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, there’s a blog with all sorts of posts like the Northumbrian Runes in context of The Old North, 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, 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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“Standard Manufactured Pantheons”: Prisoner’s Book Review Challenges Neo-Pagans

I received a really cool, interesting letter from a Pagan in prison who had received a free copy of Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners. He’d been Pagan for about 15 years, with a focus in Ceremonial Magick but like most people in prison, studies anything he can.

He’s integrated parts of the book into his practice and was especially interested in the great deal of historical information. He wanted to know why this information isn’t in other Pagan Polytheist books. In his words:

“I don’t understand how lots of the Neo-Pagans I know, know virtually nothing about these deities (in your book). They all seem only to know the standard manufactured pantheons. If spirituality is very important to them, shouldn’t they try to devour all the knowledge they can about the deities of their paths besides the ‘uses ‘ for deities?”

What he especially liked about Steel Bars, Sacred Waters is the history of the deities. Telesphorus actually was his example, possibly the most well known Celtic God no one knows, as I said in my Festival of Telesphorus post.

Here we have a God so loved in Gaul, He traveled to Turkey and was worshiped by the Celtic Galatians and adopted by the Greeks. He’s even included in the Hellenistic pantheon and given Greek deities for family. Centuries later the Romans bring this healer God back West to the Gauls. Obviously, this is a God Who gets things done. There’s statues of Him (one included in the book) with His pointy Gaulish cap. Anyone who studies Greek mythology should  understand His importance and consider how many ways people worshiped this important deity.

And why don’t Celtic Pagans know about this God? Why do all the books bring out the same ones, often contradicting each other? Don’t people care about history? There’s over 160 deities in Steel Bars, Sacred Waters, put into historical context. The book explains ways of worship that he found helpful, especially the different essays about sacrifice and offerings. There were enough suggestions for him to understand the attitude behind it and ways even someone with no income and barely any food could make them.

The polytheist scene has been fighting to make sure that people worship deities and don’t treat them like bottles granting magic wishes. The idea of worship and devotion has become more mainstream. And although all reconstructionists have been saying “Read the source material,”  for most people that was difficult unless Heathen because the Prose Edda, Poetic Edda and H R Ellis-Davidson’s very helpful book Gods and Myths of Northern Europe are often at libraries, available cheap or even free online. You can FIND Norse mythology.

There’s no book of the Gaelic Mythological Cycle. It’s a collection of messy pseudo -history, going back to Noah and the Bible. Same for the ogham alphabet. And the fact that I explained this and some of the variations in medieval manuscripts, the Celtic most popular but rarely understood “source material”, is something that readers appreciated.

Heathenry became really popular when easy to read books on the deities, rituals and cosmology were easy to buy. Meanwhile, Celtic Reconstructionism never produced a scholarly book for the masses who were interested. People have told me that they wanted to follow a CR path, but couldn’t figure out how, so they became Heathen. (Also, there was no pronunciation guide for deity names.) CR folks could be vicious about cultural misappropriation of Celtic culture and books about Celtic Wicca, Celtic Shamanism and other things that the Celts never had – and yet aside from Erynn Rowan Laurie’s wonderful ogham book Weaving Word Wisdom, no one ever wrote a book on what CR was.

It’s hard to find Greek/ Hellenistic Reconstruction, Kemetic Reconstruction or Roman Reconstruction books, too. I gather bits off Wikipedia, blogs, and my own history books to send to people in prison who want to learn about those traditions.

The Internet is wonderful for finding academic papers, and barely OK for finding blogs or websites where scholarly knowledge about the deities and their worship have been written for the average Pagan. We really NEED books – actual books people without the Internet can read. The bar has to be set higher. Instead of talking down to readers with Wiccan, Druidry and Witchcraft rehashes, let’s assume that they’ve already read the original books, the best books, and give them something new.

Why is there no Gaulish Reconstruction book, but there’s online discussion groups and a few blogs – either dead or slowly beginning? I’m guessing that the idea of an anthology without strict dogma doesn’t appeal to people who all have their own ways to do the religion. Of course, that reality of diversity would make it a much more realistic, inspiring and helpful book. (That guess is just based on the old, disintegrated Gaelic Reconstruction scene.)

Please, self publish. Amazon’s CreateSpace and Kindle Direct merged. Steel Bars, Sacred Waters is a mammoth size book and costs less than $8 a copy. It’s available at Amazon in Europe and North America. They take a chunk, which is why I can sell it here directly from Gullveig Press for less and still have almost enough to mail a copy to prison. Aside from your book being much less expensive than if you used Lulu, most people in prison can receive books from Amazon, but not “self published” – and that’s important! 1 in 1000 Americans are incarcerated Pagans and they want good informative books. The average prisoner has an 8th grade education (which is why dictionaries are so in demand), but you can explain important, lofty information in simple language and shorter sentences, especially with maps and other visuals. Steel Bars, Sacred Waters monthly devotion to Rosmerta and 3 page guide to Gaulish history by Viducus Brigantici filius are amazing proof of this.

 

Celtic Festival Calender: Matres, Matronae, Modron – the Swedish Disirblot & Roman Parentalia

Throughout the year you’ll find blog posts that connect Celtic deities to festivals in other cultures when there is a historical reason to do so. Most of them are based on the Roman deities’ festivals that correspond to the Celtic deities associated with them, like Minvera and Sulis, or Mercury and Lug. This one is a bit different. My hope is that it will encourage people who want to be Gaulish, British and Iberian Celtic polytheists to do SOMETHING to honor those deities. A simple offering, chanting Their name, visualizing Their culture, reciting invocations by  Hester Butler-Ehle and me from Steel Bars, Sacred Waters – whatever works to make the first move. We may not have mythology for These deities, but we know quite a bit about their temperaments and importance. The rest will come if we ask for it. Deity names are in bold so you can scan for ones who interest you.

The old calendar of the Norse doesn’t line up with our current calendar. This is a problem with finding proper dates for any ancient festivals. Either they used the Julian Roman calender or had a lunar-solar calendar, and solved the problem of extra days in their own ways, like the way we add a day every 4th year or “Leap Year.” Even though the Swedish Disirblot was in the month similar to March, it appears that the Sacrifice for the Divine Mothers was held in February.

Some scholars believe that the Disir come directly from the Matres, meaning “Mothers” and pronounced “MAH-tress,” and the Matronae, pronounced “mah-TROH-nee” meaning “matrons.” They were worshiped in northwest Europe from the 1st to 5th century CE, with over 1,100 inscriptions and depictions of them. There’s quite a lot of information about the Matres in Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners (available here for less than Amazon), so I won’t explain who They are beyond this:

Like many deities in the Roman Era of Celtic polytheism (and probably before, but we have no written inscriptions from then), the Matres were honored by both German and Celtic people. The two cultures were not very different, especially in the Belgae region of modern Holland and Belgium, which appears to have been a Celto-Germanic transitional region. Many Germans served in the Roman military with Gauls, often stationed in Britain together, creating more religious bonds.

The first difference between most Indo-European religions and those of the Celtic, German and Finnish/Estonian linguistic groups had already formed about 4,000 years ago, before there even was a proto-Celtic language. Some basic cosmological elements and many ritual practices were firmly established in those similar cultures. And almost all Indo-European cultures have triple Goddesses of destiny, either as mothers/ helpful guides or hags cursing men heading to battle.

The Matres were worshiped as the Mothers of a place, tribe or function. About half of Their many inscriptions and shrines are German. The Mothers usually have scarves wrapped around their heads with the long ends twisted to make a wide brim, sometimes with a veil covering the neck. Iron Age Germanic and Celtic women wore these same head dresses, with slight regional differences. Sometimes one has Her hair down, showing that She is not married. The Matres are the most popular deities on record. For the Celts, They survive in the Welsh Mabinogi as Modron. For the Germanic tribes who returned north, they became the Disir.

(There are examples of Germanic Matres in this post.)

Iceland has its own Disirblot, but it is in autumn, and the Anglo-Saxons have Mothers Night December 24. Ancient Europeans tended to celebrate the solstice (“stand still”) when the sun stopped standing still and began its movement in the other direction. Christmas and St John’s Eve (Midsummer) took the place of any native Celtic solstice festivals. We only know the name of Mothers Night, not anything about what it meant or what people did. The Saxons, perhaps the last Pagan Germanic tribe in German Europe, would have known the Matres. The Angles probably did as well, with modern Denmark bordering the Belgae territory, and some of the North Sea Germanic tribes involved in Celtic politics and possibly shared rituals. After all, the Alci, long assumed to be Germanic deities on the North Sea, are linguistically Celtic and are found in Celtic Iberia as well.

If we remove the history of the incredibly popular Matres, it would seem as though the Disir come out of nowhere. In general, modern Heathens and Northern Tradition Pagans believe them to be the female ancestors. Many “soul parts” or qualities are passed down by ancestors in Germanic cosmology, including luck, so the Disir have many roles. In some ways they are similar to the personal Norns we are said to have. Some Pagans include Goddesses in the Disir, and if you are spiritually part of a culture that believes it descends from their deities like the Norse or Japanese (and possibly some Celtic tribes), especially the ruling class, honoring Goddesses as your mothers makes sense. Freya is called Vanadis, “ancestor/mother of the Vanir” or perhaps “matriarch of the Vanir” better describes Her role. The Yngling dynasty, some of my ancestors, descend from Ingvi-Frey. Iron Age Germans understood that they all descended from the three sons of (very proto-Indo-European named) Mannus, Ing (Ingvi-Frey), Herman (Odin) and one whose name and myths are lost to us. (Mannus we can learn all about in the pieced together PIE myth of the first ancestor and first Priest.) Rig (Heimdall setting the people into the class system and bringing the runes to the ruling class) is considered another father of the people.

The Matres are Mothers and They are Goddesses, so again, there’s really no difference between female ancestors (or at least some of the most powerful who chose to stick around, looking after their kin) and deities. Who you choose to honor as your female ancestors is a personal choice. If you have given yourself to a Goddess to serve, She may be a Mother, depending on your relationship. Some Goddesses I will naturally call “Mother” or “Mom” usually before Their names, as is common in some types of Africa Diaspora Religion.

You might wonder why a patriarchal society doesn’t have any records of a holy tide for the male ancestors. The most common theory seems to be that like troll, alf (elf) is a very versatile word. Snorri has them organized in 3 Heavens like the Christianity of His time did with angels. Mythology just tells us that, like Vanaheim, the world of elves was not created by Odin and His 2 brothers/ aspects of Himself. The elves are ruled by the Vanir God Frey who received their world as a gift to celebrate when he got teeth, which would have been before He met the Aesir.

Frey in His mortal form ruled over a time of peace and prosperity and was buried in a mound. People kept paying their tribute/ taxes to the mound. The Alfar as Anglo-Saxon elves are associated with the land; important men were buried in mounds on family land so their descendants could claim it; Frey rules the Alfar; Frey as the best king was buried and offerings were still paid in tribute to his grave mound – and so the Alfar can mean the male ancestors as well as the species of Otherworldly beings brought to the Tree of the Worlds by the Vanir. While the male ancestors stay and defend the family land which is their gift to their descendants, the Disir are able to travel with their descendants.

Of course, 1/4 to 1/3 of Norwegians during the Vikings Age were slaves and did not inherit anything from their fathers, so perhaps that added to the importance of the Mothers. Also, many Swedish people were traveling east along the Baltic, even down the Volga river into Russia, named for their red hair, and to the Byzantine Empire where they became Christian mercenaries. These people would rarely or never see their family land again and so the Disir would be especially important.

Originally it seems that the Swedish festival was a couple weeks long. People would have traveled to it, including merchants, and along with animal sacrifices to the Disir, there would have been much socializing. These festivals were a rare opportunity to meet potential spouses outside of your tiny village. Today there is still a Disir market held for a few days.

