Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners

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Cover Art by Carl Fairweather, Design by Armi Dee

(This is the Home page because we obviously want you to buy the book. However, below is our blog with all sorts of posts like how the book helped a transwoman who survived rape in prison start her PTSD recovery process, little known Germanic deities, further information on Celtic deities and religious practices, the possible Celtic Festivals of Sulis, Telesphorus, Brigantia, Aine, Neto, Ataegina & Erecura, Mercury/LugAndraste, free resources for prisoners, support and guidance for penpals of prisoners, African Diaspora Religions, Indo-European religious practices, quotes from academic peer-reviewed journals and much more. The Menu has information about supporting incarcerated Pagans- especially donating books on (almost) any topic, Resources for Pagans in Prison, information about Gullveig Press, tips on writing incarcerated Pagans, and Contact. Please explore!)

The first release from Gullveig Press is now available! We’re proud to announce that the Celtic Paganism “all-in-one” book Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners has already become a well-loved treasure trove for Pagans on the outside and in prison alike. At 556 pages and 8.5″ x 11″ (21.59 x 27.94 cm) in size, you’ll be reading and rereading these essays, performing these rituals, and admiring the art for quite a long time. (Want to read some of the book just to make sure? Visit here for excerpts and check out our awesome contributors!)

Price for people in prison, Pagan Prison Ministries*, and prisoner rights organizations*: US $7.52 plus shipping and taxes. US $12 in continental USA. BULK RATE: 5 copies for only $46.50 in continental USA!

Buy a copy for an incarcerated Pagan and receive a free pdf of the book! $12!

Price for people neither in prison nor involved in Pagan Prison Ministries or Activism: $23.99 (and whatever shipping fees and taxes apply; $4 in the continental United States). To order, contact us. ALL PROFITS GO TOWARDS PROVIDING COPIES TO PAGANS IN PRISON. Note: This is a lower price than on Amazon because Amazon takes a large cut.

If you are buying a copy for someone in prison, a Prison Ministry, or to donate to a “free books to prisoners” organization, please contact us. Let us know the address of where you want the book shipped so we can calculate shipping costs and taxes. We will respond by email with the price including shipping and our PayPal account information. Copies for incarcerated persons or established “free books to prisoners” organization will be mailed directly to them once we receive payment. (Either choose a program here or we can choose for you.)
If you would like to share information about ordering Steel Bars, Sacred Waters with people in prison, thank you! Please let them know that they can send a MoneyGram to Gullveig Press, PO Box 126, St. Johnsbury, VT 05819. Continental USA price plus shipping and taxes: $12. Remind them to include their full name, prison ID number, and address.

*For Prison Ministries (and other organizations helping prison in prison), we also need your mailing address for calculating shipping, along with the following information: who you are; what your organization is; what you do involving prisons; what prisons you serve; why you want a copy of Steel Bars, Sacred Waters; and a link to your website, so we can verify that you actually are working with Pagans in prison.

Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners

Authored by Heather Awen, Rev Donna DonovanViducus Brigantici filiusErynn Rowan Laurie, Hester Butler-Ehle, Eddie MarssonEmma Restall Orr, Armi Dee

An “all-in-one” pan-Celtic polytheist resource of cosmology, deities, virtues, history, rituals, meditations, magic and the future of Celtic Paganism, rooted in scholarly research.

One of only three full-size books for incarcerated Pagans, Steel Bars, Sacred Waters also fulfills the need for a historically accurate guide to ancient Celtic religions that many have sought.

Highlights include:

  • rituals for 11 traditional holy times and seasonal changes based on Gaelic, Gaulish, Welsh and Manx practices;
  • information about (and invocations for and prayers to) 160 Celtic deities;
  • the Other Life/Otherworld;
  • daily practices for the Celtic Pagan;
  • Celtic virtues and how they can be lived today;
  • exploration of different Celtic cultures through time and space;
  • Iberian Celtic deities never before included in a Pagan book;
  • neglected Gaulish deities;
  • how Celtic tribes adapted Roman religion to existing cults and created new ones;
  • the cultural intermixing between Celts and Greeks, Celts and Germans, Celts and Norse Heathens;
  • the “horse, head and hero” cult;
  • modern and traditional meditations;
  • documented Celtic magic;
  • known teachings of the Druids;
  • ogham divination guide;
  • Celtic mythology in context, with explanations of how political factors from the times they were written affected the versions we have today;
  • proto-Celto-Germanic-Finnish words used by some Indo-Europeans 4,000 years ago and the Gaelic, Germanic and Norse deities, rituals and magic that continued from them;
  • common practices among Celtic peoples worldwide;
  • sacrifice and hospitality;
  • maps of the Celtic world, with cities, tribes, temples, rivers and other places of interest mentioned in the essays on history and deities;
  • The Oran Mor (Song of the World);
  • moon rituals;
  • working with ancestors;
  • animism and land spirits, especially in lands new to Celtic Paganism;
  • the connection between Lugus and Woden;
  • Celts in a multicultural society of many polytheist cults;
  • land, sea and sky cosmology;
  • 5 directions of Ireland cosmology;
  • Gaelic and Welsh mantras;
  • the file (poet-prophet);
  • Celtic heroes and heroines;
  • the Fianna (hunter-warrior band);
  • saining (Scottish purification);
  • devotional polytheism, the community and the environment;
  • root meaning of Norse seidR and its ancient link to Celtic magical religious practices;
  • the king-making ritual;
  • the British Old North, a unique mixture of Britons, Angles, Gaels and Picts, home to “Merlin”, ancient poetry, and Hiberno-Saxon art;
  • pathworking (guided meditations) to different deities;
  • cloud scrying and other forms of divination;
  • the Neolithic roots of the swine cult;
  • instructions for making a St Brigid’s Cross;
  • why Anglo-Saxon and Brythonic magic is so similar;
  • making and working with prayer beads;
  • the role of ritual music and improvising ancient Celtic instruments;
  • Celtic funeral practices;
  • the importance of ecological issues in modern Celtic Paganism;
  • journaling questions about essays;
  • pronunciation of deities’ names and important terms;
  • shrines;
  • the political, legal structure of kingdoms;
  • Fairies;
  • Celtic openness about homosexuality;
  • Celtic astronomy;
  • explanations for why Celtic Paganism cannot be Folkish, racist, homophobic or limited to Ireland and the British Isles;
  • visions of Celtic Paganism’s future;
  • Celtic Paganism and the 12 step program and CBT, DBT and ACT therapies;
  • forming and maintaining a diverse Pagan group;
  • drawing and creative writing exercises;
  • recipes for “make do” crafts including papier mache, print making, and the 6th century paint glair used in medieval manuscripts;
  • around 100 drawings or photographs of archeological finds, depictions of Celtic deities both ancient and modern and Celtic culture;
  • crossword puzzles;
  • resources for incarcerated Pagans;
  • and much more.

Although written for Pagans in prison who are possibly alone with only paper, pencil and tap water, “outside” Pagans are provided with the background information to expand their own practices. A valuable tool for Pagan Prison Ministries, volunteers and penpals, Steel Bars, Sacred Waters was partially shaped by communication with Pagans in prison. Their needs were generally no different than those of frustrated Pagans on the outside seeking an accurate education about the Celts. The main difference was lack of access to books, services and especially the Internet, where so much research is scattered. Both communities needed that research organized, including the recent Iberian, Balkan, Gallo-Roman and Celto-Germanic discoveries. The result is a book that explores the ancient Celtic peoples and their religions from Ireland to Turkey, Portugal to Ukraine, and their role in over 1,000 years of European history. The Celts influenced the cultures with whom they interacted and were changed by those near them – including other Celts.

All profits go to supplying Pagans in prison with copies of the book. The U.S. incarcerates 1% of its population, more than any other nation. Most convictions are connected to addiction. The American prison population is 8-12% Pagan. This means that 1 in 1000 Americans are incarcerated Pagans! Providing low cost, high quality information to Pagans in prison is the goal of Gullveig Press.

Please note: The content by Laurie, Restall Orr and Butler-Ehle have been published elsewhere or are available online.

Steel Bars Sacred Waters
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Celtic Festival of Andraste, Andate, Andarta & Brigantia (Brythonic)

Brigantia, Museum of Brittany

This is part of an ongoing series of posts about Celtic deities Who have been associated with Roman deities. It used to be thought that the Romans forced their choice of Roman deity on the Celtic speaking tribes. Today it’s considered more likely that the natives often chose which Roman deity best matched the Roman ones, as many Celtic deities are associated with more than one Roman deity. The Roman pantheon, so neatly organized by function in the 1st century CE, just doesn’t match the Sovereignty Goddess and tribal chieftain God most common in Celtic cultures.

Perhaps if the Celtic peoples choose which Roman deities were similar to their native ones, they also used the Roman calendar for religious purposes. At the very least, the Empire’s calendar gives the Celtic polytheist (especially those who honor Gaulish and to a lesser extent Brythonic and Iberian Celtic deities) a year of organized festival days. It also allows me to get the word out about amazing, once-famous deities like Telesphorus, Neto, Erecura, Lenus, Sulis, the Matres, Lug, and, coming up, Sirona, Taranus, Abnoba and many others. Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners has a strong focus on ALL the Celtic speaking peoples’ and their deities, histories and known ritual activities. Knowing that people in prison can barely afford shampoo and paper, I wanted this giant book to cover everything known about Celtic Paganism so they wouldn’t have a reading list that they couldn’t afford. (And it is gigantic. I feared that it would be refused by prisons on the grounds that it was a blunt object. Not only is it 8×11″ and over 550 pages, we used every bit of white space for articles and art and eliminated the waste of blank pages where we could.)

Friends have said that it shouldn’t have been so obviously marketed to the 1 in 1000 Americans who are incarcerated Pagans because it is the only book about Gaulish, Brythonic and the new wealth of Celtic deities in Iberia (the possible home of the Celtic languages and known home to more Celtic settlements than the rest of the Western European Celtic world). After all, it’s the book which they’ve been “waiting all their lives” to read. (No pressure there!) Many, disappointed that there were no books on Celtic polytheism aside from Gaelic (and the Gaels are definitely covered in Steel Bars, Sacred Waters), ended up Heathens because of the large amount of Heathenry 101 books. (Also there’s a very old, pre-Celtic even, linguistic, cultural and religious connection between the two linguistic groups that continued into the Viking Age.) Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan “homework” is nowhere near as simple as that for Heathenry (the Eddas). The sources for accurate Celtic information are usually found in peer-reviewed journals published almost daily. Important bits are hidden in linguistics, archeology, biased Roman and Greek history, writing by Irish monks determined to make the ogham Biblical and other disparate sources. If you wondered how the Celtic speaking peoples depicted their deities before the Roman influence, what the deal is with all these boars, and why is this mysterious “Old North” of the Britons, Gaels, Angles and Picts that no one explains so important, this is your book. If you wanted rituals based on historical evidence that you can just start practicing, Gullveig Press has you covered.

Why? Because this is the book I wished someone had written instead of just websites complaining about the books with completely inaccurate information. Please, if you research and practice polytheism, consider having both print versions of your writing available for sale to those without Internet access (preferably at a discount for prisoners) and an e-book or pdf for those with ink intolerance, like me. (Our books are available for those with MCS ink intolerance.) I want to read them! (Anything anywhere on Kemetic Reconstruction? Non-fascist, academically researched Baltic Reconstructed Paganism? A respectful collection of Sumerian mythology, the basis for many myths in the Christian Bible’s Old Testament? Reading online really hurts my eyes but I can copy website information, especially if it’s well organized. Contact me!)

No profit is made by Gullveig Press – all money from sales to awesome, intelligent (and might I add quite attractive?) people like you covers the printer’s cost and postage to send free copies directly to inmates or books-to -prisoners organizations. Amazon takes a big chunk of those profits, so please consider buying your jam-packed, incredibly heavy copy directly from here. It’s even less expensive!

Enough plugging of the book and our love for these deities and consistent work supporting Pagans in prison! On with the post!


