The cauldron panel on
The Gundestrup Cauldron…
A line of (possibly) dead warriors advances below a symbolic Tree of Life whose roots (recalling Yggdrasil) may be springing from the sacred well/spring that the cauldron represents. This could represent a hope, or a belief in an after-death experience, or it could be a ritual of initiation, a right of passage, as in a change of state…even possibly a mental/psychological preperation for war. Behind the soldiers is a man, probably in authority, holding a baton or sword. Behind him stand three carnyx players. This may have been just a battle horn, but probably would have also played an important ceremonial or initiatory role in the life of the Celts.
They are faced by a dog. The dog was the traditional psychopomp (conductor of souls to the other world) for the Celts as for many other early peoples. Behind/above the dog stands the great figure of the God/Shaman/Druid/King who plunges each in turn into the waters of rebirth.
Above the tree, and heading to the right…in the direction of the rising sun (and therefore “Life”)…the “dead” warriors were facing the left, the west, the setting sun, (the progress is of course deosil or clockwise)…is a line of mounted men following a Horned Serpent. This appears three times on the cauldron and in one of which,on a neighbouring panel, the snake is held by the Cernunnos figure. Cernunnos is a powerful nature divinity …the Master of the Animals/ Great Pan/ The Horned God.
The Serpent with Horns is found all across Europe at this time, as well as in North and Central America. The Serpent usually represents wisdom/knowledge, as it does in the Garden of Eden…it passes everywhere, being at home on the earth (belly to the earth, back to the sky), in water, underground, and in the air (it climbs trees)…and shedding its skin is a symbol of rebirth, as it probably is here.
The horse usually represents vitality…the animal, body wisdom, or “Life”. Most Celts did not fight on horseback…the animal is probably more symbolic of the Life Force than anything else in this context. Th mounted warriors, as does the “officer”, all wear decorated (differentiated) helmets…these are now powerfull individuals.
To me this panel might represent the never ending dance, the circle of life, with the three power animals in their symbolic roles, the sunwise progress from day to night and life to death arround the tree of life, through the baptism of the life giving (transforming) waters, overseen by the initiating spirit/god.
But hell, I could be wrong.