It’s a good time to honor the Matres if you don’t follow this Norse custom. The Vikings who settled Dublin became Gaels very quickly, while the ones who settled the Scottish Islands changed the Gaels into the Norse. Scotland is an exciting mixture of both cultures. Many Norse words, especially about sailing, joined the Scots Gaelic language. Fairy mythology changed – instead of the Fairy Kingdoms of Ireland, Scotland had Elf Queens. A group of Scottish Fairies battled the Helka Faeries over the ocean, to help sailors.

Helka is the main active volcano in Iceland. In the early medieval era, Helka blew so much lava over the land and smoke into the sky, people across Europe considered it the gateway to Hell, which is how it got its name. There are Heathen Era images of Thor with the water serpent, an ancient proto-Indo-European myth, but the fires consuming the world, years of dark winter, and brother turning against brother – that’s Helka the volcano, who had (and still has) a history of destruction by fire and skies dark, causing the starving and homeless to fight for resources. The sudden change in Loki‘s role as ultimately helpful trickster and doer of Odin‘s dirty work (stealing Freya‘s necklace, for example) to bringer of death and destruction in Ragnarok may be explained by the addition of the devastating volcanic eruptions to Icelandic life. Ragnarok may be a modern myth. Certainly there were no volcanoes in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germania or the other lands Germanic language speakers settled (often marrying into families of the place and losing their Norse culture, so they weren’t ever ethnicity obsessed xenophobes).

Centuries earlier, the Romans were holding rituals for their own ancestors in February. It’s not connected to the timing of the Swedish Disirblot, but Celts and Germans living in the Roman Empire may have also honored their ancestors, perhaps the Matres. February 13 to 21st was the Parentalia, a private rite to appease the dead. Temples were closed, marriage was not allowed, and no altar fires burned. A Vestal Virgin started the Parentalia by pouring a libation to the dead. Families gathered at the family tomb to perform private rituals and make offerings.

“The tomb is honored. Placate the souls of your ancestors and bear small gifts to the tombs. The Dark Shades seek little, they prefer devotion over a costly gift, the spirits who live below are not greedy.” (Ovid Fasti 2.537)

While the Parentalia was private, the Feralia on February 21 was public. Temples were still closed so people could focus on the dead. Ovid instructed, “And the grave must be honoured. Appease your fathers’ Spirits, and bring little gifts to the tombs you built. Let the altars be free of incense, the hearths without fire. Now ghostly spirits and the entombed dead wander, Now the shadow feeds on the nourishment that’s offered.”

Then on the 22nd the Cara Cognatio, or the Festival to Caring Kin, honored the living family and household deities. It was like a potluck dinner, where the family restored the peace between its members.

“Our ancestors established a ceremonial feast and called it the Caristia, to which nobody but relatives and in-laws is invited, so that, if any quarrel had arisen among the kinsfolk, it might be resolved at the sacred rites of the meal, and harmony was established among those in the company fostering harmony.” (Valerius Maximus 2.1.8).

The household deities received offerings of grain, honey, cakes, wine, grapes, incense and flowers. Together the family prayed for peace among them, while praising the deities.

As the Matres were part of Roman Celtic and Roman Germanic culture, perhaps the Matres were honored during February.

Whatever your tradition, the collective energy of Disirblot and the Parentalia built up over centuries makes this a great time to honor your female ancestors and Goddesses or other spirits who are your mother(s) as well. As the Matres (and Modron) have no known date for their worship, perhaps now could be that time.

Selected Bibliography

Albertsson, Alaric, Travels Through Middle Earth: the Path of a Saxon Pagan. Llewellyn Publications (2009)

Bane, Teresa, Encyclopedia of Fairies in World Folklore and Mythology. McFarland & Company, Inc (2013)

Beck, Noémie, Goddesses in Celtic Religion: Cult and Mythology: A Comparative Study of Ancient Ireland, Britain and Gaul, University Lyons, http://theses.univlyon2.fr/documents/lyon2/2009/beck_n#p=0&q=RDG&a=title

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

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

Danka, Ignacy Ryszard & Witczak, Krzysztof Tomasz, DEIS EQLTL\LBO The Divinę Twins in Asturia, Dimensions and Categories of Celticity: Studies in Language, Piotr Stalmaszczyk & Maxim Fomin (eds) (2009)

Davidson, H R Ellis, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. Pelican Books (1964)

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

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

Grömer, Karina, “Textile Materials and Techniques in Central Europe in the 2nd and 1st Millennia BC” Textile Society of America Symposium Proceedings (2014).

Hall, Alaric, Elves in Anglo-Saxon England: Matters of Belief, Health, Gender and Identity. Boydell Press (2007)

Henderson, George, The Norse Influence on Celtic Scotland. AlbaCraft Publishers (1910, 2013)

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

Lafayllve, Patricia, A Practical Heathen’s Guide to Asatru. Llewellyn Publications (2013)

Lecouteux, Claude, Encyclopedia of Norse and German folklore, mythology, and magic, Jon Graham trans. Michael Moynihan editor. Inner Traditions (2016)

McCaffrey, Carmel & Eaton, Leo, In Search of Ancient Ireland. New Amsterdam Books (2002)

McNeil, F. Marion, The Silver Bough vol. 1: Scottish Folk-Lore and Folk-Belief. Scottish Arts Council (1957-1968)

Nova Roma, http://www.novaroma.org/nr/Roman_religion

Noyer, Rolf, PIE Dieties and the Sacred, Proto-Indo-European Language and Society

Pennick, Nigel, Pagan Magic of the Northern Tradition: Customs, Rites, and Ceremonies. Destiny Books (2015)

Rankin, David & d’Este, Sorita, The Isles of Many Gods: An A-Z of the Pagan Gods & Goddesses worshipped in Ancient Britain during the first Millennium CE through the Middle Ages. Avalonia (2007)

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

Serith, Ceisiwr, Deep Ancestors: Practicing the Religion of the Proto-Indo-Europeans. ADF Druidry (2007)

Short, William R., Icelanders in the Viking Age: The People of the Sagas. McFarland & Company (2010)

Simek, Rudolf, Dictionary of Northern Mythology. Woodbridge, D.S. Brewe (2007)

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

Sturluson, Snorri, The Prose Edda, Jesse L Byock trans. Penguin Classics (2005)

Viducus Brigantici filius, Deo Mercurio, http://www.deomercurio.be/en/

The Viking Anthology: Norse Myths, Icelandic Sagas and Viking Chronicles. Bybliotech (2014)

Wodening, Swain, A Handbook on Germanic Heathenry and Theodish Belief, self published (2007)

Woolf, Alex, Amlaib Curaran and the Gael, Medieval Dublun III, Sean Duffy, ed. (2001)

In Gratitude to Brig & How a Goddess Became a Saint

Heather Awen Photo Brig well
St Brigid’s Well somewhere in central Ireland from a windy roadtrip, copyright Heather Awen photo.

Brig saved my life once. I had been misdiagnosed with a psychiatric disorder and drugged out of my mind. In that state I married a psychologically abusive misogynist and fell apart as his control issues and lies strangled me. While on our honeymoon in Ireland I begged to Brig to cure me and give me sanity, tying a rag at Her well in Co. Clare. I’d ignored the psychologists who told me, “Heather, it’s not you, it’s your husband,” but Brig took my request seriously. Within two months he abandoned me, and a year later a rare good psychiatrist (Dr Joe Lasek) immediately said upon meeting me “You don’t have bipolar disorder. It’s ADHD. Let’s taper you off these drugs. If you weren’t hyperactive, you’d be unconscious!”

Heather Awen copyright, St Brigid well
St Brigid’s Well, Co. Clare, copyright Heather Awen photo.

In Brig’s honor I made a Mexican folk Catholic style ex voto. These are art depicting a horrible situation and the Saint who saved them. Usually the person draws the ex voto themselves but some people make a living painting them. Often the pictures are of drunk men hitting women or muggers with guns with the Virgin Mary or another Saint hovering over head. The sacred art is hung in churches as proof of the divine helping mortals.

I made mine a double face, one blue and looking up crying for depression, and one orange and looking down for mania, overlapping each other. Brig took bipolar away by getting me finally to a decent doctor who removed the 10 mood stabilizers, tranquilizers, and antipsychotics and gave me Provigil instead and, much relieved, I happily fell asleep.

ex voto brighid 001
Brig ex voto by Heather Awen copyright

At the top I hung a charm of a wedding couple. I painted the bride red in blood for how suicidal I became in this nightmare of gaslighting smoke and mirrors.

A little bucket (for milk, as She is associated with the abundance of cows) held a page from Alexander Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica Hymns and Incantations (1900) with a prayer to Saint Brid (pronounced “breed” the Scottish version of Her name). A pruned blackberry branch, a bush associated with Brigid, was attached with a red rag (clootie). I made an equal arm cross from Rowan, a tree associated with Brigid, as well. (The rowan was a gift from a friend’s farm after pruning.)

Brig isn’t the only Goddess to save my health. After 10 years of living with Lyme disease and Babesiosis, Freya cured me after I fulfilled a promise She asked for in return. And Brig’s forerunner Brigantia, based on a prayer I wrote to Her for recovery from PTSD, aided a transgender woman in a male prison in her rape recovery, as posted here.

Power & Religion: The Creation of St Brigid

From Steel Bars, Sacred Waters:

“The British Ui Bairrche and Fothairt may have created St. Brigit from the Sovereignty Goddess Brig. The Ui Bairrche tribe were related to Britain’s powerful Brigantes (the tribe of Brigantia). They and their mercenaries, the Fothairt tribe, probably brought their Goddess Brig to Leinster when they migrated. The Fothairt were not originally important in Leinster, but they had the monastery of St. Brigit, which gave them some power by the 7th century. With its obviously Pagan roots of 19 female virgin fire tenders, the monastery was on the Curragh Plain, where originally Pagan horse races and religious activities had been held.

“Even before St. Patrick arrived, Christianity had a small following in Ireland, probably from Roman British tribes settling in Leinster, or through Irish families communicating between Wales and Leinster. Eventually Ulster’s powerful, new Ui Neill dynasty aligned themselves with St. Patrick and the Roman church. Meanwhile, the Ui Bairrche and Fothairt probably brought Christianity to Leinster, which used the native St. Brigit to consolidate its Christian power.

“St. Brigit gives some insight how the newly Christian Irish still understood a Sovereignty Goddess. Unlike Patrick, she never fights Pagans or their Druids. An early hymn starts by calling her Brigit, but then changes her name to Brig when asking for her protection. When Leinster was attacked she was seen in sky, defending her land. Unlike other medieval Irish saints who fasted and renounced the pleasure of the body, Brigit prepared eight miraculous feasts. She fixed the broken chalice of a king, handing it back to him whole. These are aspects of the Sovereignty Goddess and the Pagan king-making ceremony.”

 

Selected Bibliography

Bethu Brigte (Author: unknown), https://celt.ucc.ie//published/T201002/index.html

Byrne, Francis J., Irish Kings and High-Kings. Four Courts Press (2001)

Huth, Christoph and Monika Kondziella, Textile symbolism in Early Iron Age burials, CONNECTING ELITES AND REGIONS: Perspectives on contacts, relations and differentiation during the Early Iron Age Hallstatt C period in Northwest and Central Europe, Robert Schumann & Sasja van der Vaart-Verschoof (ed.) Sidestone Press (2017)

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

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

Heather Awen copyright, Brigid
St Brigid’s Well somewhere in central Ireland on a roadtrip, copyright Heather Awen photo. (Friend said “It looks like a Black Sabbath album cover” LOL)

 

Resource: 1 in 6, help for men who were sexually abused as children and teenagers

There’s a really important resource for those of us who work with or have pen pals in prison: 1 in 6. 1 in 6 is the (low) estimate of the number of men who were sexually abused or raped as children or teenagers by adults – including far more women than society wants to think. Actually, why doesn’t EVERYBODY check out the 1 in 6 website right now? I promise that this blog post will be waiting for you. This is such an important issue that receives so little practical support, why not get educated so you can be part of the solution? If you are a man who is a survivor or the partner of one, 1 in 6 offers actual help: Free and anonymous chat-based support groups for male survivors of sexual abuse or assault—and partners of men—who are seeking a community of support. Each group meets weekly and is facilitated by a counselor.” 