On July 17th the Romans made sacrifice to the Goddess of Victory, Victoria. The native British Goddess Brigantia was associated with Victoria sometimes. However, She’s been covered in this post. (Still, feel free to honor Her today. As the Goddess of the most powerful tribe in Britain, She is used to all the lovin’ you can give! How She probably was brought to Leincester by tribes already exposed to Christianity in Briton and became, partially for political reasons, Ireland’s first home grown Saint, Brigid, read here.)

Andraste and Andate

This leaves us with the formidable Goddess Andraste (“indestructible”?) Who may be the same Goddess as Andate, a name meaning “victory.” Andate may be associated (at least linguistically) with the Gaulish Goddess Andarta Whose name means “well-fixed, staying firm” and was worshipped in Southern France and Bern, Switzerland. 

Boudicca on her chariot

Boudicca/ Boudica

The information we have about Andraste and Andate

comes from Roman writing about the rebellion of Britons led by Queen Boudicca of the Iceni. Although the Roman historian Tacitus spelled her name as Boudicca, it may have been Boudica, which means “victory.” Among many other things, Tacitus wrote about events in Britain. His father-in-law served the Roman military during Boudicca’s rebellion, so Tacitus probably recorded much of the older man’s memories of battle.

Historian Cassius Dio is our other source of information and he, too, obviously was biased against the Britons. After all, the Romans were at war with the Britons at this time (60 or 61 CE) and like all writers of war, he had to demonize the enemy as “the Other” and probably made up the detailed torture described. (Tacitus never mentioned it.) However, the rebellion was incredibly violent and both sides used torture. Boudicca’s forces did burn down three important Roman cities and massacred around 70,000 Romans and pro-Roman Britons. Red charred debris can still be found 2,000 years later in London, at that time the Roman merchant center Londinium.

It’s speculated that the Southeastern British tribes’ rebellion was meant to be coordinated with that of one led by the Druids from their island of Mona (modern Anglesey) on the other side of Britain. The Roman military was actually slaughtering the Druids when Boudicca led her forces to war. Another tribe who joined in the rebellion was the Trinovantes, whose capitol was taken by the Romans and turned into Camulodunum (modern Colchester). Roman historian Tacitus wrote in The Annals: 

“(T)hese new (Roman) settlers in the colony of Camulodunum drove (the Trinovantes) out of their houses, ejected them from their farms, called them captives and slaves ….”

Cassius Dio wrote of the rebellion more than a century after it happened. He has Boudicca speak of history she would not have known for the benefit of his Roman readers. Obviously no one had no electronic recording devices so what she actually said is unknown.

For the Celtic Polytheist

What is particularly interesting for the Celtic polytheist is that: Queen Boudicca speaks directly to Andraste possibly because nobles also had a Priestly function or because Britons prayed to their deities without the Priest middlemen (as noted with Sulis); Boudicca uses a popular form of divination in the ancient world that continued in Scotland until a couple hundred years ago: looking at the movement of animals; female Britons were not only fierce warriors (which we’ve read about the Gauls and some Celtic tribes in Iberia) but were also military commanders; and the Britons held feasts and made sacrifices for deities like in other Celtic cultures.

This is even more helpful for the Brythonic polytheist. During the time when Britain was part of the Roman Empire, Gaulish and other Celtic soldiers in the Imperial military brought their native deities. Most Celtic deities whose names have been recovered in Britain were from the temples and inscriptions made by these foreigners. The groves of native deities do not have stone inscriptions, so Their names are lost to us. Although there was trade between the Britons and Gauls, most of the known deities worshipped in both Britain and Gaul probably were originally Gaulish. In Andate and Andraste we have definite names of native Brythonic Goddesses. Based on the evidence at the sanctuary of Sulis and records by Tacitus and Cassius Dio, we know that prayer was part of ancient religious practice. To honor Andate a feast and the making of offerings in a grove is suggested.

Sometimes I wonder about worshiping a deity of victory Who failed to deliver, and then I remember our deities are not all-knowing, all-powerful or all-loving. They have greater knowledge and power than I do and a divine ability to love which transcends “reason.” Andate and Andraste did provide victory to these people most of the time or They would not have been worshipped. We face so many battles against diseases, lookism, racism, misogyny, transphobia, heterosexualism, ableism, faithism, ageism, depression, anxiety, poverty, trauma, hubris, self doubt, violence in the home and streets, echoes from shame-based religions, pollution, self-harming relationship patterns, isolation, the 6th huge planetary extinction, nuclear weapons, fracking, family discord and so much else – surely Andate and Andraste have much to offer if we only return to Their worship.

No deity has ever given human followers everything they wanted or needed. Ever. The forces in motion (Wyrd) may prevent Them from helping, we do not at this time know what we really need, some plan is already in place, astrological transits fight our will, the laws of nature won’t allow our wishes to come true, our prayers interfere with the best course for certain others, possibly we broke an oath to a deity, or some other reason we may not  currently understand means we all have to “lose” sometimes. But the deities provide much including comfort, so we honor Them and celebrate the miracles happening every day.

Thank you, Andate and Andraste!

Some Source Material

It’s important to read some source material so you at least understand what modern polytheist writers have to work with. You can also check that the writer knows what they are writing about. It is possible to understand some information in different ways because we all have our own interests and beliefs. Below is part of Thayer’s translation of Cassius Dio:

“(T)he person who was chiefly instrumental in rousing the natives and persuading them to fight the Romans, the person who was thought worthy to be their leader and who directed the conduct of the entire war, was Buduica, a Briton woman of the royal family and possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women. This woman assembled her army, to the number of some 120,000, and then ascended a tribunal which had been constructed of earth in the Roman fashion. In stature she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh: a great mass of the tawniest hair fell to her hips; around her neck was a large golden necklace; and she wore a tunic of divers colours over which a thick mantle was fastened with a brooch. This was her invariable attire. She now grasped a spear to aid her in terrifying all beholders and spoke as follows:

” “You have learned by actual experience how different freedom is from slavery. Hence, although some among you may previously, through ignorance of which was better, have been deceived by the alluring promises of the Romans, yet now that you have tried both, you have learned how great a mistake you made in preferring an imported despotism to your ancestral mode of life, and you have come to realize how much better is poverty with no master than wealth with slavery…. Why is it that, though none of us has any money (how, indeed, could we, or where would we get it?), we are stripped and despoiled like a murderer’s victims?…

” “However, even at this late day, though we have not done so before, let us, my countrymen and friends and kinsmen, — for I consider you all kinsmen, seeing that you inhabit a single island and are called by one common name, — let us, I say, do our duty while we still remember what freedom is, that we may leave to our children not only its appellation but also its reality. For, if we utterly forget the happy state in which we were born and bred, what, pray, will they do, reared in bondage?”

“When she had finished speaking, she employed a species of divination, letting a hare escape from the fold of her dress; and since it ran on what they considered the auspicious side, the whole multitude shouted with pleasure, and Buduica, raising her hand toward heaven, said: “I thank thee, Andraste, and call upon thee as woman speaking to woman; for I rule over no burden-bearing Egyptians as did Nitocris, nor over trafficking Assyrians as did Semiramis (for we have by now gained thus much learning from the Romans!), much less over the Romans themselves as did Messalina once and afterwards Agrippina and now Nero (who, though in name a man, is in fact a woman, as is proved by his singing, lyre-playing and beautification of his person); nay, those over whom I rule are Britons, men that know not how to till the soil or ply a trade, but are thoroughly versed in the art of war and hold all things in common, even children and wives, so that the latter possess the same valour as the men. As the queen, then, of such men and of such women, I supplicate and pray thee for victory, preservation of life, and liberty against men insolent, unjust, insatiable, impious, — if, indeed, we ought to term those people men who bathe in warm water, eat artificial dainties, drink unmixed wine, anoint themselves with myrrh, sleep on soft couches with boys for bedfellows, — boys past their prime at that, — and are slaves to a lyre-player and a poor one too. Therefore may this Mistress Domitia-Nero reign no longer over me or over you men; let the wench sing and lord it over Romans, for they surely deserve to be the slaves of such a woman after having submitted to her so long. But for us, Mistress, be thou alone ever our leader.”

“Those who were taken captive by the Britons were subjected to every known form of outrage. The worst and most bestial atrocity committed by their captors was the following. They hung up naked the noblest and most distinguished women and then cut off their breasts and sewed them to their mouths, in order to make the victims appear to be eating them; afterwards they impaled the women on sharp skewers run lengthwise through the entire body. All this they did to the accompaniment of sacrifices, banquets, and wanton behaviour, not only in all their other sacred places, but particularly in the grove of Andate. This was their name for Victory, and they regarded her with most exceptional reverence.”



Cunliffe, Barry, Britain Begins. Oxford University Press (2013)

Haussler, Ralph, Interpretatatio Indigena: Re-Inventing Local Cults in a Global World, Mediterraneo Antico, xv, 1-2 (2012)

MacKillop, James, Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, Oxford University Press (1998)

Nova Roma,

Prósper, Blanca María, “The Venetic Inscription from Monte Manicola and Three termini publici from Padua: A Reappraisal”, Journal of Indo-European Studies 46, Number 1 & 2, Spring/Summer (2018)

Tacitus, The Annals, 14.31

Thayer, Bill translation, Cassius Dio,*.html (retrieved July 16, 2019)

Turkilsen, Debbie, An In-depth Analysis of the Lives of Boudica of the Iceni and Queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes

Lockdown & Shakedown: What This Means for Pen Pals

Toin Adams
by Toin Adams “I am Looking for the Face I had before the World was Made.” Used with permission.

If you haven’t heard from your pen pal in a while, you can call the warden’s office and ask if their building is on lockdown. (The phone number will be available online if you search for the facility.)

Lockdown means that inmates cannot leave their cells except for the group showers. Your pen pal is unable to go to the Commissary to buy paper, envelopes or stamps. This leaves your pen pal with whatever they have in their cell for writing you until lockdown is over. If your pen pal trades art, cleaning other inmates’ cells, girlie pix, tattooing, etc for stamps, etc, they can’t continue work until the lockdown is over and other inmates have been able to shop at the Commissary. People hoard more and trade less in lockdown.

Food is usually brought in a paper bag, like 2 peanut butter sandwiches, with the peanut butter often diluted 50% with deadly hi-fructose corn syrup. This is made worse because they cannot buy snacks. Also, all activities are cancelled, including going outside or making telephone calls. (Medical appointments usually still happen, however.)

Lockdown and shakedown are performed regularly to check for contraband like drugs and cell phones. If there was a murder or other violence, lockdown is often immediate while the situation is investigated. The contraband being sought is often weapons.

During lockdown your pen pal can receive mail and, if they have the means, they may send mail. However, remember that they cannot buy anything including stamps and paper. Because lockdown is so boring, it’s often a good time to send a book, printed blog posts or photocopied magazine articles.

Lockdown is a common occurrence and it can last for weeks. During lockdown, C.O.s (correctional officers) will search every cell. This is the shakedown. Sometimes the inmates can stand aside as their belongings are thrown on the floor, often damaging the few family photos or letters they have. Mattresses are flipped over and items in lockers swept to the ground. It’s a serious process, as C.O.s have a lot of places to search for contraband. After just one shakedown, things can become broken like inmate-bought radios and fans.

The process can be even slower if a prisoner becomes upset with seeing their valuables harmed. It’s a normal response; after all, how would you react to someone going through all you own like it’s worthless? Pepper spray may be used on the upset prisoner, which tends to travel into other cells. My pen pal had tear gas in his cell 4 times in one week due to C.O.s using it on others.

Other times shakedowns involve having inmates choose what they can carry out of their cells. What they can’t carry, like expensive text books or work boots, is thrown away by the C.O.s searching the cells for contraband. Obviously prisoners with disabilities are at a real disadvantage if they can’t carry much. Once the prisoner is out of the cell, they often wait in a line with other prisoners with what they carried. The C.O.s will go through their belongings. It’s often rushed and rough, so again photos are torn, fans damaged and your letters could be scattered around the floor with the belongings of other inmates. It’s not uncommon for things to be lost.

Pagans often lose their shrine and altar goods. The homemade prayer beads or a tiny pebble are confiscated. Altar cloths are stepped on and origami broken. These can be irreplaceable and leave your pen pal without any visual or tactile reminders of their religion.

