Celtic mythology was designed a little bit differently than other cosmologies the West is familiar with. There were no consistent interactions between gods and humans as with the Greeks. Celtic Gods did not regularly visit and seduce mortals, nor did they interfere with their wars, kings, or anything else.
Nor were they quite so standoffish as the Norse. Their entire careers were not spent waiting on and undermining the strategies of their enemies. They didn’t do battle with their supernatural enemies like Thor or spy on them like Odin. It is not uncommon for humans and gods to interact, it just isn’t common, either.
Instead, Celtic gods were somewhere in the middle. They had their own homes, their own lives, and they seem to have been involved in the lives of Celts only when they were needed. I have in previous blogs mentioned Medb, who served as the goddess of Connaught. There is also the story of Conn being given the kingship by Lugh. In the ancient past many of the gods had been kings of the earthly realms. Myth has it they retired to their own world with the migration of the Irish people.
Nor were the homes of the Celtic gods easy to find, as was the case with both the Greeks. In this they were more like the Norse. There was only one way to enter the Otherworld; a person had to follow an animal who was from there. These beings were easy to spot but extremely rare. They could be distinguished by one curious trait; their bodies were white and the tips of their ears were red.
Stories about these animals leading heroes into the Otherworld abound in Celtic myths. Gwynn’s hounds had the Otherworld markings, as did the hart they were chasing. In the Arthurian world, it’s often a deer hunt, or a “hunt for a white hart” that leads a hero to the Otherworld. Lanval meets his queen in this manner. Gawain’s adventures with the supernatural begin in “The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Lady Ragnell”, “Sir Gawain and the Carle of Carlisle”, and “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” with a deer hunt. The holy grail quest and episodes within the many stories often use the white hart as a part of the symbolism of the grail.
In time the deer hunt became a stock motif, a means of getting the warriors out of the castle so that they could find new adventures. But in Celtic myth it was always a journey into the Otherworld that served as an introduction to these adventures anyway.