As young women, my friends and I often shared our own experiences of childhood sexual abuse and rape, often with nervous laughter, a defiant look, or a dead, numb look and tone. It’s usually a sign we haven’t processed and integrated it. Very few of us at that stage will call it what it was – rape, incest, assault. We just tell the event(s) like out of context stories, often drunk at the end of Girls’ Night Out. My generation, Gen X, was taught rape was a stranger with a knife or gun in a park at night and had various ways of protecting ourselves. In reality, those ways, including self defense classes, didn’t address the biggest problem: almost 90% of those who experience sexual violence knew the person who did it – often very well. We had no language for it and then somewhere in our 30s, often when raising children who are around the age we were when violated, the word finally bashes its way into our consciousness: rape. And nothing is ever the same again.

I’ve heard transgender friends share their childhood sexual abuse truths with the same dull voice that comes from repeating it to therapists like rote memorization, too. It’s not an event that skips or chooses queer, trans, cisgenger, straight, class, lookist, race, faith or any other people.

This includes cisgender men – hetro, gay, bi, ace and whatever other labels used for sexuality.

I don’t know if I’m unusual in being the “only person that I’ve ever told” for so many men. Women tell me about their horrible experiences, too, very quickly. I think I give off a “harmless” vibe. (Male friends say I confused them with how easy it was to talk to me and feel safe, even if attracted to me.) Maybe I am so ADHD open about myself, it’s contagious. Or people can tell I don’t ever assume anyone would go through the Hell of claiming something that can temporarily destroy their life (community support for survivors is usually nil) and have it be a lie. The effects live in the survivors, while the rapists and paedophiles almost always seem to bounce back to their regular life. Maybe raping is their regular life. With 1 in 4 women raped, especially 1 in 5 raped in the US military by a “fellow” American soldier, and the 1 in 3 women who have been raped being raped by a group of men, you’d think that we’d all know lots of rapists. Add this 1 in 6 when it comes to men, we really should all know tons of rapists.

We do. It’s just that people don’t want to believe that their friends and family members could be rapists. I had a husband confess to me that he raped someone – and he didn’t even see it as rape. Evidently she was now feeling strong enough to tell people. He told me first, saying in a disgusted tone, “We were practically having sex, and SHE SAID NO, but at that point, what did it matter? We’d already done other stuff.” My heart froze and head went numb. He left the country soon after this and years later I read the online that he was sexually assaulting women, and I certainly don’t doubt them. Sisters harmed by him, I’m sorry, and I got your backs.

But did I connect the word “rapist” to a husband I suddenly hated? To someone who literally fell off of my respect radar? No, strangely, I didn’t. “She said no” were his exact words and that he didn’t care. Rapist. That an otherwise intelligent, progressive man who even did half the housework without me asking would do such a thing didn’t quite click. Maybe I was in shock. I only cried once in our break up and divorce, and always wondered why I wasn’t feeling as nearly distraught as I had been over my old boyfriend in that that break up. 

 It would not be until my second marriage, hearing my new husband – a “salt of the earth” guy – talk angrily about how he should have had sex with his passed out prom date because she’d said they’d have sex that I thought RAPE. I sat on the couch watching him clench his teeth in rage about not taking an opportunity to rape someone, and my own experience of being raped started churning deep inside, fighting to get away from him. I thought I was crazy. The more misogynistic he revealed himself to be, the more a person who wanted to rape and said felt little control around 14 year old girls (the age I was when raped by someone I trusted completely in all matters, including to respect the fact that I wanted to stay a virgin), the more my subconscious and consciousness minds fought, bringing me to a nervous breakdown.

As I did rape recovery work, I started wondering not about my friends who in their teens and 20s spoke of their rapes as if they were normal pieces in a Norman Rockwell painting puzzle that wouldn’t quite fit, but about why no guys stopped these rapes. Many girls were raped in public, like a friend who was passed out in back of a truck where all the high school kids were tailgating (except there was no game; trucks in graveyards or parked along Main Street was there all the town’s action happened). While passed out, a guy raped her as (she learned later) others cheered him on. Or in situations, like where a friend was offered a ride home from a party by two male friends when she was fifteen and was raped, where two or more guys rape a girl they know and will see every school day; how did it never eat away at one of them? Where are all these men now? Our co-workers, our neighbors, people in our religious and political communities – are they haunted? Do they try to block the memories? Are they afraid, like my rapist, that because there’s no statue of limitations on raping someone underage in that state, that at any time their victims could all tell the police now? My rape is filled with various rape related agencies. His wife, saying I wanted it in writing, collaborates with all the other evidence. The thing is, his life is so terrible, for now, I’d rather let him live in fear. The combination of crystal meth and now methadone has ravaged his body and he’s universally hated (often behind the back) by everyone I’ve ever met who knows him. His wife’s family, including a rather popular blueglass roots band, disowned her for marrying him. 

I had known a Cornell University student of poetry whose predicted brilliant career kept being disrupted by stays at state mental hospitals, then alcoholism, and finally suicide. His mother had sexually abused him. In the 80s, before the book Courage to Heal (written just for women) even was published, there were almost no resources for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and certainly nothing for men – especially men who were violated by women, and even less for those who lived through incest by the mother.

The Goddess Spiritually movement really helped me as a teenager to process what of my rape I’d allow myself to name. Mostly I was enraged and for a year my body – almost independently of my mind – physically attacked every man I knew who treated women poorly. This included the man who raped me. A local saying was “Where Heather goes, bruised shins are sure to follow.” But the Goddess Spirituality movement at that time never told me how patriarchy hurts men – although I can’t blame it, as women were *just* barely getting any evidence that once upon a time, we mattered. Instead, it led to women having to figure out how someone could have power and not be an abuser. It was like being a victim made you good, because having power was too male. We were still in a binary world, and thank the deities that Starhawk invented terms like “power -within”, “power -over” and “power-with.”

Now I’ve moved from blaming patriarchy to blaming kyriarchy: “derived from the Greek words for “lord” or “master” (kyrios) and “to rule or dominate” (archein) which seeks to redefine the analytic category of patriarchy in terms of multiplicative intersecting structures of domination… Kyriarchy is best theorized as a complex pyramidal system of intersecting multiplicative social structures of superordination and subordination, of ruling and oppression.” – Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Wisdom Ways: Introducing Feminist Biblical Interpretation

Today most rape crisis centers have absolutely nothing to offer the 1 in 6 men sexually assaulted or raped as children and teenagers. Liberal Vermont has terrible services in general. The same goes for domestic violence – if a man or transwoman wants to stay at the shelter last I heard only one Vermont shelter allowed transwomen and none allowed men. Lionel Richie was the first famous man to speak out about domestic violence against husbands. (Maybe he was also the last?)

Queer people rape and sexually abuse children, too, but finding ways to talk about it without giving fodder to homophobia has been difficult. A gay friend with a gender neutral name was drugged and raped in college. He called 911 and the police arrived with the rape kit – and made jokes when they saw the victim was a man. A woman I met was sexually abused by her mother’s lesbian partner in the 80s. For liberals*, how were we to process this? Gay women were capable of sexually abused 3 year olds? Stand by the victim and risk looking homophobic, in a world that already too often thinks homosexual and paedophilia are the same? Meanwhile, domestic violence in gay and lesbian couples was causing a similar issue. Do victims speak out and ask for help – knowing that some people would call them “traitor” and remove them from their part of the queer community?

This was happening in activist circles, too. Only a couple years ago did Earth First! finally support a woman raped and manipulated by an older male guru type when she lived in a group with him protecting wolves. She lost her entire support network when she left and told.  Her story is so common, it’s why leftist groups lose women so frequently to feminist women only groups. When your male heterosexual lover values everyone in the world more than you, and everyone working for change ignores the kyriarchal, misogynistic status quo in the leftist scenes, it’s hard for a self-respecting women to remember why she bothers in the first place. (A woman who was a working member of my old food co-op said of meetings “The two men in the collective argue with each other loudly, we watch unable to get a word in, and they arrive at decisions we approve because we just want to leave. I don’t think they realize that they’re not in charge of the collective. They never make any space for how we, the majority of the working members, all women, discuss and make decisions when alone. 90% of the membership are basically tokens. If I yell and interrupt like they do, they say I’m being emotional.”)

So if it’s *this* bad for women and people in the LGBTQ community, two groups that are proven to have less equality in this society, to have people believe that we’ve experienced sexualized violence plus deal with the fall out against us, imagine how hard it is for the supposed “winners” in kyriarchy? But I’m not writing about adult men – that’d require more research. I’m writing about children who are physically small and vulnerable, and teenagers who are psychologically not adults and, like children, dependent on adults. And when they are at an age and place in life when they feel they can (or must, for their sanity) tell, they ARE men.

I’ve known a lot of men who honored me by sharing their pain with me before anyone else. Some had been sexually abused by the so-called “typical pedophile” – a person who doesn’t care what sex the child is. One was “lucky enough” that the Uncle violating him had also sexually tormented his mother, the pedophile’s younger sister, so the family was not surprised. Some classist people assume this is “white trash shit” – this was a wealthy family. Another was sexually abused as a child by his Wiccan High Priestess’s boyfriend, the current High Priest. Others had female babysitters who called the boy “gay” in order to confuse him for not wanting sex with her (these women ranged in age from 17 to mid 30s) and while his mind said no, his body responded to her touching. This can happen to women, too, and doesn’t mean that the rape was desired. It’s just a normal, basic physiological response. Others woke up after a party and found themselves tied to a bed with a woman having sex with them. (How many parents are teaching their sons about rape and the dangers of women, including girlfriends?)

It’s not “just” things done to the body. Sexual abuse includes seeing things inappropriate for the age or that the person didn’t want to see. One man told me about seeing a pornography video with older guys when he was a child. It gave him insomnia,which he still had when stressed, the images coming back. A group of siblings told me about being at a Wiccan wedding in the 80s where the Great Rite was physically enacted by the couple as everyone watched. (If Paganism doesn’t own the disgraceful aspects of its past, we’ll be like the Catholic church and have others tell the media for us. All religions have people in power who abuse it, especially sexually. Those who clean house on their own like the Episcopal church in the 1990s don’t have to deal with being “outed” like the Catholic church, in its attempts to keep things “hush hush.” The New Age movement has a lot of abusers to name as well.)

Are there any books specifically for these different men? Go to Amazon and search. Ok, now go to your yellow pages or DuckDuckGo and find the local Men’s Rape Crisis Center. Check the therapist listings at Psychology Today for therapists who are trained in working with men who were sexually abused as children. Think about how our society talks about men who were sexually abused or raped as children and teenagers.

What’s the recovery option? For a lot of survivors of all genders it’s self medicating.

If about 1 in 100 Americans men are in prison, and drug possession is the reason 7 in 8 prisoners were convicted out of the 80% there for drug related crimes, and we know that many survivors of sexual abuse and rape self medicate, do you suspect that maybe some of the 1 in 6 are in prison for possession of drugs that lots of people have tried? Or were like 14 year old me, kicking and punching every jerk I knew?

If you get the trust of someone in prison, and that can happen quickly as they’ve been ignored and dehumanized for so long, you will hear secrets. As you show that you are trustworthy, reliable and honest (including about setting and maintaining boundaries), like with any close friend, you may get the “I was raped by my Aunt” or “My family’s pastor molested me” one line, followed by “But it didn’t affect me. I don’t know why I’m even telling you since it’s not a big deal.”