Just like when transferred, during shakedown expect your pen pal to have lost important belongings like a drawing board, fan, all toiletries, books and your past letters. It’s NOT a scam and it doesn’t mean that your gift of a magazine subscription or a beautiful drawing was not incredibly precious to them just because they have lost them. They didn’t have much choice. Artwork they’ve been working on will be crumpled and snacks crushed under boots. It’s a time of stress because it usually comes with loss. Deciding what to take out of the cell is very difficult and frustrating.

Afterwards, your pen pal probably has to wait in line for the Commissary. Many items might be sold out. What little money they have probably must go to replacing their fan in 110° heat, or buying soap, lotion, shampoo and toothpaste, or stocking up on snacks. They’ll be depressed about what was lost and may not tell you or know how to tell you if it was a gift. You may have sent them the greatest Wiccan book they’ve ever read and it’s the nicest thing anyone has done for them in years. Still,  it’s often difficult to tell you that it’s gone. Pen pals tend to try to be “upbeat” especially in the beginning because they don’t want to scare you off with their real emotions. Also there’s a lot of pressure in prison to not be “soft” and complain.

Your pen pal might be anxious that you’re angry they have not written and not know what to say. A lot of prisoners don’t like to discuss prison because, frankly, it sucks. Having to explain shakedown can feel risky, like you’ll realize that they are in prison or bore you and you will leave. Or they can’t figure out a way to explain a shakedown without sounding upset and ruining their laidback cheerful facade. And because it happens so often, they may be tired of thinking about it and write you to get away from the stress of prison.

If it was a murder or other violent crime that caused the lockdown, you may want to help your pen pal process their feelings. You may be upset that a kid with a 10 year sentence for drug possession is dead, angrily saying “It was not supposed to be a death sentence!” You might worry about if your pen pal is in danger.

Unfortunately, your pen pal usually cannot mention anything more about the death or violence. As you know, all your mail is read. In times like this, it’s read more closely. Just expressing fear, anger or grief in a letter could lead to your pen pal being interrogated by the prison staff who are seeking suspects. After returning from interrogation, other prisoners who were involved may not trust your pen pal. Your pen pal is now at risk from both the staff and other inmates.

Often your pen pal will suspect that a lockdown is coming soon. That’s why they’re scrambling to stock up on necessities. They’re telling you that you may not hear from them for a while. You can and should keep writing – this is a really boring time. Tell them in advance that you are sorry if anything is lost or damaged in the shakedown. It’s easier if you bring things up and set the tone sometimes. They tend to follow the emotional rules of the person who has the most power, which is you.


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The Inner Work of Liberation

Toin Adams
by Toin Adams, used with permission

“Being a victim of oppression in the United States is not enough to make you revolutionary, just as dropping out of your mother’s womb is not enough to make you human. People who are full of hate and anger against their oppressors or who only see Us versus Them can make a rebellion but not a revolution. The oppressed internalize the values of the oppressor. Therefore, any group that achieves power, no matter how oppressed, is not going to act differently from their oppressors as long as they have not confronted the values that they have internalized and consciously adopted different values.”

– Grace Lee Boggs

Celtic Festival Calender: Belenos, Endovelicus, Neto, Grannus, Maponos & Apollo

Partially Reconstructed Apollo-Grannus-Temple in Lauingen, by Dr Eugen Lehle

​This is part of an ongoing series where Celtic deities are matched with Festivals in the Roman calendar. I don’t know if these Celtic deities were worshipped on these days back then, but it helps modern polytheists organize a ritual calendar. The Celts were not passive in how their religion changed after being conquered by the Romans, and the Empire didn’t force much on the Celts after killing the politically powerful Druids. Where a Celtic deity is said to be like a Roman one, or their name becomes a new epitaph, or Celtic names are followed by Roman ones, we usually don’t know who made that choice or why. Over a few generations, how anyone understood the relationship between the deities probably was different from shrine to shrine, and maybe even from devotee to devotee. Polytheism is more concerned with right religious action than right beliefs, so different cultures could worship together and have very different ideas about why.

Apollo is a Greek God: the bisexual healer, the beautiful eternal youth, the radiant sun, the twin of Artemis. The Romans merged Artemis with their important Goddess Diana, but the cult of Apollo stayed in His name. Centuries before this, southern Gauls adopted two Greek Gods, Apollo and Hermes. During the Celtic migrations traveling East, we have a well known story of a group of Gaulish warriors fighting their way to Delphi, at that time under Apollo’s protection, and stealing all they could. The chaotic weather of the area and other problems caused the Gauls to panic, drop the shrine goods, and die in a messy battle. Perhaps the power of Apollo was told to other Gauls who heard the news. When the Romans brought Apollo to other Celtic tribes, often with southern Gaulish soldiers, the cult of Apollo grew even greater. Here, I explore Celtic deities who were identified with Apollo for Ludi Apollinares (Sacred Games of Apollo), a 7 day festival with the main sacrifice on July 13th.

The Roman games of Apollo began during the wars with Hannibal in the late third century BCE. By 44 BCE the Festival lasted for seven days: two for horse races and five for theatre productions. In every home, decorated with garlands of flowers, the most important woman led everyone in prayers. The front door was left open and tables graced each entrance during the time of feasting. Was this so Apollo would enter? Or to share with neighbors? We don’t know, only that it was a popular festival. 


The first deity associated with Apollo for this essay will be Belenos, if only so mistakes can be corrected. We only know of Belenos from the northeastern Italian city of  Aquileia, where His name was a Celtic epithet for Apollo: Apollo Belenos.

Unfortunately, a popular Gaulish deity with a similar name, Belinos (pronounced “beh-LEY-noss”) meaning “bright, dazzling” who was never identified with Apollo in any inscription or shrine, was confused by older scholars with Belenos. They actually began replacing Belinos with Belenos, assuming all translations (the originals of which they never saw) were wrong.

Now scholars have reviewed the original source material and found that inscriptions and shrines across Europe said “Belinos” not “Belenos.” These are different deities. Only one was associated with Apollo and only in one city. The information is so new that it’s not even mentioned at Wikipedia.

This is a great example of why it’s so important to read current research. There’s thousands of academically sound papers for free at – Just check that a peer-reviewed publication chose their work, that they are a respected name in the field, or the writing has strong sources and doesn’t go into neo-Pagan fantasy. I’ve seen Celtic and Germanic polytheism websites citing books so outdated that their information about the deities is way off. With this is a Golden Age for people interested in Celtic studies.

So much new research over the last decade has completely changed everything we thought we knew. The Bronze Age Celto-Germanic words invented before there was a proto-Celtic or proto-Germanic language announced in 2010 as possibly originating in the current Czech Republic now have physical evidence (rock art and stele show the same sun boats and warrior poses for example) of being created in a connected trade culture between Iberia and Scandinavia – amber traded for copper. The basics of both religions is found in these words. Nerthus, Macha, Badb and other deities ‘ names originate here. Groves with horses, magic performed with string (origin of seidR), prophetic poets, angelica, one-eye, spear and other Woden and Lug related terms plus much more is revealed. (Steel Bars, Sacred Waters has more in depth information.)

Information about Celtic deities and tribes in Iberia is published at an astonishing rate. Ways statues of deities were used is among the completely new knowledge. In the Celtic Iron Age Iberia had more Celtic settlements than anywhere else. The Celtic language may have started in Iberia, where so many versions were spoken. The Phoenician traders had a port in Spain starting in the 9th century BCE. Lug (Lugh, Llew) is honored in a Celtic language in Phoenician script in 6th century BCE east of the Straits of Gibraltar. An entire Bronze Age Atlantic seaboard proto-Celtic culture spanned (due to trade) from Iberia, the French coast, the Low Countries coasts, Ireland, Britain including the Scottish Highlands. All built the same style tombs, used versions of the same proto-Celtic language and similar art designs and symbolism. Hallstatt as the origin of Celtic cultures is falling fast out of favor. 

This will shake up some Pagans, who have created a mythology of the sun God Belenos whom a scholar once assumed Beltain celebrates. But those Pagans could have a genuine personal connection to Apollo or an Aquileia version of Celtic polytheism. Both are traditional to Celts at different places and times. 

Belinos was a widely popular God in Gaul, Austria, northern Italy, the Alps, and Slovakia. He was even worshiped in Aquileia – nowhere near Apollo Belenos, more proof they are two different Gods. Perhaps He was the most worshipped Celtic God, sometimes paired with a Goddess who may be Belisama. Worship of Him has not been found in Britian, but “the King of the Britons” was Cynobellini, a name that contains beli and appears on coins. Belinos‘ name is also found in some place and personal names, like the  second half of Llewellyn (probably “Lugus-Belinos”). Belinos has possible sun connections, but none to Apollo, so this would not be His festival. However, it definitely could be the Festival of Belenos


Endovelicus (pronounced  “en-doh-VELL-ih-cuss” – try it; it actually floats off the tongue) is a solar God of healing. I don’t know if He was ever directly connected to Apollo, but the Romans took such a strong interest in Him, I am going to guess that some did. 

Endovelicus was first worshiped by Celts in Portugal and southern Spain, probably as the chieftain God of their pantheon. Endovelicus was the guardian of any town with a temple for Him. The main magical animal of the Celts, swine, were His main sacrifice.

(The importance of boars and pigs is now believed to be from a cult the proto-Celts learned from the native Neolithic culture along the southern coast of the North Sea. These non-Indo-Europeans later moved east into the southern Baltic shore, where the Pagan Estonians embraced the cult of the Great Sow Mother, which was recorded by the Romans. Unfortunately until recently it was believed that the Sow Mother was Germanic and possibly connected Nerthus with FreyR and Freya. Estonian is part of the Finnish language group, not Germanic or Baltic, but one connected to the Bronze Age Celto-Germanic words.)

The Roman Empire was quite taken with Endovelicus. Temples dedicated to Him were very popular. At His sanctuaries a ritual was held and then people in search of healing slept. His spirit or in Roman terms His numen was considered to be present in His sanctuaries, and Endovelicus would give the sleeping pilgrims helpful dreams. Sometimes people came to receive prophetic visions at a temple that filled with hot steam from a hot spring. (Some Iberian Celts had saunas, so they understood the healing and probably the spiritual purification power of sweat and heat.) In the 5th century CE, Christianity worked hard to destroy His large following of devotees. 

One way that scholars know Endovelicus is a solar God is because of how He was depicted. Artists gave Him several faces, including an “infernal” one, because the solar God travels underground at night. In the morning He returns to us with renewed healing powers. If you’ve studied Kemetic mythology some, you’ll notice a similarity.

He was an incredibly popular deity whose worship has returned. This way, there’s a date for making offerings and prayers. 


Grannus possibly “the Warming One” is the first Gaulish God most people would identify with Apollo. Pronounced “GRAN-nuss”, He is a God of healing thermal or mineral springs. Grannus had many sanctuaries. The most famous, Aquae Granni, was in what today is Aachen, Germany. Its hot springs were in a marshy valley. Even during the Hallstatt culture, it became a healing center. His name may be connected to the sun’s heat or possibly a man’s beard. It seems that beards were common on mature Celtic deities. (The clean shaven Roman God Mercury often is depicted with a beard and Celtic epitaph.) At one spa he was called “The one with a piercing  or far-reaching look.” 

Already ancient, Grannus had a 10-day celebration in the 1st-century CE. A  Latin inscription on a fountain in Limoges mentions it. (If we knew when it was or how it was done, there’d be a post about that!) But this shows how long His popularity lasted. 

The Goddess Sirona is commonly His partner, who has Her own “Heather’s invented” Festival date, based on that of Salus. Grannus is also invoked with many different cultures’ deities. The list includes Diana, the Nymphs, Hygieia, the Mother of the Gods, Sol, Serapis, Isis, Core, and Mars Sagatus. Frankly, I’m surprised that modern Pagan artists don’t depict Him very often. He was a major deity for so long and flexible enough to work with a multitude of deities. Instead, Sirona gets all the art (although it’s basically the Greek Goddess Hygieia). I understand that drawing women with snakes is sexier, more taboo. But with Grannus, we have great imagery: beard, piercing look, hot springs, sun. I’d love to see people working with that.

