they are mating. Perhaps the image is of the same bird, a multiple, layered image: flying, landing, conversing – a vision of time-lapse, a story of a guardian spirit’s descent….

I love the profile head. Really nicely rendered, full of character. Full lipped, strong eyed, prominent cheekbones, stubbly beard and woven locks. Druid, I would say. Hawk becomes crow becomes human….

Swimming Man

Most coin art focuses on warrior and tribal identity. There are some that appear to show ritual activities, ( particularly Snake Dancing). Some seem rather mundane – figures running or swimming. But they must have carried a deeper level of significance to their audience, a story we do not know, a myth we have lost, a connection overlooked.

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This image of the swimming man is a lovely composition, bending around the circumference of the coin flan. Somehow I keep thinking of the face of the full moon. How many figures, animals stories have been derived from that bright, patterned face. To the tribes was that image just one, or was it various, depending on the time of year, the ancestral stories, the circumstances? Was the moon seen as a pool, a doorway, a reflection or mirror, showing the way through from the Upper World to different spirits who were invited to participate in human activities…. A window in the night for the great spirits to see what on earth….

An ocean, river, water, deity or a hero figure? Merlin, Taliesin, Manannan, bright-browed, ploughing, floating with loquacious tongue from the waters of their birth. The relentless power of the waves, the endless tide of warriors, the roar of ancestral stories.

Or maybe a diver, for knowledge, for power, a salmon transformed, hooked by the wise…

Mushroom Frenzy

This image epitomises the strange unknown worlds that we can look into. How can we know what the designers and artists were representing? We can feel the raw power emanating magically from the shaped metal. We can feel stirrings of emotion and force somewhere within our deep minds or our cells. Our ancestors were the same as us but alien. Year by year we forget, lose memory, lose the skill of remembering, the skill of fabrication, despising the magical as childish, cutting off the roots that feed what we are.

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There are a couple of versions of this type, from the same tribes as produced the cockerel imagery – the Bellovaci and Senones. I entitled it ‘ Mushroom Frenzy’ as in some the shapes around the head looked a little like mushrooms- either that or severed tongues or genitals!

Here, though the writhing shapes seem more exhalations of raw energy, given zoomorphic form by the voice and the mind. Will-power taking visible form. Wrath and defiance. Conjuration, exhortation and manifestation of spiritual force…

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