And you might  learn this NOW especially, with media coverage of things like #metoo, R. KellyCorey Feldman, and Afrika Bambaataa.

A lot of the trauma of sexual assault and rape depends on how the people closest to you react when you tell them. Remember that you can make a huge positive impact if you listen, believe, and respect the desires of the person telling you about their experience. Do not explain their experience to them, tell them to confront anyone, or tell anyone. Trauma is about powerlessness, so recovery has to be in their control. Prison does not offer decent psychological services to inmates who have a psychological disorder on record. They certainly won’t offer anything for a man who experienced childhood or teenage sexualized violence. Often the few psych workers at a prison don’t even have private meetings with patients. Instead, very personal matters are yelled about through the cell door, allowing the other inmates and guards to hear. The guards have no education about psychological issues, especially at state prisons. So if you were going to say “Tell someone,” don’t. If they had someone to tell they would have already. When we push others to get help, we’re often responding more to our own (difficult to tolerate) feelings than to the other person’s needs.” – 1 in 6You’re it. You’re the only resource the person has. 

When this happens, go to the 1 in 6 website. Copy everything, print it and send. Next write with your pen pal or talk on the phone/ in person about trauma, discussing how it’s affected you and people you know (don’t use names) plus how our culture is a rape prone society. They are probably sure that they’re the only one this has happened to, and you want to let them they’re not alone, without triggering them by sharing traumatic details.

If they decide that the event(s) may have affected them, ask if you may email the organization 1 in 6 and have them mail a free copy of the book Stages of Recovery to your friend. It doesn’t have triggering content, which is something that always concerns me. I don’t want my friend freaking out in emotional flashbacks and end up retraumatized, naked in the hole without even a blanket.

Yep, that’s how Texas deals with prisoners having psychological problems. That’s rehabilitation, I say sarcasticly.

It’s important that you have dealt with your own sexualized violence issues. People who are in denial about a facet of reality will try to shut up anyone who mentions it. I have experienced this about disability and chronic illness, where people really need to believe it can’t happen to them, so they make up some spiritual, ethical reason why a tick bit me and millions of other people, or why I have a strong genetic response to pollution. This kind of social Darwinism “where we get what we deserve” was part of the Christian Calvinist predetermination that allowed capitalism to blame the poor for being poor. Rape survivors and people with disabilities get a lot of hurtful comments meant to comfort the person who superstitiously clings to karma or pop psychology they don’t fully understand. Don’t be one of those cowards. The person was raped because there are people who rape and this is a society that maintains the status quo.


* Interesting fact: a study entitled “Ideologues without Issues” looked at data from 2,500 Americans and found that both liberals and conservatives lean left on most issues from gun control to same sex marriage. Americans actually have a lot in common – except what we label ourselves! Once we’ve labeled ourselves “conservative” we won’t vote for the Democrats who actually represent the values we say we have when labels are removed!

Self Publishers & Small Presses! Ohio needs you!

According to the ever-busy Appalachian Pagan Ministry, one of the few active Pagan Prison Ministry in the USA where 1 in 1000 citizens are incarcerated Pagans, Ohio no longer will allow books to be sent to prisoners from publishers or even Amazon! If you were in an Ohio state prison and wanted to buy a book from Llewellyn or Inner Traditions, you no longer would be allowed. If your family or a friend wanted to send you a book from Amazon, it would be rejected. As for Lulu, don’t even think about it.

As Amazon is much less expensive and gives free international Amazon distribution to books printed by their company, CreateSpace, many people have begun using CreateSpace instead of Lulu. Others pay to have their book advertised on Amazon. These books all come as an Amazon product to the prison. This allows people in prison to read more than just the mainstream. For Pagans, small publishers are often where our best materials are to be found. If someone isn’t writing about anything trendy that won’t sell 5,000 copies, they can still share their work with those 30 or 200 Pagans who might be interested. For people in prison, books published specifically for people in prison on everything from Reentry (parole and beyond), how to make decent tasting meals, and how to follow the grievance procedures to actually get results are often available at Amazon, not just the company who publishes them.

Prisoners rely heavily on an overstock book seller, where close out books are $2 or $5 plus shipping. That company, a mainstay for people who often have no money for most of the year (which means no lotion for their diabetes, no stamps, no antacids, no paper, no shampoo, no laxatives, no glasses, etc), is a big resource for Pagans.

Ohio state prisons now accept books ONLY from Barnes & Noble and some other company so mainstream, I’ve never of it.

If you have a small publishing company, PLEASE donate copies of your book to 

THIS INCLUDES POETRY! You would not believe how many people get into poetry in prison!

If you have a favorite book you bought at Lulu or is printed by CreateSpace, please buy a copy and donate it. Any loved books you can order that are not available at Barnes & Noble, fiction or non-fiction, please donate a copy!

For self-published books, many places can only accept them if the book is relevant to prison. However, I suspect things may be changing. “Self publishing” meant something different until recently, like books without ISBN numbers, often memoirs to be given to family. Ask if your book qualifies to be sent to prisoners. (It’s not personal; prisons make these rules.)

Also, all those bins at the doors of book stores for $1, or the books at the $1 store, or decent quality Goodwill finds – PLEASE GRAB A FEW AND DONATE. Tis the season for being dragged into stores by family or to get stuff for family – please spend a few bucks on dictionaries, English and Spanish “urban fiction”, graphic novels, self help books, art manuals, business management guides, LGBTQIA and whatever else you find! One books to prisoners organization had a request for a book about authentic pirate clothing and shockingly had it! (I’m guessing that the person who made the request is writing a novel or comic book about pirates.)

Of course ALL states are in need of book donations. The organizations usually have to pay rent to store the books, even though they’re usually entirely volunteer-run, so making a tax deductible donation is also a great way to help.

You can also choose Providence Books Through Bars for your SmileAmazon charity. Every purchase you make, Amazon sends a tiny donation to your charity. The tiny amounts add up when enough people choose the charity.

If you buy a copy of Steel Bars, Sacred Waters for someone in an Ohio state prison for $12 (the cost of manufacturing, shipping and taxes), Gullveig Press will send you a pdf of the book. It’s a huge book, so it might just be easier for reading on the go!

 “Education is the only proven method
of preventing prisoners from re-offending.” 
– Providence Books Through Bars

Blanca María Prósper: Scholars to Follow

Blanca María Prósper at the University of Salamanca is frankly on fire when it comes to continental Celts and general Indo-European studies especially in Iberia. Check out her work at Academia.edu. (If you read Spanish or German, you can read the papers I can’t. Let me know the highlights, please!)

Offerings at Trier: Belgae and Beads (& Gaulish and Norse/Germanic Deities) PHOTOS

Nemetona by Alexandra Rena

My far-too-talented friend, artist Alexandra Rena (check out her commissioned image of Freya!), recently visited friends and family in Scandinavia and Germany, which allowed me to send her a parcel of offerings to be made in my name! She was hitting a lot of important “hot spots” for a Celtic and Germanic polytheist, so I created packets of glass and metal beads for my ancestors and deities of each place she went. In traditional fashion, she tossed them into rivers or the North or Baltic Seas. 

The western German city Trier  (located near Luxembourg) is an important site for Gaulish (and Roman) Pagans. The city was named for the Belgic tribe the Treveri, which probably means “the ferrymen.” The Treveri settled along the important trade river the Moselle and had a Goddess of the ford, RitonaThe lands of the Treveri were large, especially because at least two neighboring tribes were their clients. The Romans recorded they were originally from Germania but moved south. (Later possible meanings of that will be discussed.) For a tribe outside of the Roman Empire, they had quite a lot of Roman luxury goods. They joined Gaulish tribes in rebellions against the Roman Empire, but by the 4th century C.E. Trier was one of the most important of the Roman Empire’s cities. The temple complex that will be described is from the Roman Era. 

The Belgae are “the people swollen (with battle rage)” and somewhat of a mystery to historians. They’re neither quite Gaulish nor German. Julius Caesar wrote that out of the Gauls, Aquitanians, and Belgic people, the Belgae were: 

 “the bravest, because they are furthest from the civilization and refinement of [our] Province, and merchants least frequently resort to them, and import those things which tend to effeminate the mind; and they are the nearest to the Germans, who dwell beyond the Rhine, with whom they are continually waging war”. 

Strabo disagreed, writing that the Gauls and Belgae had basically the same government, language and culture. Some scholars believe that “German origin” was not about German culture or language, but as a way of stating that the tribe hadn’t become familiar with Roman luxury goods. German simply meant that they continued to live as the Gauls had before contact with Rome, as the cultures were very alike. (Later a different Roman would write about the eastern Germans, stating that they were like the Celts before Romanization.) 

The Romans created the Rhine River as the official German/Gaulish border after decades of both tribes freely crossing the Rhine, so place does not help us decide what language was spoken. One theory is that they had their own Indo-European language, which quickly became crowded out by Gaulish and German. At least the Belgae leaders spoke Gaulish, as recorded place and personal names are Gaulish. In some places, tribal members must have also spoken a Germanic language, because occasionally Germanic tribes supplied soldiers to Gaulish allies battling other Gaulish tribes. There’s evidence of a Belgic tribe keeping a British tribe as a client state, becoming an actual Belgae settlement in southeast Britain. (Somehow the word for a territory of tribes became the name of one tribe called the Belgae on maps of Britain.) Some of these Belgae may have settled Ireland, remembered in different legends and myth such as the Fir Bolg according to one theory. 

Caesar also recorded:

“When Caesar inquired of them what states were in arms, how powerful they were, and what they could do, in war, he received the following information: that the greater part of the Belgae were sprung, from the Germans, and that having crossed the Rhine at an early period, they had settled there, on account of the fertility of the country, and had driven out the Gauls who inhabited those regions; and that they were the only people who, in the memory of our fathers [i.e. as far as we can remember], when all Gaul was overrun, had prevented the Teutones and the Cimbri from entering their territories; the effect of which was, that, from the recollection of those events, they assumed to themselves great authority and haughtiness in military matters.”

This is interesting for many reasons. One that stands out to me is that at least one of the leaders of the Cimbri had a Gaulish name, Boiorix, connected to the huge and powerful Gaulish Boii tribe. This can be seen with other early German tribes, implying that some German tribes may have had a Celtic elite briefly ruling them, even on the North Sea. 

One Belgae tribe, dubbed the most ferocious warriors by Julius Caesar, never drank alcohol because true courage requires sobriety. I like to note this because many believe that these peoples, including Pagans reenacting them, were drunken louts. This knowledge could be worked into any Celtic or Germanic Pagan’s alcohol and drug recovery. It’s true that alcohol is “liquid courage” and as Jonathan Richmond sang about stoners in the early 70s proto-punk band the Modern Lovers “If these guys are so great, why can’t they take this world and take it straight?”

So with the Belgae, we had a Gallic-Germanic territory, which possibly was a mixture of the two cultures (who weren’t that different to begin with). The Alci, mistakenly recorded by the Romans as Germanic North Sea horse deities, are actually a Celtic title for the twin horse boys who are found in Celtiberia as well. Along the North Sea lived one of the three original Germanic people, the Ingvaeones, the People of Ingwaz (Frey). According to Tacitus, the Roman writer from whom we know the most about German tribes:

“In ancient lays, their only type of historical tradition, they celebrate Tuisto, a god brought forth from the earth. They attribute to him a son, Mannus, the source and founder of their people, and to Mannus three sons, from whose names those nearest the Ocean are called Ingvaeones, those in the middle Herminones, and the rest Istvaeones.” 

The Herminones are thought to be the People of Odin, as in Norse Irmin is a common by-name for Odin. This would fit with the Prose Edda hinting that Odin came from Germany, and moved north to where the Ingvaeones would have lived before His cultus arrived in Sweden. The third son of Mannus is unknown, but he’d have been the tribal God of the Istvaeones. This gives us a good understanding of where the Vanir deities and the Aesir deities may have first appeared. The battle for Sweden may have been between these two linguistic groups of Germans with their different deities. 

