The origin of the Celtic Elysium, different to the Classical Elysium, belief may be found in universal myths of a golden age long ago in a distant Elysian region, where men had lived with the gods. Into that region brave mortals might still penetrate, though it was lost to mankind as a whole.
‘THE Celtic conception of Elysium, the product at once of religion, mythology, and romantic imagination, is found in a series of Irish and Welsh tales.’
In some mythologies this Elysium is the land whence men go after death. Possibly the Celtic myth of man’s early intercourse with the gods in a lost region took two forms. In one it was a joyful subterranean world any Celt hoped to go after death. In the other it was not recoverable, nor was it the land of the dead, but favored mortals might reach it in life.
The Celtic Elysium belief, as known through the tales just cited, is always of this second kind. We surmise that the land of the dead was a joyous underworld ruled over by a god of fertility and of the dead, and from that region men had originally come forth. The later association of gods with the síd was a continuation of this belief, but now the síd are certainly not a land of the dead, but Elysium pure and simple. There must therefore have been at an early period a tendency to distinguish between the happy region of the dead, and the distant Elysium, if the two were ever really connected.
The Elysian Fields were, according to Homer, located on the western edge of the Earth by the stream of Okeanos.
In the time of the Greek oral poet Hesiod, Elysium would also be known as the Fortunate Isles or the Isles (or Islands) of the Blessed, located in the western ocean at the end of the earth. The Isles of the Blessed would be reduced to a single island by the Thebean poet Pindar, describing it as having shady parks, with residents indulging in athletic and musical pastimes.
The ruler of Elysium varies from author to author: Pindar and Hesiod name Cronus as the ruler, while the poet Homer in the Odyssey describes fair-haired Rhadamanthus dwelling there.