Celtic Festival Calendar: Ataegina & Erecura

Wolfgang Sauber, Isis-Persephone
Isis-Persephone at Archaeological Museum in Herakleion. Photograph by Wolfgang Sauber.

The idea that Romans consciously changed Celtic religion is losing popularity. (Aside from the slaughter of the powerful political Druid elite, of course.) Instead it’s being replaced with the more flexible premise that conquered indigenous peoples often chose how their religions fit into Rome’s:

“(T)he locals selected particular elements from in-coming cultures, endow these with religious meanings different from those they possessed in Graeco-Roman culture and then creatively merge these with indigenous traditions to create totally new forms….”
– Ralph Haussler, How to identify Celtic religion(s) in Roman Britain and Gaul

My guess is that the Roman religious calender was used by Celts for festivals and rites about their own related deities. Even if they didn’t, doing so makes it easier for me to organize worship as I honor a very large pantheon. When a Celtic deity worshipped by Celts living in the Roman Empire neatly fits into the Roman religious calender, I include them. The incredibly popular Telesphorus was my first attempt, followed by Lenus, Neto, Nemotona, Rudianos, Cocidius, Sulis Minvera, and the Matres and Modron. Mercury/ LugTaranus, and others are ready for their Festivals.

The Roman calender​ marks April 12-19 as the Cerialia, although it probably was originally held on the full moon of April (the 19th this year). During the Cerialia people celebrated the reunion of the grain Goddess Ceres and Her daughter Proserpina. (Persephone is Her Greek name.) Ceres comes from the word meaning “to grow” and during April the crops would have begun to fill the fields.

“Ceres delights in peace; and you farmer, pray for perpetual peace and a peaceful leader. You may give the goddess Ceres some spelt, and the compliment of spurting salt and grains of incense on old hearths; and if there is no incense kindle resin torches. Good Ceres is content with little, if that little be but pure.” (Ovid Fasti 4.395–415 LCL)

No one wore dark colors in April. Spring’s return was celebrated with offerings of milk, honey and wine given to Ceres. In ceremony, women in white carried lit torches, searching, like Ceres, for Proserpina. This was a festival of the common people, especially in the countryside, whose livelihoods depended on good harvests.

Two Celtic Goddesses stand out to me at this time. Both were associated with the Roman Proserpina: the Gaulish Erecura and the Iberian Ataegina. As Erecura is mentioned in the Steel Bars, Sacred Waters‘ three day rite of Trinoxtion Samoni written by Viducus Brigantici filius, bringing Her back in spring seems natural. As Aetagina‘s name means “rebirth” worshipping Her in spring also feels natural. I have strong, deep loving feelings for them both.

Below is information about these Goddesses, including my personal experiences with Them, and then ritual ideas. My own relationships with Them isn’t to tell you what you should feel. It’s not even UPG (unverified personal gnosis); it’s my experience. That makes it verified for me by me only. It’s not part of the religion, just my religion. I think it’s important that we acknowledge the mystical, private communion with forces greater than us. As wonderful as the Enlightenment was in many ways, it did swing the pendulum too far away from the embodied union with the ensouled planet and all Her spirits. Because of this, too many people are afraid to “admit” to having a moving religious experience in ANY religion.

Polytheism isn’t big on orthodoxy – what you believe and feel is accurate for you. It’ll possibly change, too. Polytheism is big on orthopraxy, however, which means researching the ways to do things correctly (and then doing them). It’s what makes a Celtic ceremony different from a Hopi ceremony. Celtic Paganism is performed in ways that are common to Celtic culture. Now, that’s a huge time and space, but some things are “pan-Celtic” and others are specific to a region during a certain period – and Indo-European cultures overlap a lot, especially when they’re neighbors. Luckily, Steel Bars, Sacred Waters provides that ritual and cultural information with which you can explore. Far more is known about Celtic polytheism than even most Pagans believe.

Erecura

From Steel Bars, Sacred Waters, written by me: “Erecura, Aerecura, Herecura, Pronounced: “Air-eh-cur-ah”

“(Eracura’s) images are mainly located around the Danube River in Southern Germany and Slovenia, but are also found in Switzerland, Italy, Britain and France. Her name is inscribed many times along the Rhine River. Erecura often appears in statues with the Underworld God Dis Pater. (Once she was depicted as a companion of Ogmios.) She’s also mentioned in several magical texts from Austria.

“Monuments dedicated to her have been found in ancient cemeteries. Although connected to the Underworld, Erecura also holds baskets of apples and the cornucopia. Considered an earth Goddess of fertility, in two statues she sits wearing a full robe bearing trays of fruit. “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.”

“There may be a connection between Dis Pater and Erecura and the couple Sucellus and Nantosuelta.”