According to “The Religion of the Celts” by J.A. MacCulloch, “The god is still remembered in a  chant sung round bonfires in Auvergne. A sheaf of corn is set on fire, and called “Granno mio,”  while the people sing, “Granno, my friend; Granno, my father; Granno, my mother.” 


Maponos, “the Divine Youth”, is a Gaulish God who became important in the Roman military zone of Northern Britain. At the Clochmabon Stone, offerings were even made by Roman military chiefs. There Maponos was linked to hunting, depicted with a hunter Goddess or a dog companion. He was often associated  with Apollo, including one inscription about Apollo the Harper. In Gaul he had a healing spring sanctuary.  

He and Mabon of the Mabinogi are often thought to be the same God. Maponos once was as a way of saying “Apollo, young son of Jupiter” while Mabon is once called “the son of lightning.” (Jupiter throws lightning bolts.) Maponos may also connected to the Gaelic Aengus. He generally seems to be a young, typical Celtic God good at everything: battle, healing, hunting and the arts.


Another Celtic God from Iberia, Neto was said to be a combination of the Roman Gods Mars and Apollo. There’s more information about Neto in the post about Celtic deities to be celebrated on March 1st. He can be honored on both days – the Celtic Iberian deities have been left out of Celtic Paganism books for far too long. One might think that only the Gaels had anything known about Celtic religion, when really we have so much more – a continent more – to embrace. 

For all of you who want to learn about a lot of Gaelic deities (understanding how fractured the Mythological Cycle is) and study the Celtic deities, religions, culture and history from the medieval Mabinogi to ancient Ukraine, Steel Bars, Sacred Waters was written to do just that. Knowing prisoners could never afford any other books on Celtic Paganism, we crammed in everything possible, making it truly “all in one” (and rather big and heavy). You can buy it here for less than Amazon, and all profits will go towards buying copies for incarcerated Pagans.

Heather Awen Grannus
Grannus prayer bead shrine, by Heather Awen


Selected Bibliography

Alfayé, Silvia, Contexts of Cult in Hispania Celtica, Cult in Context: Reconsidering Ritual in Archaeology, Barrowclough, D.A., & Malone, C. (eds), Oxbow, Oxford (2007) 

Arenas, Jesús Alberto, Celtic divine names in the Iberian Peninsula: towards a territorial analysis, Celtic Religion Across Time and Space, Junta de Comunidades de Castilla-La Mancha (2010)  

Bernstein, Francis, Classical Living: Reconnecting with the Rituals of Ancient Rome. Harper Collins e-books (2000)

Cunliffe, Barry, Britain Begins. Oxford University Press (2013) 

Cunliffe, Barry, On the Ocean: The Mediterranean and the Atlantic from Prehistory to AD 1500. Oxford University Press (2017)

Cultraro, Massimo, EVIDENCE OF AMBER IN BRONZE AGE SICILY: LOCAL SOURCES AND THE BALKAN-MYCENAEAN CONNECTION, BETWEEN THE AEGEAN AND BALTIC SEAS PREHISTORY ACROSS BORDERS: Proceedings of the International Conference Bronze and Early Iron Age Interconnections and Contemporary Developments between the Aegean and the Regions of the Balkan Peninsula, Central and Northern Europe, University of Zagreb, 11-14 April 2005, Edited by Ioanna GALANAKI, Helena TOMAS, Yannis GALANAKIS and Robert LAFFINEUR (2007)

Davies, Sioned, editor and translator, The Mabinogion. Oxford World’s Classics (2007) 

de Milio Carrín, Cristobo, The Widower And The Goddess  Or The Closed Door: On the connection between northern and southern Celts (March 2011) 

Ford, Patrick K., editor and translator, The Mabinogi and Other Medieval Welsh Tales. University  of California Press (1983) 

Haussler, Ralph, Interpretatatio Indigena: Re-Inventing Local Cults in a Global World, Mediterraneo  Antico, xv, 1-2 (2012) 

Hyllested, Adam, The Precursors of Celtic and Germanic, Proceedings of the 21st Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference (2010)

Hyllested, Adam, Again on Pigs in Ancient Europe: the Fennic connection, Etymology and the European Lexicon, Proceedings of the 14th Fachtagung der Indogermanischen Gesellschaft, Copenhagen, Hansen, Whitehead, Olander and Olsen (eds), (2016) 

Koch, John, (ed), Celtic Heroic Age: Literary Sources for Ancient Celtic Europe and Early Ireland  and Wales. Celtic Studies (2000)

Koch, John T., Rock art and Celto-Germanic vocabulary Shared iconography and words as reflections of Bronze Age contact, Adoranten (2018)

MacCulloch, J. A., The Religion of the Ancient Celts. Public Domain (1911) 

McKenna, Stephen, Paganism and Pagan Survivals in Spain up to the Fall of the Visigothic Kingdom, The Library of Iberian Resources Online, 

Nova Roma,

Pedreño, Juan Carlos Olivares, Celtic Gods of the Iberian Peninsula, Guimarães, Portugal: E-Keltoi: Journal of Interdisciplinary Celtic Studies (2005) 

Prosper, Blanca Maria, Celtic and non-Celtic Divinities from Hispania, The Journal of Indo-European  Studies, Vol. 43, #1&2 (2015) 

Prosper, Blanca Maria, The irreducible Celts used to swear by Belenos. Or did They?, DOI (2017) 

Sjoestedt, Marie-Louise, translated by Myles Dillon, Celtic Gods and Heroes. Dover (2000) 

Viducus Brigantici filius, Deo Mercurio, 

West and Central Africa’s Gay & Transgender History: the jinbandaa

First, I apologize for using the word “Africa” like it is a nation, when I mean the Kongo, Angola, Fon, Gbe and Ewe peoples of the West coast and Central Africa. Second, I apologize for saying “gay and transgender” just because gender in those cultures did not match with 16th century European binary genders. We unfortunately don’t know exactly how these members of society were understood, just that they existed and were accepted, so I choose sexual and gender identity words closest to the descriptions we have. I just wanted a title that might grab more search engines to educate more people.

There’s quite a lot of homophobia in many African Diaspora Religions. I actually saw a Palo website say that no gay people could join the religion because the Kongo people had no knowledge of homosexuality. Frankly, that is bullshit. The person actually wrote that because the Kongo didn’t understand what the Portuguese meant by homosexual (which would have been said in a derogatory way), the Kongo didn’t have any queer people. In reality, the Kongo understanding of a jinbandaa and their Priest function would not have matched that of a Catholic Portuguese “sinful sodomite.”

There are a lot of people interested in Lucumi, Palo, Vodou, “African” Umbanda, obeh, hoodoo and other African Diaspora Religions in prison. Many learn about them from incarcerated Cuban initiates and by sharing books. I buy high quality books and print academic papers for a book club and we have moved deeper into the African roots of these religions. (There’s only so many times one can read the same descriptions of the neo-Yoruban pantheon!)

One truly amazing find are the two books by James H. Sweet, published by the University of North Carolina Press. Both are unlike anything I’ve read, focusing on specific tribal peoples’ contributions to forming a new “African” culture before the much studied Yoruba latecomers to Brazil.

His book Domingos Álvares, African Healing, and the Intellectual History of the Atlantic World details the life of a Mina Priest of Sakpata, the vodun of the earth and smallpox, from modern-day Mahi in Benin. The Priests were captured by King Agaja of Dahomey and sold into slavery because they were a threat to his bloody reign of terror. The young man who would become known as Domingos Álvares was the child of two Priests of Sakpata and inherited their role during a time of warfare and culturally diverse overflow of refugees. As part of that war he was sold to Portuguese slavers and began a life of attempting to recreate that religious and social community in Brazil. Before being sent to the Inquisition in Lisbon, Portugal, his (and other African diviners and Priests and Priestesses from the Mina region and the Kongo) ways of ritual were recorded. It’s an amazing book for people interested in the origins of the African Diaspora Religions of Brazil or the regional Traditional African Religions destroyed and later reconstructed by the royal family of Dahomey (who used Yoruba Orishas as their primary new pantheon). It’s the biography of a spiritual ancestor.

But here I want to focus on the lie of a heterosexual-only African norm. The paragraphs below are from Sweet’s remarkable Recreating Africa: Culture, Kinship, and Religion in the African-Portuguese World, 1441–1770. It’s another book I highly recommend although it has less actual ritual detail.

“One noteworthy case occurred in the middle of the sixteenth century in the Azores and in Lisbon. Antônio, slave of Paulo Manriques, arrived on Ilha Terceira from his homeland of Benin some time in 1556. Upon his arrival, he immediately assumed the uncertain gender identity that he maintained in Benin. Refusing to wear the clothes that his master gave him, Antônio instead chose to dress in a white waist jacket buttoned down the front, with a vest made from an old woolen cloth that he found in his master’s stables. On his head, he wore a tightly wrapped white linen, topped off by a hat. To all who saw him, he appeared to be a woman.

“By profession, Antônio worked as a prostitute who went by the name Vitória. In order to lure men, Vitória made a variety of winks and gestures “like a woman.” But he was also observed removing his hat and bowing “like a man.” He apparently had a thriving business, since seven or eight men could sometimes be seen waiting outside of the little house where he worked. But within a year of his arrival in the Azores, Antônio’s ambiguous gender identity became widely known, and the scandal of his transvestism gained the attention of the Inquisition.

“During his interrogation before the Inquisitors in Lisbon, an interpreter was needed to translate, since Antônio/Vitória had not yet mastered Portuguese. He admitted to “sinning” with five men, three in Lisbon and two in the Azores. When the Inquisitors asked him whether many people believed that he was a woman, he responded that he was a woman and that men gave him money for his services. Antônio also claimed that he had the orifice (buraco) of a woman. The Inquisitors asked him if he created this orifice or if it was the result of some sickness, but Antônio claimed that he was born with it. Indeed, he stated that “there were many in his country who had the same buracos who were born with them.” Antônio ultimately was subjected to a medical inspection to determine whether he was “man or woman or hermaphrodite.” The examination showed clearly that Antônio “had the physical character of a man, without having any buraco nor other physical characteristic of woman.” For committing the “abominable sin of sodomy against nature,” Antônio was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in the king’s galleys.

“Antônio’s admission that there were many in his country who were anatomically endowed with buracos is an indication that there were others who also took on the dress and mannerisms of women. The role of these transvested individuals in sixteenth-century Benin is difficult to discern from the records, but they seemingly constituted a third gender category that was completely unfamiliar to the Portuguese. Antônio’s gender and sexual choices were apparently an accepted part of Benin society, an integral part of Antônio’s identity which the Portuguese sought to erase because he was a “sodomite.” Acts of sodomy had long been punishable by death in Portugal, but the Portuguese reserved their greatest contempt for passive partners like Antônio, the rationale being that male penetration was a “natural” act, while male reception was not. These social and cultural vacuums in the Western mentality affected Africans and their descendants in profound ways, confining them to sexual, gender, and family categories that were, in many cases, completely alien to them.

“The narrowness of Western gender constructions is brought into even sharper focus when we examine another third-gender category, this one from Central Africa. In the same 1591 denunciation of Joane de Guiné in Bahia, Matias Moreira also denounced a man named Francisco Manicongo to the Portuguese Holy Office. Moreira stated that he had seen Francisco walking the streets of Bahia dressed as a woman and that Francisco was renowned among blacks as a “sodomite.” Moreira went on to claim that he had traveled for a long period of time in the lands of Angola and Congo. During these travels, he had witnessed some of the “pagan Negroes” dressing like women. According to Moreira, these cross-dressing men performed the role of the woman in acts of sodomy. In fact, these cross-dressers were so prevalent in Central African society that there was even a word for them in the “language of Angola and Congo,” jinbandaa.