Eventually the People of Ingwaz (Frey) would become Angles and Jutes (among several others), so some Belgic deity devotees speak reconstructed Gaulish with an Old English accent. The Ingvaeones lived in modern Denmark, Holland, Frisia and Belgium. Agriculture in Denmark was rough going, because of the clay content in the soil. Until the iron plough, it was almost impossible to sow seeds. This may be the root of the important visits by the agricultural Goddess Nerthus, from whom all iron and weapons must be hid. Only iron could open Her. Nerthus comes from the ancient Celto-Germanic word for “power/ force” going back 4,000 years to around the Czech Republic. There was no Celtic or Germanic language yet, just a group of Indo-Europeans who suddenly changed the meanings of several words (such as string meaning sorcery and eventually seidR) and adopting words from Neolithic Old Europeans. These words contained the basics of Celtic and Germanic Pagan religion until Christianity replaced them: sacred grove, sovereign horse Goddess (Macha), battle crow Goddess (Badb), their little mentioned husbands, prophecy, poetic trance, werewolves, the waking dead, holly, angelica, and the roots of Lug/Odin. The meaning of priya, the root of Freya, changed to free person, such as Lady. (My personal guess is that Priya became Freya in the Istvaeones and Frigga in the Herminones.)

Because the soil of Denmark was difficult to plough without iron, it is very possible that some Germanic tribes did move south seeking better farmlands. 

If you are interest in the Belgae, check out the book Steel Bars, Sacred Waters and the in-progress website Senobessus Bolgon with its beautiful artwork.

Roman Imperial Bath, Trier, photo by Alexandra Rena

Trier became home to a large Gallo-Roman temple to the God of the Treveri, Lenus Mars. His shrine room was painted bright red, and a statue of Him with a Corinthian helmet holding shield and spear was the focus. Many other deities were also worshipped there. The temple complex boasted a theatre and sanctuary for pilgrims seeking healing. 

The association with Mars was probably made by a Roman, although the Romans did seem to often allow natives to choose from the main Roman pantheon which deity best described their own God. For this reason, in some places the same Celtic Gods were associated with Mars, and in others with Mercury, showing that the correlation was not very direct or accurate. What a tribe knew about Roman mythology would depend on whom they met. What a Roman would have understood about a Celtic deity would have been limited as well. Roman artisans were hired to make naturalistic sculptures of the deities (not a Celtic tradition, who in both Britain and Gaul carved crude faces and genitalia in posts). Almost every Celtic God was portrayed with a shield and spear because that’s what Celtic leaders looked like; it tells us nothing of the function of the deity. The Celts held water as generally powerful and sacred, as an ancient tradition of offerings in rivers, bogs and lakes shows. Meanwhile, the Romans tended to associate rivers with healing centers. This means we can’t label Lenus simply as a war God or a healing deity. 

If the warrior image and healing sanctuary are Roman standards, who was Lenus to the Treveri tribe? Probably a God who was their personal defender against other tribes, plagues, and any other disasters. He may have been seen as the father of the elite rulers like some other Celtic tribes seemed to do. He was almost certainly viewed as the tribe’s personal God who could do whatever was needed. The creator of Senobessus Bolgon believes that the Goddess Ancamcara was His spouse. Celtic people found it important for Gods to be paired with Goddesses, probably due to the proto-Indo-European belief that Goddesses are the actual soil and rivers of a place. A God without a Goddess was like a King without a land. The importance of Juno Regina, the Queen of the Roman pantheon, sitting next to Jupiter on the Jupiter columns associated with Taranus was probably to validate the God’s rule to the Southern Gauls. Romans had no problem worshipping Jupiter on His own. 

From my first encounter with Lenus, I’ve been hoping that He’d return to His former glory. One might say I’m a fan. There are so many important Celtic deities that were very popular in ancient times whom I want to find their modern devotees. It’s one reason Steel Bars, Sacred Waters provides accurate information about over 160 deities, and this website provides information about Germanic deities worshipped during the same time.  The Viking Age is the crumbling end of the Heathen era – I am far more interested in when Heathenry was at its greatest peak, tribes intact and living in traditional family ways. That the website Senobessus Bolgon was created when Steel Bars, Sacred Waters was published seems like a wonderful sign that people are being called to the frequently ignored continental Celtic deities!

Roman bridge, Trier, photo by Alexandra Rena

From a Roman bridge in Trier, Alexandra gave my offerings to the River Mosel. I’d picked them carefully and said prayers over them. Glass beads seemed most appropriate. If you have ever seen photographs of glass Gaulish jewellery, you might be a bit shocked by the lack of color coordination. It’s as though any color possible is added to a necklace. The Romans wrote about how garish Gaulish dress was, especially for the wealthy. The Celts did love color! It’s important to remember when looking at anything created before chemical dyes to understand how awe-inspiring mosaics, tapestries and gems or colored glass looked to ancient eyes. They would be like neon in a world of muted browns, greens and greys. 

The Gauls and Celts in Iberia were famous for their fabrics. Gold was woven into the most expensive. They invented different weaving patterns used today. Geometric shapes from fabric, especially trim, possibly were the inspiration for the designs on metal accessories and pottery. A pot from Halstatt depicts women weaving in a very geometric design where the women are triangles made of small circles, the pattern of their dresses. The design was pushed into the clay with tools that created different size circles. Grave goods for the elite were wrapped in fabric of different colors creating patterns of diamonds, checks, stripes and plaid. Bright plaid and stripes, if one could afford it, were worn together. Images of Gaulish weddings seem to show the importance of the bride giving beautiful fabric to the groom. Celtic cloaks became an important trade good in the Roman Empire. Linen, the most common fabric, is not naturally white. It’s a beautiful light grey-green color, made darker if there is more rain. This, along with white (or sometimes black) wool (which is easier to dye than linen), was the color of most people’s clothing. 

So a brightly colored bead, perhaps with a few bumps of another color dripped on it to make dots or eye patterns, stood out. Training our eyes to see the way the ancients did can help us appreciate the wonders of their world. If you get the opportunity to make glass beads I highly recommend you do it! Spinning the metal stick dipped in crushed glass in the flame of the blow torch, adding colors and creating shape, is a pretty spectacular activity.

The deities who received handmade Fair Trade or recycled glass beads in Trier were:

  • Lenus Mars
  • Ancamcara
  • Arduinna
  • Ritona
  • Inciona
  • Verdedunus
  • Lugus
  • Icovellauna
  • Intrabus
  • Sirona
  • Grannos
  • The Suleviae
  • Cissonius
  • Nemetona

Nemetona’s name is based on a word changed by a group of Indo-Europeans about 4,000 years ago around the Czech Republic. Later, when discussing Nerthus, this will be expanded upon. At least one Celtic and one Germanic tribe took their names from this word, nemeton, meaning “sacred grove.” If Nemetona was worshipped in northwest Gaul is unclear, because nemeton is such a common word, but it seems likely that She was. In Southern Britain we know She was, paired with the Roman God of war Mars. This makes sense, as Mars (like many war Gods) didn’t live in the city of Rome even though He was their patron deity. Because war destroys civilian life, Mars and His temple stayed along the border. He protected the boundaries of farms as well, causing some to assume He’s an agricultural deity, when He consistently appears as a warrior at the edges of society. War deities often need to have some of the same wildness that they battle. Pairing Mars with a Goddess of wild groves separated from towns allowed Him to retain His wild nature. This Roman view of Mars does not fit well with Lenus whose temple was in the center of Treveri territory, showing how poorly Roman interpretation sometimes fit with the Celts, whose Gods usually were good at everything. 

Another big site for offerings was the head of the Danube River in Baden-Wurtemberg. On the shore in the photo below Alexandra made my offerings to Erecura, Telesphorus, Taranus, Abnoba, Epona and the Germanic Goddesses the Campestres (of the parade ground), Cernunnos, and Dis Pater

The confluence of Breg & Brigach, creating the Danube River, photo by Alexandra Rena

In Munich, more of my ancestors received offerings, along with our Celtic/German God of the Batavians Magusanus. Germanic Goddess Hariasa received Her offerings in Cologne. 

Copenhagen, founded by my ancestor Sweyn Forkbeard, received offerings to my ancestors, the Goddess Gefjion “the giving one” who has a statue in Her honor, plus my ancestors of the People of Ingvi who became the Angles, Jutes, Frisians and more, and Nerthus. I suspect that as Germanic tribes known to aid certain Gaulish tribes worshipped Nerthus, She had a following in the Belgae region and it influenced the Celts who had Belgae contact. God of commerce and transporting goods, Njord, received His offerings here as well, in the city named the merchants’ harbor. Alexandra made the offering at Mons Klint, with an auspicious rainbow!

Ingvi-Frey received a tusk of a young boar I’d bought from a Latvian who’d brought and sold Soviet Era collections. I received Latvian amber beads from him as well, which were included. (All offerings were well washed in biodegradable soap and baking soda and the tusk was from the 1970s, so I wouldn’t inadvertently pass some invasive species to Denmark. This is why no seeds, grains, dried herbs etc were included.) In the Prose Edda Snorri calls Njord and Frey diar which is a Gaelic word for God. It’s about Their role of making the sacrifices as Priests (along with Freya), something I find very curious. Who were the Gods sacrificing to? I suspect Snorri misunderstood something about the worship or roles of the Vanir.

Møns Klint, south of Copenhagen, photo by Alexandra Rena

In the bird sanctuary Moelle with its Stone Age circles and grave mounds on the Swedish coast, more offerings were made to my ancestors and deities! Of course, Freya received amber and glass beads. I had some beads made from the bones of a wooly mammoth for the really ancient ancestors from before the Indo-European people’s culture arrived. Possible Vanir deities received gifts, like Freya’s daughter Hnoss (Freya as a mother is rarely acknowledged), the ancient Swedish God UllR and his probable sister-lover twin Ullinn whose name lives on in Swedish places even if Snorri never heard of Her, their mother Sif “relative by marriage” (to the Aesir?), and Heimdall who lights up the world like an Indo-European Sky Father God, recovered Freya‘s necklace when Odin made Loki steal it, and may be connected to Freya via her name Mardoll

An interesting note on Heimdall: Although I sometimes feel Him to be the son of the nine waves, the dangerous daughters of Jotuns Aegir and Ran, the lists we have of His mothers’ names are not of those Goddesses. Like most Norse deities, I suspect Heimdall was the ruling God for a federation of tribes before the literary creation of the Eddas. As there was no formal, unified Norse Priesthood – or unified Norse anything  – various regions would have had their own mythology. It never actually says Heimdall is the son of the waves anywhere, but that He has nine mothers is consistent. His mothers’ names like Ulfrun and Ird link Him to wolves, Jarnsaxa and Atla link him to battle, while Thor killed two others. As all the names of His mothers are found elsewhere and sometimes seem to be generic names for Jotun women, I suspect that we’ve lost their real names. However, that Heimdall comes from a cosmology where nine ancient Jotun women birthed Him to have the power of earth, power of the cold sea, and the power of the boar (a Vanir sign?), nine mothers giving Him great power, is established. This fits with His role as the creator of the class system as Rig, a Celtic word for King. Rig actually becomes the name of the son of the highest class, who learns the runes from the God, which I understand to mean that the ruling class claimed descent from this deity. This is hardly unusual, as Frey is father of my ancestors, the Yngling dynasty. Odin probably was not part of these people’s origin myth, since Rig taught them the runes. As the deities are much more than our concepts of Them, I doubt Heimdall cares what mothers we name, as long as They are nine deadly, powerful Jotun women. He’s sometimes identified as the actual World Tree itself, and having nine mothers – one for each world – may have helped encourage that interpretation. Like UllR, Heimdall appears to be older than the Eddas’ cosmology, and so we need to remember the importance of regional, tribal religion. Perhaps when His worship reached people who knew of Aegir, His mothers were understood as Aegir‘s daughters. As Rig was already on a beach, I would hazard a guess that He led the pantheon of a tribe descended from the North Sea Ingvaeones. 

