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, Ritona. The 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.
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!
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
- The Suleviae
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.
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.
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.
Steel Bars, Sacred Water is available directly from Gullveig Press at a lower price than at Amazon. All proceeds go to sending free copies to incarcerated Pagans. We have special bulk order and prison clergy/ volunteer prices and Australian discounts, as Amazon Australia does not carry the book. We will happily buy a prisoner a copy if you donate $12 U.S.! And remember to donate used paperbacks on almost any topic to your nearest books-to-prisoners organization. Many prisoners are functionally illiterate, so your donation will improve on average seven prisoners ability to read per book!
- 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