“Unbeknownst to Moreira, the term jinbandaa in Central Africa did not carry the same negative moral connotations that the terms “sodomite” or “nefarious sinner” carried in Christian Europe. Instead, the significance of jinbandaa was to be found in Central African religious beliefs. According to Malcolm Guthrie, the word stem mbándá means “medicine man,” and throughout Central Africa words similar to jinbandaa implied religious power. In fact, several revealing descriptions from the Angolan coast in the seventeenth century suggest that quimbanda sodomites were a discrete and powerful caste in Angolan society. As early as 1606, the Jesuits in Angola described “chibados,” who were “extremely great fetishers, and being men went around dressed as women and they had by great offense called themselves men; they had husbands like the other women, and in the sin of sodomy they are just like devils.” Writing in 1681, Captain Antônio de Oliveira Cadornega commented at length on the status of “sodomites” along the Angolan coast:

There is also among the Angolan pagan much sodomy, sharing one with the other their dirtiness and filth, dressing as women. And they call them by the name of the land, quimbandas, [and] in the district or lands where they are, they have communication with each other. And some of these are fine feiticeiros (sorcerers), for they beget everything bad. And all of the pagans respect them and they are not offended by them and these sodomites happen to live together in bands, meeting most often to give burial services. . . . This caste of people is who dresses the body for burial and performs the burial ceremony.

“Cadornega reveals three important points regarding the Angolan quimbandas. First, he suggests that they were a discrete social group that lived together in “bands.” Second, the quimbandas were respected by others in the community. In fact, the Capuchin priest, Antônio Cavazzi, who was a resident of Angola from 1654 to 1667, wrote that “there is not a Jaga [Imbangala], whether captain in war, or peaceful aldeia [village] chief, who does not try to keep some of them [the quimbandas] to watch over him, without the counsel and approval of such, he will not dare to exercise any act of jurisdiction, nor take any resolution.” The quimbandas were apparently the final spiritual arbiters in political and military decisions. Finally, the quimbandas were not only considered “fine feiticeiros,” but they performed traditional burial ceremonies, thereby exercising a wide range of spiritual roles. Taken together, these three points produce a compelling argument for the religious power and respectability of Angola’s transvested “homosexual” community, a community that clearly set itself apart from the rest of society, apparently as one of the many kinlike divining and healing societies that were prevalent in seventeenth-century Central Africa.

How transvested homosexuals became powerful religious figures in Central Africa is an interesting question, but that is not our primary concern here. More important for us is the question of the jinbandaa’s transition to slave life in the Americas. Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century sources suggest that in Central Africa the jinbandaas were a group of religious leaders who carved out their own “third-sex” (gender defined) living space in the society. But the spiritual capacity of the transvested homosexual was so universally known that they were referred to not by their patterns of dress or by their sexual behavior, but by their roles as religious leaders. Only when these Africans encounter the Western world do we begin to see the breakdown of the gender-defined organization of this kinlike, transvestite, religious society. This disjuncture between the gendered, religious space in Central Africa and the lack of such a space in the diaspora indicates several sobering things.

“First, those transvested homosexuals who were brought to Europe and its colonies as slaves were isolated not only according to race, but also according to their gender and their sexuality. Given the evidently small numbers of jinbandaas in the diaspora, there was no way for them to replicate their gender-defined communities in their new surroundings. Second, Western/Christian prejudice and repression against the feminine and against the passive homosexual contributed to the attrition of a seemingly well-defined African gender category that defied Western norms. And finally, the institutional foundation that gave this collection of transvested homosexuals religious power all but disappeared. Because they could no longer meet collectively to share knowledge and affirm their religious power, their powers were effectively diluted. Indeed, in Brazil, the very meaning of the term jinbandaa was transformed, at least within the white community. Rather than referring to an individual with religious power, the term jinbandaa became synonymous with the passive “sodomite.”

“Despite the powerful forces of Western cultural hegemony, we should still recognize the lens through which someone like Francisco Manicongo, or Antônio from Benin, addressed their individual gender and sexual identities. Even against the riptides of Western gender, sexual, and religious norms, Francisco and Antônio continued to see themselves in much the same ways that they had seen themselves in their homelands. Just as most Westerners could not conceive of identifying themselves as anything other than either man or woman, Francisco could not conceive of identifying himself as anything other than the transvested jinbandaa. And Antônio could not conceive of himself as anything other than one of the many from Benin who had buracos like his. Thus, they each shed the clothing given to them by their masters and continued to dress and act as women, seeking out male partners with little, if any, regard for the fact that they were committing mortal sins. Though their individual identities may have endured for some time, the kinlike groupings that sustained and affirmed them in their ethnic homelands were obliterated, leaving them as isolated and alone as those who left behind their natal kin.”

If you are African American, African Caribbean or African Brazilian (and other South American countries), some of your ancestors are probably from these cultures. If you are Black and gay or transgender and have yet to find a connection between the two identities, or are of any ethnicity and denied initiation into an African Diaspora Religion, I sincerely hope that this helps. The discrimination against the queer community was absorbed from Christianity and Islam, not these indigenous peoples.

Happy Gay Pride Month!



Sweet, James H., Domingos Álvares: African Healing, and the Intellectual History of the Atlantic World. The University of North Carolina Press (2011)

Sweet, James H., Recreating Africa: Culture, Kinship, and Religion in the African-Portuguese World, 1441–1770. The University of North Carolina Press (2003)

Celtic Festival of Aine

Aine “shining” Pronounced: AWN-yuh

“She was, and perhaps still is, worshipped on Midsummer Eve by the peasantry, who carried torches of hay and straw, tied on poles and lighted, round her hill at night. Afterwards they dispersed themselves among their cultivated fields and pastures, waving the torches over the crops and the cattle to bring luck and increase for the following year.” – T. W. Rolleston, Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race (1911)

Aine is often considered the Gaelic Goddess of the summer sun. According to Lebor Gabála Érenn (pronounced LEV-ar GA-vah-la ER-inn, in English “The Book of the Taking of Ireland”) Her father is the Dagda and Brigid is Her sister. Other sources say She is the daughter or wife of Manannan Mac Lir or the daughter of Egobail and has sisters named Aillen and Fennen.

However, mythology and folklore tell us that She is much more. Living in a hill like the other Tuatha De Danann, She resides in Limerick within Cnoc Aine (also called Knockainey), seven miles from Cnoc Greine (“Hill of Grian, Hill of the sun”). Grain may be another aspect of Aine or her sister. Some modern Gaelic polytheists believe Aine is the bright summer sun an ghrian mhór and Grain is the pale winter sun an ghrian bheag. The Gaels divided the year into the light half and the dark half, so it fits the cosmology even if there’s no evidence to support the belief.

Although Grain and Grainne mean different things, Grian may have parts of Her mythology hidden in the typical, medieval European love triangle of a young woman, the older king whom she is to marry and the beautiful young man loyal to the king that she loves. The 16th century Tóraigheacht Dhiarmada agus Ghráinne (The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne) from the Fenian Cycle may contain parts from the 10th century. Ageing Fianna leader Fionn mac Cumhaill is set to marry Grainne, the beautiful daughter of the High King of Ireland Cormac mac Airt against her wishes. It becomes a love triangle when Grainne decides she wants the best Fianna warrior, Diarmuid Ua Duibhne, the foster son of God Aengus mac Og. The solar connection is that the chase for Grainne and Diarmuid lasted one year and a day. Every night they slept in a different cave, like the sun hiding at night. Aside from deities’ help, the solar year and the caves, it was a very popular story in Europe, and Ireland has a few versions.

Aine still was honored with a fire rite to bless the fertility of the land in the mid-19th century. Her heat could bless or scorch the fields and She was called upon for prosperity and protection of the cattle and crops. Aine was sometimes honored on Midsummer’s Eve, June 24. The sun appears to be stopped in the sky during the three days of a solstice, so many cultures celebrate when the sun begins to move again. This is usually December 25 and June 24, known to Christians as Christmas and St John the Baptist Day.

Aine is also associated with the long, social festival held around August 1st, too. Most Pagans think that it is only under the name Lughnasa which this holiday was celebrated, but in Ulster the deity honored was the 6,000 year old Celto-Germanic horse and Sovereignty Goddess Macha, in Leinster it was Brig, and around Limerick Aine is the focus.

Aine is the Sovereignty Goddess of Munster, the southern province of Ireland, and the divine ancestor of many powerful families in the region. Through Aine, they found a way to claim rightful rulership of the land. Often Celtic Sovereignty Goddesses are also horse Goddesses. One of Aine’s names is Lair Derg (“Red Mare”).

In one of Aine’s legends, a King of Munster killed Her father and then raped Her. She sucked the flesh off of his ear and cursed him with Her magic. Thus began the battle of Magh Mucrama. Of course that king could no longer be king because Aine had blemished him. Celtic Sovereignty Goddesses will dispose of an unworthy ruler, often in brutal ways.

Later stories depict Her as a Fairy Queen who takes many mortal lovers and gave birth to several half human, half fairy children. For this reason, some modern Gaelic polytheists consider Aine a Goddess of love.

On the evening of June 24, celebrate the Festival of Aine as the regal solar Goddess. It is through Her power that all food grows. Whatever you eat, Aine was necessary for their lives. (If the plants were grown with artificial lights, they evolved under Aine’s gaze.) The food other animals ate came from the energy of the sun, too. Basically you would have no energy for growth and renewal of cells without Aine. You’d be dead.

Aine also provides the important vitamin D. When humans living far from the equator experienced the prolonged darkness of winter, they lost weight from dwindling food supplies. The fat released its stored vitamin D; otherwise people would not have had the necessary vitamin. (Evolution is amazing!)

In a time when people are choosing solar power both passive and active, Aine is Queen over these changes. Solar cookers are cheap, easy to make and rarely need to be replaced, making them very popular in sunny places. In some parts of Africa solar cookers purify water and cook meals at a price much more affordable than solar panels which break and keep people dependent on foreign aid. I remember when my parents built our far off the grid Vermont home by themselves; it was positioned to receive as much full sunlight as possible. A lot of ancient cultures built homes for passive solar heat, with the south side (in the Northern hemisphere) long and facing full sun.

There are a lot of reasons to thank Aine. In the great uncertainty of Climate Change Chaos, honoring Her may take the form of a ceremony to help farmers dealing with flood, drought, forest fires and extreme heat or unusual cold. You don’t need to be at a farm to do this. Most crops are coated in pesticides which among other problems are endocrine disruptors, so standing near a huge field of corn that might have been sprayed the day before your ritual isn’t a smart idea.

If you have a garden, including a plot at the organic community garden or pots of herbs on a patio or balcony, this could be a wonderful place for your evening rite. If you grow no food or don’t have the privacy you’d like, maybe a pleasant acquaintance with organic farm or garden would be fine with you “visualizing the growth of crops” or “celebrating the Midsummer in an old Irish way” (because Americans tend to like “Irish” and understand “visualization” better than “ritual”) at their land. A medicinal marijuana or hemp field (they don’t need pesticides) might make it more personal for some people.

A house plant is just as good if you remember what you’re celebrating: the life-giving power of the sun. Your house plant knows Aine. Through the simple meditation of exhaling to the plant so it may enjoy your carbon dioxide and inhaling mindfully the oxygen from plants, the two of you can deeply connect. If you want a visualization or mantra, think of the exhale being red and say “red” silently because your breath is connected to your blood. Inhale thinking “green” or imaging green, the magickal alchemy of photosynthesis. Of course, you could do this at the edge of a field or garden to form a relationship with the green world.

Every ceremony needs an intention. If you are involved with solar power, you might honor Aine for that reason, including if you sell solar systems. Farmers were concerned with profits as much as food in the 19th century, so Aine is not going to be offended if in your solar power rite to celebrate Her you ask for increase in customers. If you are honestly trying to get more reliant on solar power, honoring Aine’s power and asking Her for panels and batteries is appropriate. Like all magick, it just has to really be something about which you feel passionate. If you want to focus on solar energy but don’t see yourself having solar power at home (you rent or live with grey skies or in the shadows of mountains), buying batteries with a solar charger or radio that is powered by the sun is a good service offering to Aine. Each little divestment from fossil fuels does matter. Huge lifestyle changes often don’t last. But choosing a small step and asking for the deities to bless it, especially during a rite traditionally about growth, is an excellent way to sustainably make personal changes. You feel good and want to try another step towards your goal. (Most groups fall apart when instead of realistic success they focus on a building too soon.)