Moelle, photo by Alexandra Rena

Bibliography

  • Butler-Ehle, Hester, Fieldstones: New Shoots from Stony Soil. Fieldstone Hearth  
  • Cunliffe, Barry, Britain Begins. Oxford University Press (2013) 
  • Cunliffe, Barry, The Ancient Celts. Oxford University Press (1997) 
  • Danka, Ignacy Ryszard & Witczak, Krzysztof Tomasz, DEIS EQLTL\LBO The Divinę Twins in Asturia, Dimensions and Categories of Celticity: Studies in Language, Piotr Stalmaszczyk & Maxim Fomin (eds) (2009) 
  • Davidson, H.R. Ellis, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. 
  • Dashu, Max, Veleda. 
  • Koch K.H., Existierte ein eisenzeitlichen Befestigungssystem im Gebiet der Treverer? Archäologisches Korrespondenzblatt 18. (1988) 
  • Hrafnhild, Nicanthiel &  Svartesól, An Introduction to Vanatru. Gullinbustri Press.
  • 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) 
  • Hugh, Cristof and Mokina Kondziella, Textile symbolism in Early Iron Age burials, Connecting Elites and Regions: Perspectives on contacts, relations, and differentiation during the Early Iron Age Hallstatt C period in Northeast and Central Europe, Robert Schumann and Sasja van du Vaar- Verschoof (eds), University Hamberg (2017) 
  • Hyllested, Adam, The Precursors of Celtic and Germanic, Proceedings of the 21st Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference (2010) 
  • Idunna, issue 35.
  • The Poetic Edda
  • Reaves, William P., The Cult of Freyr and Freyja (2008)  
  • Saxo Grammaticus, Gesta Danorum.
  • Sayers, William, Irish Perspectives on Heimdallr.
  • Senobessus Bolgon, https://senobessusbolgon.wordpress.com/
  • Sturluson, Snorri, Ynglinga Saga.
  • Sturluson, Snorri, The Prose Edda.
  • Toorians, Lauran, Magusanus and the Old Lad: A case of Germanicised Celtic. North-Western European Language Evolution (NOWELE) 42. (2003)
  • Viducus Brigantici filius, Deo Mercurio, http://www.deomercurio.be/en/ 
  • Woodard, Roger D., Indo-European sacred space: Vedic and Roman cult. University of Illinois Press (2006)
  • Author Unknown, ‘Celtic’ Clothing (with Greek and Roman Influence) from the Iron Age-a Realistic View Based on What We Know. (This is an amazing paper and if anyone knows who wrote it and/or where it was published, I’d very much like to know.)
  • Wikipedia Cimbri
  • Wikipedia Ingvaeones
  • Wikipedia Herminones
  • Wikipedia Treveri
  • Wikipedia UllR

Gaulish Festival Calendar: Telesphorus, the Most Famous Celtic Deity You’ve Never Heard Of

— During the first few weeks of January, Telesphorus is the focus of the Celtic Pagan who worships deities who were honored in lands conquered by Rome.

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Modern American Medicine Wheel and Nightmare Catcher by Heather Awen (not intended as cultural misappropriation, but was inspired by my frustration with white people selling parts of Native American religion and culture)

In the spirit of “indigenous interpretation” in which peoples conquered by the Roman Empire reinterpreted their native religion to fit the Roman world, I have found many dates work for honoring the Gaulish and Brythonic deities. We start the year with the Festival of the the Roman deities Aesculapius, his mother, Coronis, and His daughter Salus (similar to the Greek Hygieia), as the time for honoring the important and ancient Gaulish God Telesphorus and the Gaulish Goddess Sirona.

The Roman festival was held during the first weeks of January, but worship of these Gods began with the ancient Greeks. Asklepios is the Greek name of Aesculapius, the son of Apollo. The staff with a snake wrapped around it that is still used as a symbol for medical professionals was originally that of Asklepios. He was part of the quest for the Golden Fleece and a student of Chiron. According to the Romans in 291 B.C.E., the healing God moved to Rome in the following manner:

“The Romans on account of a pestilence, at the instructions of the Sibylline books, sent ten envoys under the leadership of Quintus Ogulnius to bring Aesculapius from Epidaurus. When they had arrived there and were marveling at the huge statue of the god, a serpent glided from the temple, an object of veneration rather than horror, and to the astonishment of all made its way through the midst of the city to the Roman ship, and curled itself up in the tent of Ogulnius… And when the ship was sailing up the Tiber, the serpent leaped on the nearby island, where a temple was established to him. The pestilence subsided with astonishing speed.” (Anon, On famous Men 12, 1–3 L&R)

The worship of Aesculapius made its way to Britain where six inscriptions have been recovered. They are evenly distributed in the northern and southern regions, with two written in Greek. Even in the 11th century medical manuscript Medicina de Quadrupedibus an image of Aesculapius survived.

If we follow the Roman calendar, Sirona should be properly honored on March 30, the festival of Salus (meaning “salvation”), but as Sirona and Salus both have the imagery of the Greek Goddess Hygieia, Sirona definitely could be worshipped today by Her devotees. I personally can never get enough of Sirona!

However, our main focus is on the once hugely popular Telesphorus. From Steel Bars, Sacred Waters:

Telesphorus is a very old Celtic God brought to Anatolia (Turkey) by the Galatians in the 3rd-century BCE. Statues of him as a dwarf in a cloak with a pointy hood have been found along the Danube River and in Anatolia. Pointy hood hats were typical male Gaulish clothing. Telesphorus was associated with the Greek God of medicine, Asclepius, and became the brother of the health Goddess Hygieia. Telesphorus is the God of recovery from a disease. He was brought back West with the Roman Empire in the 2nd-century CE.”

Telesphorus means “the Accomplisher” as He will not stop until the healing has been accomplished. We have so little information about the deities worshipped in Galatia, this knowledge is a real find. If Hygieia was His Greek sister, it wouldn’t be illogical to consider Sirona His sister as well, although the two were never associated in the Gallo-Roman world as far as I’m aware. Little metal statuettes of a gnome with a pointy cap have been found in the Gallo-Roman era. They actually are made in two pieces: the Telesphorus-looking man is lifted to reveal an erect penis with legs. Are these later Roman images of the Accomplisher?

The southern Gauls had chosen to adopt parts of Greek culture including the deities Apollo and Hermes. I’ve often wondered if the worship of Hermes is why the Gauls so readily took to the worship of Mercury, a Roman God even the Romans did not worship with such passion. Was Hermes already firmly established in some Gaulish communities as the God of magic, that the Gaulish Mercury – more as Hermes – was naturally understood as another title for Lug? Then Mercury became more… Mercury over time? Apollo was later adopted by the Romans during a plague, when Telesphorus was already adopted by the Greeks.

Telesphorus is a wonderful reminder that trade of goods, ideas and deities was never a one-way exchange. An ancient healing God of the Gauls, He went with them on their eastern migration. He was almost definitely worshipped in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. The healing powers of Telesphorus must have been so consistent, He was constantly called upon by the ill and injured as well as their healers. His fame brought Him to ancient Greece, where He was fit into the primary family of the deities of healing. While still being worshipped by the Galatians and eastern Gauls, the Romans took up His cult and carried it back west. It went even further than in the past, arriving on the isle of the Britons, where the multicultural Roman soldiers in the north and the more cosmopolitan Britons in the south joined in honoring Telesphorus.

If Telesphorus is one of the longest-worshipped Celtic deities and one whose devotees were quite possibly the most wide spread, from across most of Europe and into Asia, why haven’t you heard of Him? People seem to like myths – even if they were written in confusing fragments by Christians with regional political agendas after the formal Pagan religions were gone. Some people seem to think that there’s an actual ancient book called the Irish Mythological Cycle that contains all the full stories of the Tuatha De Danann. Then from that, we find all the information about the Gaelic deities. In reality it’s much messier, with lots of the Bible, bits of Roman era history, and modern commentary about Ireland’s provinces and the Viking invasion revised and woven into the stories so they’d have meaning that the people then understood. Different myths or different versions of the same stories are found in different manuscripts. Meanwhile, folk tales and fairy lore are included with a cautious optimism, often forgetting that many people writing about the Celtic peoples in the Victorian age were occultists or educated in Classical mythology. Clearly many knew what they wanted to find and made their conversations with rural Christian communities fit their theories. There’s nothing wrong with using these sources as long as you understand the motives and perspectives of the authors. Most Pagan books give you a version of a deity someone modern created without looking at the source material, based on their religious needs, and tend to be the least reliable.

Humans are storytellers. We create narratives about ourselves, about those around us, about current events, about the past and even the future with our hopes and anxieties, filtered through a cultural and personal lens. We naturally want narratives about our deities. Yet one reason why I feel drawn to the less known Celtic deities is because there’s no one else’s filter between me and the God. Telesphorus tells me who He is by telling me what he does: Accomplishes the healing that is needed. Centuries of worship in three cultures (or four, if you don’t include the Britons as Celts because they were never called Celts unlike those tribes in Iberia and Gaul) tells me that He’s good at what he does. His inclusion into the Greek family of divine healers tells me that He works well with other deities. We have a team player who no matter where or when healing must be accomplished, He will do it.

From that, I begin a relationship by making offerings and having conversations that are mostly one sided as I discuss my unhealthy past with medical “professionals” mainstream and alternative who took my money and took me for a hell ride, the effects of multiple misdiagnoses on my sense of identity, gratitude for how it’s made me firsthand aware of other people’s medical and emotional needs in a wide range of disorders, plus I mention my own health concerns, goals and requirements.

Sometimes I meditate on images of Him in copyrighted photos from museums. I imagine the people who came to Him in so many places, their clothes, their concerns, their body language pleading for help. I ask Him to guide my doctor. I visualize Him giving me a physical mostly thinking of the Greek humors, astrology and ideas of diet, fresh air and exercise, but also so much more than any one modality can provide – kind of like my doctor who is a MD and DO, training with a Naturopathic doctor especially in homeopathic remedies and herbs, and work history in pharmacies and health food stores. Telesphorus and I work together if the meditation leads to mystical union, a blissful non-me state of nothing and everything, which I owe to years as a girl with a lot of Hindu and Sikh yoga and meditation for my religious training.

The Ceremony

During the first few weeks of January, Telesphorus is the focus of the Celtic Pagan who worships deities who were honored in lands conquered by Rome. Of course He can be honored by other Pagans, including Gaelic polytheists, and those who worship the deities of Greece and Rome. Telesphorus is, like I said, a team player so regardless of what other deities you worship, He’ll join in like a visiting physician, respectful of His colleagues. After all, They all are concerned about their devotee/patient’s recovery, not inter-pantheon bickering. (That seems to be the angry work of xenophobic humans who want to control those they worship.)

Offerings are for you to determine. Grains, fruits, statuettes, wine and more were common offerings in Roman Empire, as was the building of shrines. Celts (and Britons, if we’re going to separate them like some scholars now do) seemed to prefer broken (ritually killed so they are sacred ie sacrificed) art, jewelry and weapons, along with pottery filled with food and drink (wine, ale) wrapped in beautifully woven fabrics. All cultures sacrificed animals, but they butchered all their own meat and were well trained in it. Very few of us have to daily kill our own animals daily so we do not have the skills to do it properly and a poorly performed sacrifice is a very bad omen worldwide. The Celts did not offer wild, hunted animals, but instead sacrificed the domestic ones of their farms. I actually have offered organic animal crackers and found that they were just as appreciated as the boar jerky my mother found. It’s suspected that dairy products were offerings as well, as cheese has been found in bogs where sacrifices were common (although maybe just as a way to preserve it for later), and insular Celtic folklore says to leave out cream for the Good People.

