In the old days, tribes lived with their animals differently than most do now. Druids sought involvement in life rather than detachment and simply included animals in their lives: spending time, caring for, and conversing with them beyond the ordinary. Animals in the spirit and physical world guide, counsel, heal, or protect us.
Druids learnt about animals’ special qualities and gifts through experience. The Ovate, especially, study animals and trees who hold particular attributes that they can call upon to help themselves, seeing or relating to them in our inner worlds as well as the outer worlds, too.
Tarbh-feis was a ritual where Druids cook a killed bull’s meat, go into a trance, and consume the sacred animal’s flesh to taste their magical powers. Imbas forosnai allowed the Druid to gain advice from these animals’ spirits. Many myths create links between speaking to animals with shapeshifting, which most ancient Druids believed were psychological transformations rather than physical ones.
In the “Tàin Bo Cuailgne,” two swinwherds with magical powers were the druidic keepers of the sacred animals. As the last rival Druids, they became two great magical bulls.
The Celtic religion were considered unusual since they highly regarded pigs when most considered the animal filthy and unhygienic. Yet, myths tell of a series of characters being transformed into swine, like Gwydion and Gildaethwy who birthed a piglet whom a wizard turned into a boy, like Cilhwch and Hen Wen, too.
Deer also featured prominently with the deer hunt motif that engrossed the hunter so that the deer could lead them through the gates of the Otherworld without them noticing. A great number of Celtic deities were depicted with stag antlers.
Magical horses were also common throughout the myths, some needing up to thirty women to satisfy their sexual lust, some rode easily over water, and some lured fools onto their backs and drowned the riders.
Swans imply a romantic context as they’re monogamous, used as the primary symbol of how love conquers all. In one of Ireland’s tragedies, a jealous stepmother turned Lir’s four children into swans for nine-hundred years, who could still speak to humans and make beautiful music.
Finally, the salmon embody wisdom. They swim in a magical pool where hazel nuts fall from the nine trees surrounding it. Eating the nuts gives them the salmon the wisdom of the trees. Some Welsh myths claim salmon as the oldest of all creatures. Those who taste salmon absorb knowledge.
Many Druid tribes felt connections to specific animals and believed in animal ancestry. Either way, animals guided and guarded them.