Your libation might be solar tea. Tea bags and water in a glass jar in the sun all afternoon make sun tea. Look online for more details. The glass jars could be empty Snapple jars from which you removed the sunlight-blocking label and washed. Used mayonnaise and pasta sauce jars usually need a good soak in water with a lot of baking soda before washing to remove the smells and tastes, so start cleaning those now. Fill with baking soda and water a few times if needed. Solar tea honors the power of Aine.

Yellow flowers are traditional in most northern European summer solstice festivals. St John’s wort is said to be strongest today. It’s a powerful plant for mild depression (internal capsules or tinctures), neurological pain (4-6 weeks of a jar filled with the plant, especially flowers, and organic olive oil sealed without air bubbles – air will cause mold – and then strained makes a massage oil for neuropathic pain) and magickal good fortune and protection. It’s often put on altars today, and then kept all year hanging with the flowers facing down as it dries. The plant has a lot of folklore. If you buy it dry, make sure that it’s a responsible, organic company that loves plants and maintains ecosystems. You want a strong life force.

Other yellow flowers can definitely be added to your altar. A bouquet may be an offering for Aine. Flowers in the hair are traditional in many places. Please never buy flowers from a florist. The flower industry uses insane levels of pesticides that go against the values of any nature-based ritual or desire for healthy reproductive organs, hormones and metabolisms of all animals including humans. I heard a MD doctor mention that the Seine River, sacred home of Sequana, is “pure estrogen by now” due to pesticide run-off from farms.

Farmers markets sometimes sell organic flowers. A Mennonite farm used to charge people $1 to pick wildflowers by their roadside pie stand. When picking any wild plant, only take 10% of plants, so if you find a field of daisies (day’s eye) or day lilies, don’t take tons. They’re genitals of plants and needed for reproduction and important to the ecosystem. (Invasive species are a different matter, but an invasive species cannot invade a healthy ecosystem. If you go through the hard work of digging up the invasive species, plant the native plants that were destroyed by “progress” including forest flowers and bushes. Fill the ecosystem gaps that allowed an invasive species in the ecosystem.)

Although fire is traditional, I wouldn’t recommend one unless in a safe fire pit. There are forest fires raging across the world and 80% of American states are in droughts. This isn’t damp, cool Ireland in June. Beeswax candles actually clean toxins from the air and make a fine Aine festival fire. Outdoors, keep the candles protected from wind and have a couple jugs of water ready. (I am a big fan of having a fire extinguisher ready at all rites involving fire.)

People moved in a circle, definitely clockwise if like all other Irish processions around hills. Then they blessed the fields of crops and cattle. You should circle the garden or around your altar clockwise, the direction the sun moves. This could be meditative, carrying a beeswax candle in a tall glass jar, or dancing. Careful dancing in the field or around your houseplant while asking for Aine to protect crops until the harvest is over – that’s a fine idea. If you are in a garden, stand in one place and dance with your torso, arms and head. You don’t want to crush a plant.

Most importantly, focus on the power of Aine and make an offering. Organic flowers, using batteries charged by the sun, sun tea, food in season like certain berries, homemade breads (the end result of the grains growing), organic dairy (She blesses the cattle) and second hand or Fair Trade yellow glass beads, second hand yellow “semi-precious” stones like sunstone, pyrite (fool’s gold) or citrine, and even jewelry or items made from gold metal are good offerings. Glass or metal charms of the sun without toxic metals like lead (pewter ingredients can be dangerous) from local artisans or an artist’s destash would also be great for decorations and offerings.

A papier mache sun is really easy since it is basically a ball shape. Old torn newspaper and glue made of flour and water (a bit of children’s white paste can be added) over crumbled newspaper in a round shape, then when very dry painted yellow (milk paints are best) is pretty basic. Adding cones of crumbled newspapers and maybe wire with masking tape can turn the ball into shining rays. Yellow fabric, especially with embroidery of solar images, would be a good altar cloth. Using corn meal or another grain you could make larger solar crosses – a circle with an equal armed cross inside. (Seeds could be a problem for a farm or garden – barley seeds and flax seeds, my regular offering, grow in 3 days where they’re scattered! You may want to grind your own or buy organic flour.)

There’s a lot of environmentally responsible ways to have Pagan rituals. Remember that the planet is very different now. What the ancients made have had a lot of, we probably don’t. Many grains are gone, along with other species in this, the 6th major extinction. We can’t afford to make mistakes they made because we know better and we live in a much more fragile situation. A sun “mosaic” of bottle caps nailed to repurposed wood from a broken chair could be beautiful and not add to factories and landfills. Although slaves were common in every agricultural society (except perhaps the Indus civilization), your rituals don’t need child labor, sweatshops and unsafe work environments. The ritual focuses on the safe growth of crops/solar energy. We don’t want the growth of sweatshops, pesticides or mining.

Rituals in general were simple. For people in our society that can sound boring or vague. Just ask yourself if your ritual ideas match the ritual’s intention. Use mind maps to gather information and brainstorm actions. Sometimes they work better than lists. (I received a letter from a prisoner who found that the mind maps instructions in Steel Bars, Sacred Waters helped them learn about deities.) I know that pesticides, human rights violations and pollution are never part of my rituals’ intentions. I can’t imagine using plastics to honor Frey, God of This World, for example. There’s no deity that could support GMOs, which destroy fertility. Offering GMO food to Ceres or Isis or Dionysus is an insult. They’d rather you make a service offering that helps or protects the fertility of the land.

Beeswax candles and organic food do cost more than petroleum product candles and pesticide coated foods, but rituals were something people took seriously. They save for them. Poor Brazilians or Haitians will save in order to get a nice offering for the Orixas or lwas. Something handmade that took time has great value. Whittle a bird or spin wool – you have a meaningful offering. For glass beads, something that ancient Celtic people highly valued, I often get destash from Etsy vendors. String them on hemp jewelry twine or the metal from an old spiral bound notebook and you have a grand offering.

The elements of this ritual – plants, sun, yellow, fire, cattle, clockwise movement in the beginning, prayers for Aine to bless and protect food, hopes for a good harvest, paying attention to the seasons, moving through fields, offering, praise and prayers for Aine – can become as creative as your imagination allows. I feel that rituals based on agriculture rites are completely changed when they become about “growing prosperity in your life” or “reaping the harvest of your personal dreams” while totally ignoring the importance of the original rite. People used magickal charms and personal divination in everyday life, so seamlessly that scholars have to rethink the difference between magick and religion. There’s nothing wrong with focusing on your needs and desires. They matter.

But the deity or ancestors or land spirits being honored matter most because they are the reason for the festival. Without Them… well, no us. Obviously no festival. And the best way to know a deity is to know Them physically. Their nature, geography, the process of those jobs of which They are patrons. Sweat and ache like the smith. Pick grapes and make wine. Milk a goat. Ride a ferry across a lake or sea. Turn off all lights and electric noise and hear the Wild Hunt. Tend a fire. Cook on a fire. Churn butter. Blow glass. Weave. Most of these things are work but without distractions you can often reach a meditative state. Many people garden for the connection to soil and life, having their bodies in motion and being calmed. Knitting and basket weaving are meditative. Tools and fire require mindfulness for safety. You can best understand a deity if you understand what They meant hundreds or thousands of years ago.

Tribal and community rituals shouldn’t be changed to meet only the needs of the individual just because our society changed in some unhealthy ways. The lie of the rugged individual who can be anything they want if they just try, the denial of the many shared concerns that connect us to people we might not like in our neighborhood and the legacies of oppression and modern bigotry – rituals from people who understood their vulnerable dependence on the land and water and sky, their vulnerable dependence on a community can help us.

We need the same things as they did and it’s important to put the most important things first in a ritual. There are deities of commerce like Mercury, the most honored deity in Roman Gaul by choice. All aspects of people’s lives were covered by the year’s rituals. To turn them into “I want this” rituals I see in most Pagan books disgusts me. The personal growth and good fortune comes from honoring the deity. Once They’re paying attention to you, your life WILL change. More often than not, it’ll be in ways that involve social justice, deep healing (including releasing lies you tell yourself) and the environment. The deities have need of us. The more we become who we honestly are, the more we are sharing the gifts They sent into the world via our birth.

Dearest Aine, Queen of summertime’s life, May everyone be protected from heat stroke, drought, flooding and wildfire and may all have plenty of healthy foods! May I be part of that!

Celtic Festival Calender: Brigantia, Matres Brigiacae, Bricta/Brixta, Brigindona, Brig & Rome’s Victoria & Bellona

Brigantia, Museum of Brittany

This is part of a series where festivals for Roman deities are matched with the Celtic deities who were associated with the Roman deities. For example, March 1st is the Festival of Mars, and many Celtic Gods were connected with the Protector of Rome. As tribal protectors Themselves, they could have been identified as Mars by the Romans or the Celts.

The Romans weren’t very involved in Celtic religion. After slaughtering the politically powerful Druids (some of whom may have become teachers and philosophers in Rome), the Romans let local cults continue. Southern Gauls already adopted the Greek Gods Apollo and Hermes, and later Gaulish merchants readily brought the cult of Mercury to their towns.

For the sake of convenience, the Romans described other people’s deities as being like their own. In a multicultural society, it made it easier for Romans. However, it appears that Celtic people often had the power to decide which Roman deity was the best fit. As different Celts had different understandings of Roman deities and Celtic deities didn’t fit neatly into x = y, a Celtic God could be called Mars in one region and Mercury in another.

As the Celtic polytheists worked with the new Roman ways, I suspect some used the Roman calendar for their Festivals, especially September 1st, when Jupiter (who was identified as Taranus) was honored as the God of lightning and Juno was celebrated in Her Queen aspect. That’s the same Juno aspect southern Gauls had on their Jupiter columns, with the wheel of Taranus, eagle of Jupiter, lightning of both and a Sovereignty Goddess.

June 3rd is the Festival of the Sabine war Goddess adopted by the Romans named Bellona. Bellona was considered an aspect of the important Roman Goddess Victoria, Whose Festival date, if She had one, is lost. Wikipedia sums Victoria up nicely: “Victoria was a symbol of victory over death and determined who would be successful during war.”

Brigantia was the Goddess of the most powerful tribe (or federation of tribes) in Britain, the Brigantes. There are 7 inscriptions to Brigantia in Britain. Twice She was associated with Victoria in Yorkshire. An inscription calls her “divine nymph” and at Hadrian’s Wall She is described as “heavenly.” A couple of statues of Brigantia, including one in Brittany, have symbols that belong to the Roman Goddess Minerva. Due to Her association with Minvera, you could also honor Brigantia during the Greater Quinquatrus held between March 19 and 23. I had so much information on Sulis for that Festival, I stayed focused on Her.

Bellona was associated with the consort of Mars, and like Mars Her temple was on the outskirts of Rome. There is a theory that Mars is a border God, called on by soldiers defending Rome and farmers as they ritually circle their land. The idea that Mars was an agricultural God is based on a hymn sung to Mars by farmers in an annual ceremony protecting the edge of their lands, and an archaic rite by His Priests that no one understood.

I prefer the border God idea over the agricultural God theory. It fits with other old Indo-European ideas, especially Vedic, and is logical. The God of Rome guards Rome, from its farmers to its military. Mars stops danger before it can arrive. Temples at the edge of a border allow deities who “go wild” to have access to the wilderness. You don’t want war IN your town; you want to be protected before it gets to the town. Next to Bellona’s temple was the columna bellica, the edge of Rome. The temple and the land on which it stood was considered foreign soil. To declare war on a distant land, a Priest (in a rather Odin-like move) threw a javelin towards the enemy’s kingdom. Generals made offerings to Victoria after winning wars.

What happened on Her Festival was probably sacrifices, prayers, and feasts. At a different festival, the Priests of Bellona cut their arms and legs to offer their blood. Nothing like that is mentioned for today. Bellona had temples in France, Germany, Britain, and North Africa.