Roman and Celtic festivals had music and feasts, along with Priests reciting prose or poetry perfectly (in Rome if the Priest made a mistake, he had to start over; we don’t know how the Gauls did it) and performing divination to understand the messages from the deities. The rural Roman rites often had peasants dancing and in the city Priests often danced. The Celts typically walked or danced (we don’t know how they moved) in a clockwise circle to start ceremonies, possibly for long times around a pole statue of the deity. Both cultures met in sacred groves and at rivers and lakes.

I’m currently battling a medication-resistant form of thrush while my hyperreactive immune disorder Mast Cell Activation Syndrome is triggered by work on an apartment in my building and the neighborhood wood smoke that doesn’t let up due to the school break. My mother who also has MCAS is battling the insomnia, fatigue, and brain fog with me, as our toxic loads grow daily. Telesphorus will be greatly welcomed into our home!

May you be well!

 

* If you are interested in scholarly research about Pagan Roman culture and religion (which I find helpful for imaging the world of the Gauls and Iberian Celts), check out the Nova Roma website. It’s where I got my Roman calendar. Their information is also available in books, which I quite like.

Domnu: Cornwall’s Underworld Goddess of Mining? (or, Annwn, Celtiberians and Erecura led me astray)

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Minack Theatre near Porthcurno, Cornwall, England

Domnu. Perhaps the most important Goddess in Cornwall yet rarely mentioned. According to famous Celtic scholar John Koch, She is the Goddess of the Dumnonii tribe. In Steel Bars, Sacred Waters (SBSW), I stated: “Dumnonii means “People of the deity of the deep or earth,” with Domnu sometimes considered a Goddess of deep waters or soil – the Celtic Otherworld.” A little common sense has caused me to reevaluate that.

As I wrote in SBSW, “A recent theory suggests that Celtic origins start with the Atlantic Bronze Age. This is around the same time as the Hallstatt culture, but is along the Atlantic coast of Europe. From Portugal to Scotland, we know the coast was linked by seafaring trade and a shared culture. This culture was connected for 6,000 years. They built the same type of stone tombs and decorated them with similar symbols. Cornwall had tin, the metal necessary to combine with copper to make bronze. (Cornwall is the very southern end of Britain.) Bronze was stronger than copper and in demand. Bronze moved from one coastal community to another from 1300 to 700 BCE. The Phoenicians brought the Atlantic bronze to the Western Mediterranean. The Greeks became connected to the trade at the city Massilia (modern Marseille).”

Cornwall had the tin. All that bronze, and Cornwall had the tin. This is the most important information that we have on the insular Celts from the Greeks. It’s also important information about human history. Without tin, we’d have no Bronze Age.

Celtic Pagans are aware of the great wealth of the Hallstatt culture, which had deep salt mines. Recently I watched a BBC documentary on the Celts that went into these mines. Archaeologists have studied the remains of the famous site for so long, I doubted that I’d learn anything new. Actually, I did – The sort of social history I appreciate that allows me to imagine a culture better. The bone development of the people of Hallstatt revealed men with weak legs and great upper body strength. As miners, the men did not walk long distances, but they did use their arm and torso muscles for hours every day of their lives. Meanwhile the women had an imbalance in their shoulder alignment. All those heavy bags of salt the women carried from the mines caused an imbalance in their bodies’ development, because they apparently never changed sides when carrying the large sacks.

(Whenever people romanticize the Bronze and Iron Age (or any culture, honestly) I wish they’d keep in mind the reality of the culture. “The Golden Age” so many, including myself at times, yearn for is actually the world we need to be creating today. Every religion and political movement has its own “Golden Era” for inspiration, and instead of false nostalgia for things that never were, I would love to see people working on creating those values in themselves and in their relationship with the world. I’d like to be part of ushering in a Golden Age of ecological health, true equality, and the healing of deep wounds that have held my species back.)

Anyway, I’d worked on a bead shrine for Domnu, using some Underworld ancestral and ocean imagery. “Deep” I thought may have been about the importance of the ocean. Cornwall, at least on a map, looks like it is never far from the sea. Also, it was a major Bronze Age port. Its tin was in very high demand, for while copper was relatively easy to find, the other ingredient in bronze was not. The entire economy for many people – not just the Dumnonii, but merchants and artisans along the entire Atlantic coast and along the Mediterranean Sea – depended upon the tin of Cornwall. It and other goods were traded from port to port, perhaps uniting the Atlantic coast in a proto-Celtic language of economics. (I highly recommend reading famous Celtic scholar and Eurasian archeologist Sir Barry Cunliffe’s book “On the Ocean: The Mediterranean and the Atlantic from prehistory to AD 1500″ for much, much more!)

Where was this “deep” place Domnu resided? I now believe it was the mines. The deities are responsible for the gifts we humans receive. They push us to evolve. Today we know much more about the dangers of mining especially when it’s mountain top removal or fracking, and I firmly know that the deities don’t want us to continue actions that are destroying our own lives and those of 96% of other species. But at that time, the deities were allowing us to explore. Today we have far better, safer technology available then ever before in history like Living  Machine systems , ecological sewage treatment designed to mimic the cleansing functions of wetlands, and the reclaimed ancient science of permaculture. All we need is for them to be funded so we can move into a saner future.

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Living Machine systems, actually purifying sewage

In Her own time Domnu was the most prominent deity in Cornwall. The entire tribe was named after She who brought them wealth and prestige. She was the mother of the people, a Queen bestowing tin upon Her faithful followers.

It’s rather obvious, but it took seeing inside a tunnel at Hallstatt to help me understand. Too often we hear Earth Goddess and think of a deity who coaxes the fields to give a generous harvest. Earth to us usually means soil. The Ancients didn’t have a name for a deity of this entire planet. If they did it would probably be an ocean deity, not soil, considering that Earth is a blue planet mostly covered in salt water. Or perhaps something completely synergy related, aware of the plurality of forces at work. Oh, wait, that’s polytheism. 🙂

Studying Celtic cultures other than Gaelic (which focuses more on an Other Life filled with islands), “deep” tends to automatically connect with the Welsh Annwn, which the Gauls also knew. From SBSW: “In medieval times the word Annwn meant “very deep” in Welsh. It probably comes from a much older Gallo-Brythonic word *ande-dubnos that literally means Underworld.” To read Koch say Domnu was “a deity of the deep or earth” while submerged in studying the Celtic Underworld, I suppose it was only natural to think “deep = Underworld.”

In SBSW I discuss a group of Underworld Goddess from Spain, the Duillis. “Duillis means “Goddesses of the Underworld. These Goddesses are Celtiberian, worshipped in temperate northeastern Spain, near the Pyrenees Mountains that separate Spain from France. The title comes from a Celtic root word meaning “dark” from an older term “burning dark, dark flames.” It is also connected to the Latin word for “tranquility” and the Old Norse word for “resting place.” These Goddesses probably take care of the peaceful Underworld home of the Ancestors.”

(I would LOVE to see artists depict the Duillis! “Burning dark, dark flames”??? Combined with a tranquil Underworld resting place? Are the flames connected to the pyre, where most dead Celts went after birds had picked the flesh off their bones? Are these Goddesses anything like the Matres? Why do I envision the nine maidens blowing on the flames under the Cauldron of Annwn, like a medieval memory of the Goddesses of the Underworld?)

Plus we have Erecura, so popular in Southern Germany and Slovenia, but also found in Switzerland, Italy, Britain and France. Along both the Danube and the Rhine we find this Goddess, who was associated with the Roman Proserpina. Erecura often appears in statues with the Underworld God Dis Pater, especially in cemeteries. “On a monument from Salzbach, Dispater is accompanied by a goddess called Aeracura, holding a basket of fruit, and on another monument from Ober-Seebach, the companion of Dispater holds a cornucopia. In the latter instance Dispater holds a hammer and cup, and the goddess may be Aeracura. She may thus represent the old Earth-goddess,” according to J.A. MacCulloch in “The Religion of the Celts.”

Julius Caesar commented that the Gaulish people believe that they came from the God of the dead. Caesar referred to this God with the Latin name Dis Pater, pater being related to paternal. There have been many guesses as to who the Celtic Dis Pater might be, but the most popular are Cernunnos and Sucellus. It’s entirely possible that both (and other tribal deities whose names we don’t remember) were/are Dis Pater. It’s a basic Proto-Indo-European myth: the first person of the tribe to die becomes the Lord of the Realm of the Dead. When a member of the tribe died, they returned to the Ancestors, watched over by the first. The Irish Donn is a good example.

With all that Celtic Underworld information clouding my mind, the obvious “deep earth = tin mines” was lost. I’d like to apologize to Domnu for overlooking the specifics of Her bioregion and role in history. Of course, She may easily also be an ancestral Goddess in the Underworld. Celtic cultures rarely limited their deities into mere functions. I’ve begun to meditate with Domnu and feel that the importance of the safe ocean voyage was part of Her blessings, but really, what couldn’t a member of the “People of Domnu” pray to Her for?

I’m curious if others have relationships with Domnu. In a world where fracking is the Oil Junkie’s desperate Spoon Wash, causing earthquakes and flames to fly out of faucets, does She have solutions? Is She a Goddess who helps humans with responsible technology? International trade? The Mother of Cornwall still? Is She found in caves? Do miners pray to Her for safety? Does She rule over the metals tin and bronze?

If you are Her devotee, please contact me through the Gullveig Press order form and share your experiences. Debating is a high school class focused on “winning”, not being right or finding the best, long term community solution. Debating means there will be no listening. It’s politicians yelling sound bites and attorneys manipulating the emotions of juries. Discussion is for humans who respect what the other has to say. Your practices matter. I’d like to read about them. I’d like a polytheism where the more educated in certain areas are kind to those seeking reputable information, innocent questions are not taken as threats, gossip is not treated as fact, and personal experiences and belief are not fodder for arguments. adrienne brown in “Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds” constantly reminds us that in any group of people there is an important conversation that no one else could have, if we’re willing to have it. All religions have sects who demonize each other. Let’s move into something better.

 

Permaculture-Tree-DarkGrey

Happy Samhain and Trinoxtion Samoni!

If we go by the older Roman calender used in Irish medieval times, October 31st becomes today, November 11th. There’s been arguments about how many people would have known the date, but I am now inclined to agree that most did in Christian Ireland. The Christian Church has a strict liturgical calendar. In the 7th century, when the first written reference to Druids in Ireland are mentioned (as having the same worth as any other ordinary citizen, showing that the title merely meant sorcerer), Ireland celebrated Easter on a different day than Rome. This complicated things greatly because all Christians were meant to worship the same things at the same time. It also meant that the entire year was different than the rest of Western Christianity’s.

Steel Bars, Sacred Waters discusses how this caused chaos for the Anglo-Saxons. The Angles who ruled over Northumbria were, from an early time, raised in Dalriada, the Gaelic speaking kingdom of the Scots. More specifically, they were educated at the monastery at Iona, which was founded by an Irish prince and 12 followers. As the early British Angles practiced Gaelic Christianity and the southern Saxons were converted by  Christians following the Roman calender, Britain was split into two different calendars. When a Saxon woman married an Angle man in the North, their household would be split in half, with some people fasting for Lent while the others celebrated the resurrection of the Christ. While this was fixed in Britain by everyone following the Roman calender, Ireland continued its own “Celtic Christianity.” Which means that the date of Samhain is thrown off by that as well.