Brigantia means “the Most High Goddess” and is pronounced “brig-AN-tee-ah”. There are Goddesses with variations of Her name, all of Whom I would probably consider different Goddesses, like the Welsh Braint, the Matres Brigiacae in Peñalbo de Castro, Brigindona, and Bricta/Brixta, to name a few. All could be honored June 3rd even though they were never associated with a Roman deity, much less Victoria specifically.

The root word brigant- means “elevated, high.” The British Brigantes may have been named for being nobility or for living in the mountains. They were the largest tribe (or possibly a federation of tribes) in Britain when the Romans arrived. They controlled northern England, a territory known as Brigantia (today Yorkshire). Their wealth was based on cattle and sheep, and Brigantia may have been associated with that economy. Allies of Rome, they created an important buffer against the tribes in modern Scotland.

Many British nobles welcomed the Romans, thinking that they were gaining powerful allies. Enraged princes who didn’t become kings sought the help of Rome. At the time it seemed like a smart move.

Cartimandua (“sleek pony”) was the Brigantes’ queen when Rome arrived, and two lavish burials of women with chariots suggest that the Brigantes were used to powerful women. Her husband Venutius, king of the Brigantes, was a top military strategist and also loyal to Rome. In 51 CE Cartimandua captured a probable rival named Caratacus, a popular rebel leader against Rome. In exchange for Caratacus, Rome made Cartimandua very wealthy. Her people’s hillfort grew from 17 to 600 acres in 20 years.

Meanwhile, the royal couple went to war against each other in 51 AD and declared a truce 6 years later, after Cartimandua captured Venutius’ family and Rome sent troops to help her. They divorced over a decade later when she took Venutius’ armor-bearer Vellocatus as her lover. In 69 CE the Brigantes rebelled against her and she was taken to an unknown, safe place by Roman soldiers. Venutius ruled the Brigantian kingdom until 74 CE when Roman forces finally defeated him, wanting total control of Britain.

Although loyal and very helpful to Rome Cartimandua was portrayed harshly by the Romans, perhaps because she was everything a Roman woman should not be. Cartimandua obviously was a bold and savvy politician and enjoyed her sexual freedom. She and Boudicca are often used by Pagans and scholars alike as examples of the power held by the Celtic Queens of the Britons, something we don’t read about other Celts.

Ptolemy wrote that there was also a tribe named Brigantes in eastern Ireland, and there may be something to that. The Goddess Brig seems to have been brought to eastern Ireland by a tribe allied with the Brigantes and turned into a Saint. Political shifts that the old Pagan ways didn’t support had occurred and to hold onto their power, the new elites found having a Saint in the new religion was a good way to solidify authority. To combat powerful Ulster with its Saint Patrick, Leinster and sometimes eastern Munster had St Brigit. There was almost definitely a Christian community in Leincester before St Patrick ever arrived; Irish raiders who’d settled in modern Wales long enough to learn the new religion of Rome had returned home. There’s more about this in the post on February 2nd.

The root of Brigantia’s name appears in the names of towns in Portugal, Spain, France, Hungary, England, and Austria, and Strabo wrote that in the Alps lived a Celtic tribe named the Brigantii. The ancient name of Bragança in Trás-os-Montes, Portugal, was Brigantia. Its inhabitants today are still called brigantinos. Two cities in present-day Galicia, A Coruña and Betanzos, were named Brigantia and Brigantium. A prominent Bronze Age meeting-place for British tribes was on the shores of a river in a place called Brentford.

Brentford is connected to “prestige” in modern Welsh, coming from the same root as the Welsh word for King, brenin. Scottish Gaelic brigh and Manx bree translate to “power” while Irish Gaelic bri translates as “energy” and in Welsh, Cornish and Manx bre means “hill.” It’s easy to understand why so many places and Goddesses’ names derive from bri- and bree-.

The most famous Goddess linked to Brigantia is the Gaelic Goddess Brig, and Her incarceration as Saint Brigit/Brid. Brigit’s sacred fire was (and again is) in County Kildare, which is now part of the eastern province Leinster. An old Irish poem calls Brigit the sovereign lady who rules over the Kings of Leinster. The poem, when needing Her protection, calls for Brig, the name of the Goddess in the Mythological Cycle. Brig is sometimes confused with other powerful Goddess of the Tuatha De Danann in the different versions we have of Gaelic mythology.

In the Lebor Gabála Érenn (The Book of the Taking of Ireland), the Gaels descend from Noah (himself a descendant of Adam) of the Bible. Like the Israelites, they suffer many ordeals, until conquering Spain. Breogán founds the city Brigantia (perhaps A Coruña) and builds a tall tower, from which his son sees Ireland. Many of the Gaels stay in Iberia, but some sail to Ireland and successfully fight off the Tuatha De Danann. As the Lebor Gabála Érenn is our main source for the Mythological Cycle and has different variations, Irish mythology is rather messy. But Breogán’s name and the city he supposedly built again return to bri- and bre-.

Ireland and Iberia were part of an ancient shared culture before and during the Bronze Age, trading metals and other goods along the Atlantic coast, including all of Britain to the farthest Scottish islands, Brittany, France, and possibly Holland and Belgium. Sweden was at one time briefly connected. The Phoenicians became involved by the 9th century BCE. During the 10th century BCE at the latest they’d set up a large port town in Iberia. In the most southwest corner of Portugal a stone tablet was discovered, engraved in a Celtic language using the Phoenician alphabet. It thanks the pan-Celtic God Lug, and dates from 6th century BCE. Our understanding of how the Celtic languages and culture developed is moving quickly away from Hallstatt and looking towards the Atlantic coast.

In the 6th century BCE there was a large power shift in the Mediterranean. The Greeks began competing for the Atlantic coast, as Phoenician ports slowly disappeared, city by city, for several reasons. The Atlantic coast of Portugal and southwest Spain appear to have become part the trade routes of the Mediterranean, while Britain, Ireland, Brittany, and some of the French coast traded amongst themselves. Iberia spoke many different Celtic languages, brought in at separate times. Some near Galicia lived very similar lives as the Pagan Irish, moving twice a year with cattle and building hillforts. The Lebor Gabála Érenn may retain a memory about when those in Spain spoke the same language as the Irish, explaining it in a way that fits with Judeo-Christian mythology.

Selected Bibliography

Alfayé, Silvia, Contexts of Cult in Hispania Celtica, Cult in Context: Reconsidering Ritual in Archaeology, Barrowclough, D.A., & Malone, C. (eds), Oxbow, Oxford (2007)

Cunliffe, Barry, Britain Begins. Oxford University Press (2013)

Cunliffe, Barry, On the Ocean: The Mediterranean and the Atlantic from Prehistory to AD 1500. Oxford University Press (2017)

Cunliffe, Barry, The Ancient Celts. Oxford University Press (1997)

de Milio Carrín, Cristobo, The Widower And The Goddess Or The Closed Door: On the connection between northern and southern Celts (March 2011)

Gibson, Catriona and John Koch, Beakers into Bronze: Tracing connections between Iberia and the British Isles 2800-800 BC, CELTIC FROM THE WEST 2: Rethinking the Bronze Age and the Arrival of Indo-European in Atlantic Europe, John T. Koch and Barry Cunliffe (eds), Oxbow Books (2013)

Gregory, Lady, Gods and Fighting Men: The Story of the Tuatha De Danann and of the Fianna of Ireland. Public Domain (1905)

Haussler, Ralph, Interpretatatio Indigena: Re-Inventing Local Cults in a Global World, Mediterraneo Antico, xv, 1-2 (2012)

Hughes, Kristoffer, The Book of Celtic Magic: Transformative Teachings from the Cauldron of Awen. Llewellyn Publications (2014)

Lang, Sean, British History for Dummies, 3rd ed. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd (2011)

Meyer, Kuno trans., Hail Brigit: An Old-Irish Poem on the Hill of Alenn. Dublin: Hodges, Figgs, and Co. (1912)

Mosenkis, Iurii, Possible Sea Peoples activity in the Lebor Gabála Érenn

Nova Roma,

Online Index to the Lebor Gabála Érenn (Book of Invasions) based on R.A.S. Macalister’s translations and notes,

Ross, Anne. Pagan Celtic Britain. Academy Chicago Publishers, Chicago (1967)

Smyth, Alfred P., Celtic Leinster. Mount Salus Press Ltd. (1982)

Turkilsen, Debbie, An In-depth Analysis of the Lives of Boudica of the Iceni and Queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes

Woodard, Roger D., Indo-European sacred space: Vedic and Roman cult. University of Illinois Press (2006)

Today Only! Donate for LGBTQ (and Pagan) Prisoners!

Thank you for your support today!!

Black&Pink is part of Omaha Gives. Today only, the money you donate, even $10, to Black&Pink could receive bonus funding. “Black and Pink’s mission is to abolish the criminal punishment system and to liberate LGBTQIA2S+ people/people living with HIV who are affected by that system, through advocacy, support, and organizing.”

In no way do I mean to downplay the importance of the hardships of the queer community in prison, such as transgender people having by far the highest rates of rape. In fact a recent study by B&P states that queer persons in prison experience rape 6x more than other prisonersSteel Bars, Sacred Waters made clear that the ancient, highly skilled, ferocious Gauls who controlled most of non-Mediterranean Europe considered homosexuality and bisexuality to be absolutely normal. The Irish Brehon Laws mention homosexuality as a reason for divorce, but has no condemnation of gay people or laws against them, even in its Christian version. 

But aside from all the good B&P does for thousands of queer prisoners, the organization also offers one of the only free penpal services for people who are incarcerated. Many straight or “heteroromantic, bisexual” prisoners who are not racist homophobes receive B&P’s free newsletter and learn about the struggles of the LGBTQ community on the outside and inside prison.

Black&Pink is one of the best places to find a Pagan penpal for that reason. On their potential penpal list, if you go to the little drop down menu and choose Wiccan or Pagan to narrow your penpal search, you’ll find the more open minded Pagan prisoners and avoid a white supremacist gang banger who firmly believes that Hitler was Heathen – even though Hitler put all occultists in Concentration Camps, made several strong anti-Heathenry statements and thought that Islam was a much better suited religion for Germans than any other. Yep, you’ll even find Norse Heathens at Black&Pink. 

You don’t have to be an anti-capitalist or for total prison abolition and punitive justice abolition to become a penpal through Black&Pink. You certainly don’t have to be queer – I’m a pretty vanilla monogamous straight woman. (Being a person with disabilities does make my sex life very non-heteronormative, however.) Most prisoners just want someone to acknowledge that they still exist to the outside world. If they exist out here, they have a much greater chance of hope for their futures. This reflects in behavior and can help them get parole sooner and stay out of prison. When on the outside, they’ll be at Pagan festivals, Pagan Pride Day, Pagan shops and other events where you will meet them, so why not start getting to know them now?

So now you have lots of reasons to donate! The link is at Omaha Gives

“What is Omaha Gives? 
A giant, 24-hour giving drive that happens once a year in Omaha, NE (where our national offices moved to in 2018). All day long donations are able to be made to various nonprofits, including Black and Pink, with opportunities for bonus funding drawings! No matter where you are in the world, YOU can give today. You do not have to live in Omaha.

“Black & Pink is an open family of LGBTQ prisoners and “free world” allies who support each other. Our work toward the abolition of the prison industrial complex is rooted in the experience of currently and formerly incarcerated people. We are outraged by the specific violence of the prison industrial complex against LGBTQ people, and respond through advocacy, education, direct service, and organizing.

“Our organizing efforts are guided by a larger goal of collective liberation. We hold strong to a feminist, anti-racist, queer liberationist, anti-capitalist, radical analysis of social, ecological, and economic struggles. We understand the prison industrial complex to be part of a larger system that utilizes systems of oppression to divide people and exploit our individual and collective power. Through movement building and sustained direct action against these systems of violence we will create the world we dream of.

“We also celebrate in the beauty of what exists now including our love for each other, the strength of our planet, incredible human resiliency, and all of the power we have to continue existing. While dreaming and struggling for a better world we embody a deep commitment to living in the present.

“We root our work in the experience of currently and formerly incarcerated people. To best maintain an accountable relationship to incarcerated people, half of those in the leadership circle are currently incarcerated. We also prioritize the voices of formerly incarcerated people as our “free-world” members of the leadership circle. We know that those most impacted by the violence of the prison industrial complex are best equipped with the knowledge of how to tear it down.

“As of today Black & Pink’s “free-world” membership is primarily Boston-based. We commit to supporting one another, sharing the work of our organizing efforts, and nurturing the growth of our family both inside and outside the walls. We intend to expand our national and international membership, creating chapters in other cities, towns, schools, neighborhoods, etc.”

(If you are wondering why liberal or conservative groups don’t offer anything to prisoners, ask them. It’s not my fault that only socialist and anarchist types are willing to do immerse unpaid work for the least fortunate.)

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Celtic Festival Calender: Mercuralia & Lugus


As Celtic people conquered by the Romans adapted their religion to that of the Empire’s, I have begun honoring using the Roman calender as a guide for when to honor Celtic deities. There’s no real way to make direct correlation between the two pantheons; Celtic Gods tend to be tribal hero kings (and possibly first ancestors) who are great at everything, and Celtic Goddesses often hold power over the fertility and death of the tribe’s land, water, livestock, and human members, especially the king. However, to unify the Empire, other peoples’ deities were called by Roman names. It’s now thought that the Celts had more power in deciding what Roman deity to choose than formerly believed. The Celts transformed aspects of Roman religion to fit their own cosmology and over the course of a few generations new versions of Celtic religion appeared.

Whether or not any Celtic people worshiped their tribal deities on dates of Roman Festivals then, Celtic polytheism is still adapting. Most Celts would have known the deities of their tribe and (if in one) their larger federation. These were personal, connected to place and ancestry, and a large part of one’s identity. Today we don’t know a lot about the majority of Celtic deities (although we have over 400 names), but most modern Celtic polytheists have their own pantheons of a larger geographical region and period of time. Even a Gaelic polytheist worshiping the Tuatha De Danann is doing something quite modern, as tribes worshiped the deities of their part of Ireland. The Roman calendar is an easy way to plan rituals for those Gaulish, Iberian and Brythonic deities who were matched with a Roman deity. I began this with the most popular Celtic God most people have never heard of, Telesphorus; then Lenus, Neto, Rudianos, Cocidius, and Nemetona March 1st; and last month Ataegina and Erecura.

On May 15, or the full moon of May, Roman merchants honored the God Mercury with the Mercuralia festival. An interesting thing about Mercury is that the Gauls worshiped Him even more ardently than the Romans. He was easily one of the most popular, if not the most popular, deities in Gaul. He was sometimes associated with a Celtic God, but in general the Gauls embraced Him as Himself.

There are records of Gaulish merchants hiring Roman artisans to make large statues of Mercury. It may be that these merchants brought the cult to their own communities. How Mercury was understood and worshiped at this time would have probably been a very Gaulish way. Some knowledge of the God didn’t mean that the merchant had a great wealth of information about Roman religious practices or mythology. Mercury was most likely growing into a Gallic deity while around them the world of the Gauls grew more Roman. Gaul was thriving with import-export business, and tribes who controlled major rivers were in a powerful position. Trade with Britain was not new, as goods crossed the Channel to and from southeast England to the Rhine River. The Romans built cities like London and their famous roads which made markets and transportation to other parts on Britain (including troops stationed at Hadrian’s Wall) much easier. One reason why Julius Caesar was so eager to conquer Gaul was to get their precious metal mines. Celtic fabric quickly became popular in Rome. Mercury as the God of not only commerce but also transportation, was the backbone of the strength of Gaul. Still, to the Romans, He was generally viewed as primarily the messenger of the deities.

Most scholars associate Mercury with Lug/ Lugus, who was widely worshiped by many Celtic peoples: the Celtiberians, the Luggones of Spain, the Gauls, the Gaels, and the Britons. Lug and Odin seem to have an ancient connection, going back perhaps 4,000 years to a group of Indo-European people in or near the Czech Republic who would later become the Germans and the Celts. Linguistically the two Gods have quite a lot in common at this point from the spear to having or closing one eye. Also Lug’s mythology from Ireland and Wales (as Lugh and Lleu) has strong connections with myths about Odin. (Steel Bars, Sacred Waters has more in depth information.)

Starting with Lugus (pronounced “LOO-guss”), His companion Rosmerta and another Celtic deity associated with Mercury named Cissonius (pronounced: kiss-SOH-nee-us) the carriage driver are described. As we don’t have much information about the Mercuralia, use your imagination while working with knowledge of Celtic ritual.

From Steel Bars, Sacred Waters:

Lugus was worshiped by the Gauls but rarely by that name. When first describing the deities of the Gauls, Julius Caesar wrote in De Bello Gallico that the Roman God Mercury was their most important God. (When the Romans wrote about other peoples’ deities they used the names of the Roman ones that best matched the local deities. It helped hold a multicultural society together.) Important Lugus became so strongly associated with the Roman God Mercury that Mercury actually did become the most popular deity for the Roman Gaulish people! Mercury rules over trade, travel, communication and commerce, plus he invented the arts. The Southern Gauls actually had accepted Hermes, the earlier Greek version of Mercury, into their culture centuries before Caesar visited, so in a way Mercury was not really a new God to those Gauls.

“Some Gaulish Mercury statues showed him with three faces (which happens with other Gaulish Gods, signifying great strength) and three phalluses. Sometimes he is portrayed bearded and older than the Roman Mercury. Armed with a spear, he was often with the Celtic Goddess Rosmerta. His symbols are a herald’s staff and a money-bag; his animal familiars are goats, sheep and roosters, all of which became new popular animal sacrifices. He sometimes appears with the horned serpent, normally associated with Cernunnos.

“His name is found in Western European city names: Lugdunum (“fort of Lugus”), which was the capital of the Roman province of Gallia Lugdunensis (today Lyon, France); Carlisle, England, which was once Luguvalium; Loudoun in Scotland; Leiden in the Netherlands; Dinlleu in Wales; Lothian in Scotland; and Lugones in Spain. That was once in the territory of the Luggones, one of the 21 tribes of Asturians. There are many personal names linked to Lugus. One is Llewellyn. His own name, however, is rarely written down, even with Mercury. Some scholars believe that the many places with “his name” were really just “brilliant.” His name also may be connected to “oath,” such as putting an oath of destiny on someone. (“I swear you will….”)

“Lugus was also popular with the Celtiberians, especially in the mountains. Three inscriptions of a plural version of his name, the Lugoves, were found in Spain. One inscription, “L. L. Urcico dedicated this, sacred to the Lugoves, to the guild of shoemakers,” interests many scholars because the Brythonic God Lleu in the Mabinogi was a shoemaker. Lleu and the Gaelic Lugh, who has all the skills, are believed to be connected with Lugus.

“The Gaulish Mercury had mountain tops dedicated to him. They were called Mercurii Montes and included Montmartre, the Puy de Dôme, and the Mont de Sène.”

From Steel Bars, Sacred Waters:

Rosmerta (“the Great Provider”) is the Celtic companion of the Roman God Mercury. Celtic religion required the pairing of a God with a Goddess, but they did not have to be married. Rosmerta, being older, may have been considered Mercury’s mother. She is a mature Goddess who was worshiped in all the Celtic lands in the Roman Empire, being most popular in northern and eastern Gaul. She shared Mercury’s symbols – a winged staff with snakes, a purse, a winged diadem (instead of his winged hat), a rooster or ram – but she also held cornucopias and offering dishes. Her dress is modest and her face serious. She may have a connection to prophecy, but her worshipers knew her best as the provider of material well-being.”

(Viducus Brigantici filius has a beautiful monthly ritual honoring Rosmerta in Steel Bars, Sacred Waters.)

From Steel Bars, Sacred Waters:

Cissonius is a Gaulish God of trade and protecting travelers. Cissonius was the second most common name for the Gaulish Mercury. In Switzerland, southern Germany and France 17 inscriptions of his name have been found. Cissonius had two different forms. One was typical of Mercury: the young man with the winged helmet and staff. The other was as a man with a beard wearing a helmet who rode a ram while carrying a cup of wine.”

Senobessus Bolgon offers more on the role of Cissonius in Gaulish Reconstructionist Paganism, as well as another deity commonly associated with Mercury, Visucius.

I personally wonder about the influence of Hermes on the Gaulish understanding of Mercury. Early writing about the Celts said they were master magi, nearly obsessed with magic, and Hermes has a strong history as a God of magic. Sorcerer (and master of everything else worth doing) Lugh performs the one eye Crane Position. Lleu is the maternal nephew (or son) of the greatest sorcerer of Wales Gwydion, Himself the maternal nephew of Math, King of Gwynedd and another fabulous magician.

Selected Bibliography

Davies, Sioned, editor and translator, The Mabinogion. Oxford World’s Classics (2007)

Ewing, John Thor, The Birth of Lugh – Óðinn and Loki among the Celts, Sinsear 8, University College Dublin (1995)

Gregory, Lady, Gods and Fighting Men: The Story of the Tuatha De Danann and of the Fianna of Ireland. Public Domain (1905)

Haussler, Ralph, How to identify Celtic religion(s) in Roman Britain and Gaul, Divinidades indigenas em analise, J. d’Encarnacao (ed), (2008)

Haussler, Ralph, Interpretatatio Indigena: Re-Inventing Local Cults in a Global World, Mediterraneo Antico, xv, 1-2 (2012)

Hyllested, Adam, The Precursors of Celtic and Germanic, Proceedings of the 21st Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference (2010)

Nova Roma,

Rhys, John, Celtic Folklore: Welsh and Manx. Oxford University Press (1901)

Sjoestedt, Marie-Louise, translated by Myles Dillon, Celtic Gods and Heroes. Dover (2000)

Viducus Brigantici filius, Deo Mercurio,

Slow Jams Oral Expressions (pen pal advice)

If you have a penpal in prison who has access to a radio, they probably know about Sunday Night Slow Jams DJed (and practically everything else done) by R Dub!. Slow Jams plays current and past R&B and hip hop love songs nationwide and in 13 other countries.

The show is famous for its Oral Expressions, where lovers’, family members’ and friends’ messages are played. There’s no “shout outs” – an Oral Expression has a clear format:

“This is (your full name) in (city and state). My oral expression is for (your pen pal’s name without the name of the prison). (Your message; example:) I hope you have a great Summer Solstice! Thanks for being my friend. Many blessings!”

You can re-record your oral expression up to 5 times. You can leave an oral expression every day in hopes that one will be chosen for the show Sunday Night. The toll free phone number in the US is 1-877-209-0631. 

Here are some hints on how to get your Oral Expressions on the air from R Dub!, and here’s my own guesses:

I think that being in a very low population area in the whitest state which also has the 2nd eldest population (ie people probably not aware of Slow Jams) gives me a slight edge. Naturally, Slow Jams wants to represent everywhere the show airs. Although they receive 10,000 Oral Expressions each week from which to choose, if most are from the West coast that week and you  live on the East coast, your odds of being chosen are probably higher. Every week is going to be different, so taking the 3 minutes to leave an Oral Expression each week is worth it.

You don’t have to worry that it will seem romantic if your pen pal knows up front that you don’t want romance and sexual content, and your message isn’t romantic. R Dub! commented on one woman’s oral expression to her male best friend, noting that you don’t hear a lot about men and women being friends. He seemed quite happy about their friendship, so he may want to air more of those. It is often very difficult for men who recently left prison to know how to speak to women and children. Your friendship teaches them how to be friends with women while in prison which is really helpful. 

Oral Expressions is a good way for your pen pal to hear your voice. Of course, it’s really reaffirming that they exist in the outside world, too, when they hear their names.

Remember that the Christian holidays are going to get more callers, while Pagan holy times will not. Wishing  your pen pal a happy Winter Nights, Beltain, Games of Apollo, Oshun’s Festival, or Imbolc is a nice way to let the many other Pagans know that Pagans do care about prisoners.

Make sure that you told your pen pal that you’re doing this, so they’ll be listening. I would first ask if they listen to Sunday Night Slow Jams. There’s not much in the way of national radio shows anymore so Slow Jams has a big following in prison. However, if they can’t hear the radio or modern hate R&B, it’s not worth doing.