The common belief is that Samhain means “summer’s end.” The year is divided into a Dark Half, which begins now, and a Light Half, starting at Beltain, May 12th. Samhain was around the first frost when most fruits and grains would be ruined, hence the rush of September’s Harvest Moon in bringing in all the grain. As a young teenager I read that the Devil had the blackberries after Samhain. I couldn’t understand this, but when 18 in Galway walking to a friend’s parents’ home in November I tried a blackberry still ripe along the road. It was sour from the frost. That probably taught me more about Celtic Paganism – and how many people understood the Devil – than any dozen books. Replace the Devil with Fomorians and you understand half the Irish Mythological Cycle.  At least in Ireland, Britain, and Iberia, this is an agricultural, pastoral religion. (The Gauls had a much more urban culture, even before the Roman invasion.)

Scholar Brendan MacGonagle believes that early linguists misunderstood the word Samhain, and its true meaning is “Assembly.”

“The traditional interpretation, first put forward in Medieval glossaries, and still held by many, is that it means “summer’’ being a combination of Samh “summer” and Fuin = “ending, concealment”. This is obviously a later folk etymology, since we know that the earliest form of the word (Samon-) had a different meaning. In fact the original Celtic meaning of “Samhain‟ comes from the Proto-Celtic *samoni- = assembly ([Noun], Goid: MIr. samain “assembly on the 1st of November‟; Gaul: samon – (Coligny), from the PIE: *smHon- “reunion, assembly‟ (also in Skt. samiina- “together‟, Go. samana “together‟).

This works, too, as Samhain is when there was a weeklong feast at Tara. Divination was performed to determine what the next year would bring. Questions focused on war, famine and plagues, issues that affected entire kingdoms. Assembly makes sense when we consider the return of the young men who have been in the summer fields watching over cattle, and perhaps raiding the cattle of other kingdoms. As the Celts spread East from Gaul, one way for an ambitious young man to form his own tribe was to gain cattle (ie wealth) with some friends by raiding other people. The more wealth a leader had – and shared in feasts and gifts – the more followers he attracted. In Iberia and Ireland we know that young men were sent to summer pastures with the cattle, and their return would correspond with Samhain. The people were assembled together.

 

If you seek mythological events to celebrate, there are two from Ireland that stand out. Aengus is with his love, Caer Ibormeith, the swan maiden, and before Second Battle of Moytura the Dagda mated with the Morrigan. Most people focus on the Morrigan, for she is giving the Tuatha De Danann her power as a battle Goddess, guaranteeing their victory over the Fomorians. There is much more to this Goddess than most Pagans think. The only prayer found to a Pagan deity in Ireland was to the Morrigan for more cattle. As protector of the land, she holds its wealth as much as she gets involved with its battles. Part of protecting the land is to make sure that the right person rules it. This is a major theme in the myths we do have, including those of other horse Goddesses like Aine and Rhiannon. For Celtic polytheists in prison worshipping with Wiccans, the mating of the Morrigan and the Dagda is usually an easy ritual compromise.

The “veils are thin between the worlds” has to do with the liminal nature of being between years. Beltain also is liminal time, another new year, into the Light. The Anglo-Saxons seem to have continued this belief in two years within one solar year, although they had a lunar month, solar year calendar. It quite possibly is a general Germanic calendar. Looking at the rune that means “year” (whether Anglo-Saxon or Norse), it shows two halves. Unlike other Anglo-Saxon names for months, October does not end in month. October is “Winter Nights”, also one of the three celebrations which we know the Norse celebrated along with Yule and  February’s Disirblot. The emphasis on Nights reminds us that the northern lands, which include the islands of Britain and Ireland, have long nights during winter.

Any liminal time is considered to be not one thing, not the other. Times of magic and danger were dawn (before sunrise) and dust (after sunset) when the world is filled with grey shadows and more active wild animals. Neither day nor night, medieval folk spells and times for divination usually state dawn. As a girl of feminist parents (women can have careers and attend University, don’t have to get married, should not endure domestic violence or rape, have all the rights and opportunities men have –  crazy stuff, huh?), I often wondered why so many divination techniques focused on the occupation of a girl’s future husband. Until very recently, a woman’s lot in life was completely dependent on her husband’s income. Her status would be determined by his class. The amount of back breaking labour she had to do to keep the household running was in his financial hands.

Dusk seems to often be more about communicating with spirits. The Welsh had 3 nights when speaking to the dead was easier called tier nos ysbrydio: October 31, May 1, and June 24th, St. John the Baptist Day. This was another form of divination. For religious people, divination normally means a way to communicate with the divine, be they ancestors or deities.

Modern folk magic watched the clock, and midnight – neither today nor tomorrow – became the new liminal time, the “Witching Hour.” Hoodoo takes that farther, with the minute hand moving down as a time for decreasing or banishing something, and the minute hand rising being a time for magical increase.

There’s nothing bad about the Dark Half of the year. For the Celtic people, life begins in the Dark, in the Underworld. It may be the beautiful kingdom of Annwn, the Plain of Apples, Avalon, or the Isle of the Young, but it is always filled with feasts and games, astonishing music, and all our loved ones who have passed on before us. The day starts at sundown, in the incubation of sleep. In the Dark half of the year, people literally turned within. Visits were extremely rare. Although in dark, smoky close quarters, people knew how to give privacy to those with them. As the lack of sunlight meant less vitamin D, the fat lost over winter released stored vitamin D. Some symptoms of depression, often triggered by lack of light, may have evolved to help us with the long stretches of “down time” by sleeping more which conserved calories.

Families stayed home, often with the remaining cattle and sheep sleeping with the human family. The smoky Walpurga and Beltain fires that the cattle were driven between had many herbs with insecticide powers. The fires jumped had the same. (In 16th century Scotland most people only bathed once a year, in May. Due to having no trade cities, modern ideas like soap and art skipped over the struggling farmland.) I used to be confused by old English herb books. What was the difference between a strewing herb and a potherb (which I pronounced poth-erb)? A potherb goes in your broth for its amazing vitamin and mineral content (parsley being the best example), while a strewing herb was strewn across the floor for the lovely smell it produced when crushed by feet. Traditionally strewing herbs also repel disease-carrying insects.

I’m really pleased that Steel Bars, Sacred Waters has a ritual for the ancient Gaulish ritual of Trinoxtion Samoni (“tree-NOKH-tee-on sa-MOE-nee”) written by Viducus Brigantici filius. The focus is on Dis Pater. As he poetically writes, “Dis Pater was the god who ruled the land of the dead. We all came from Dis Pater’s land, because before we are born, our spirits lived in the Otherworld. And we will return to him one day. And after that … we will return here again.”

Dis Pater could be Cernunnos or Sucellus. There’s no reason to assume the various Gaulish tribes had the same pantheons. The ritual chooses Cernunnos, along with the Gaulish Goddess Erecura associated with Persephone, plus the Greek-Kemetic Isis and Serapis. I personally feel a much stronger connection to the Gaulish deities than the Gaelic, so I feel personally blessed to have had Viducus write this ritual, as well as the Epona Day one, the Sucellus and Nantosuelta harvest rite, and a monthly devotion to Rosmerta. It was very important to me that Steel Bars, Sacred Waters focus on the cultural exchange that was happening all over Europe. Whether it’s the Atlantic Coast Celtic culture meeting with the Phoenicians, the Indo-European people around the Czech Republic who began the Celtic and Germanic religious traditions around 4,000 years ago, the influence of Greece on the Southern Gauls (and vice versa), Norwegian Vikings who became medieval Irish Kings, the Celto-Germanic Belgae territory, or the diversity of religion in the Roman Empire and the response of the Celtic people – we cannot pretend that there were any static, xenophobic people in Europe who didn’t share ideas and trade material goods.

Reading a little about the history of Roman religion, at first I was more intrigued with its earliest times. Viducus told me that the wide variety of religions both native and absorbed from other peoples fascinated him more. After studying the Nova Roma website and a few Roman Reconstructionist books, I was genuinely impressed. The Mystery Religion of Isis celebrated the festival of Isia at the same time as Trinoxtion Samoni. I wonder how many Gauls joined this cult and how it might have influenced the Celtic Samhain. The Roman Christian church could easily have created All Souls Day based on Isia. Our knowledge of Samhain is Christian, and the ancestor reverence part of Samhain could easily be from that important holiday. All Souls Day could have merged with Samhain into what we see in Paganism today: dumb suppers and contacting the Beloved Dead.

Strangely, it IS Remembrance Day. A day to remember the horrors of World War I, the most convoluted, insane war people can remember. It’s a call for sanity. Do you know why the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Ottoman Empire, Russia, France, Germany, England and the United States were fighting? Most soldiers involved didn’t know either.  Nerve gas, trenches and fields of blood where poppies bloomed – that’s why we wear the red poppy. To never forget the war that was meant to be the last war, a war that created the Lost Generation, where politicians were distrusted, the Spanish War proved anarchy and socialism work, and the peace movement was rapidly growing. But due to the terms of the punitive Treaty of Versailles that destroyed the German economy, the stage was set for Hitler, with his promise to make Germany great again. Still, the German pacifist art movement made of WWI veterans depicted their internal horrors by creating a new genre of film: horror and psychological thriller. Alfred Hitchcock himself studied with these shell-shocked veterans whose films focused on sanity: does the man in power or the individual know what is real? Today we’d call it gaslighting, from a movie of that very same genre.

The Isia focused on the death and resurrection of Serapis (Osiris). Along with a huge procession of initiates and musicians, there were private rites of ritualized grief and joy. Like the longest running Mystery Religion, the Kidnapping of Persephone by Hades of the Realm of Underworld Dead and the grief of Persephone’s mother Demeter who stopped all the plants from growing, which lasted for 3,000 years, I’m certain that Gauls participated in the Isia. Statues of Erecura stood in Gaulish cemeteries along the territories following the Danube River east, as  She held baskets and plates of sweet fruit like apples, reminding everyone of the Otherworldly Afterlife and the rebirth in our world that comes every spring. Also associated with Persephone is the Celtic Goddess found in Iberia, Ataegina, whose very name means “rebirth”. As the Celts often choose for themselves what deity from the Roman Empire their own deities were most like, and Ataegina’s name is Celtic, these were almost definitely Celtic seasonal Underworld and Renewal Goddesses before the Romans became involved.

I suppose that all people had myths and deities focusing on the death in winter (or perhaps the dry season in other climates) and rebirth in spring (or the returning rains). Maybe they focused more on the migration of elk or moose, or the returning fish and birds each year. We acknowledge the powers larger than us, upon Whom we depend. Many Pagans say that we have moved from that sacred, embodied knowledge of deep need and trust because we no longer are responsible for our own food. Even if we do not farm, we usually rely on imported foods, barely aware of our bioregion’s food cycles. We can buy delicious blackberries after Samhain. The Fomorian threat is far from our minds.

What I have noticed is that people who live with a chronic illness often feel this dependence on the deities and their cycles in a very visceral and emotional way. As plagues were so common, perhaps chronic illnesses bring us closer to the older ways of experiencing life. I believe this is especially true for people with the “can’t help you” diagnoses like fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, MCS, seizure disorders, many auto-immune diseases, etc. A decade of Lyme disease and, worse, babesiosis taught me how much I need my deities. We may not fret over not getting the hay in on time, praying that the rains will wait, but we do often pray to make it through the day in a world hostile towards people with disabilities. Will insurance cover this? How will the dishes get done? What can stop this pain? Being sick is a full time job.

In prison there’s nothing to note the cycles of time. The lights go out at the same time, the diabetes-inducing, low calorie “meals” arrive (or don’t, depending on the guard’s mood) at the same time, and the mask worn to keep privacy stays in place. Like the Treaty of Versailles proved, punitive justice only destroys people, leaving them vulnerable for great evil. After WW2 Germany was nurtured by the victors and became a strong economic nation within decades. Germany is one of the most eco-friendly nations in the world. They’re certainly not a perfect place, but when compared to Hitler, we can see how on a global scale punitive justice does not work.