I envision Erecura as a short (for our times, not Her’s) woman around age 30 (when that was at least half your life lived), with long dark curly hair in a burgundy dress with gold on her shoes. Purple and gold or bronze come through very strongly. Her face is rounded with a small mouth and chin.

My one meaningful experience of Her was when praying for polytheists, especially Celtic, to be kinder and get along. The war between two popular angry bloggers was disrupting other discussions we all could have been having. Debate (clear win/ lose) mattered more than dialogue. I was deep in trance and felt deep in soil, far below in the roots. My question to Erecura was to understand this need for cliques and separation. The Celtic polytheism scene isn’t that big – there’s about six groups, not including those within ADF – and bad blood flows between many of them.

She said, “Yours is a very young religion and everyone is terrified that their research may be swept away by others who are not able to research and rely on poor publishers.” I cringed, remembering the time I read that Olwen was a sun Goddess, and seeing books on Celtic shamanism. Anything with “Celtic” thrown in front of it sold, from Robert Grave’s modern ogham calendar to Celtic Wicca.

“All of you care so much, so passionately about your deities, you guard any actual facts with your lives and are vigilant in tearing down scholars who have been disproven.” I know that a lot of books on which some Celtic polytheists base their research are partly obsolete now. That includes much of my own early reading list. There’s so much new information as physical material is reviewed with fresh eyes, linguistics brings us more information about our deities, and outdated assumptions about Roman control over religion are tossed away, in favor for ones that fit what we know today.

Erecura said, “You’re all determined to make sure that the core truths and spectacular details you discover are staked like young plants. You’re all trying to keep the weeds of greed from selling lies, standing in watch, ready to tear down anything that will block the light of the unromantic and unrealistic realities so many crave instead of the truth. It’s good. Things are growing. The garden finally has some reasonable entryways for those young to the religions/ cultures. Of course it has to be different in different places, because it always was just the oldest religion: place and people. Change the place and how people connect with it and each other, and it changes. Just like it always did, does, will.”

I don’t feel Erecura very strongly as a spring Goddess, but more as an agricultural earth Goddess: “the tomb, the womb” cliche of eternal renewal. She’s the criss-cross between the world of Ancestors dead and here, world of Ancestors living, to the point where they blur. Which “side” is dead, who is alive? She’s so deeply rooted, Erecura is in each realm, and they blend and merge in the sheer ancient powers She holds. If we honor Her at the season of death, She needs Her place in the growing spring.

Ataegina

From Steel Bars, Sacred Waters, written by me: “Ataegina, Ataecina, Pronounced: “ah-TIE-gee-nah”

“A popular Goddess whose name probably means “reborn,” she is associated with the Roman Goddess Proserpina (Greek Persephone). She seems to be a Goddess of springtime. Ataegina had sanctuaries in Spain and Portugal. The goat was her sacred animal and could be on your shrine to honor her.

Invocation to Ataegina by Heather Awen

Hail, Ataegina!
During winter we weep for missing you;
In the spring we rejoice.
With you returns the flowers, the nectar and honey,
The sweetness of life.
Come autumn you retreat below,
Like the falling leaves and roots growing plump.
In the Underworld you give the dead your blessings;
Above, it is us you bless.
Beautiful young Goddess,
You hold the family, those living and
Those passed over,
Together in your giant heart.

Prayer to Ataegina for Rebirth by Heather Awen

Beautiful Ataegina, the one who releases spring, the one who spring releases,
Greetings Goddess as I inhale
Something new in my lungs
Something new in my blood.
I know there is more to you than flowers
And under that maiden’s face
I know there’s the skull of death,
Which makes me move to you even closer.
For what I need, you see, dear Goddess,
Is a new identity, a new self in my life,
Because this one keeps leading me to dead ends,
Leading me to death.
If I am meant to let my old self die, let it be so I can better live this life.
So please, take my life and reanimate it,
Take my spirit and give it new spark,
Let me step out of this tainted persona, and
Into one authentic and close to your heart.”

I LOVE Ataegina. I can’t tell you anything about Her other than She is Life giving us a second, third, 53rd chance. I think She wears white linen, embroidered edges, dark cloak, and has straight or wavy light brown hair. She’s innocent, fun laughter; she’s the small forest flowers that fall from her nimble young body like a blurry aura trail of new growth dropping behind Her. Yet, always the haunt of a skeleton is in Her arsenal of jokes and surprises. Like how one day Her giggling, playful face finally turns to greet you in the sun-dappled wooded bliss you found following Her, and then your heart stops. You’re dead and it’s abrupt but not frightening. The last sight seen with living eyes was Her smile.

I’m quite willing to give myself over to Her hands and there’s not many deities with whom I feel that unconditionally comfortable and safe. She’s pure love whether She’s ruling the Realm of the Dead, or skipping through barren land tossing seeds that hit the ground already in green growth. I feel that Ataegina might have played a deep transformative role in Her devotees’ lives. Because She always makes me light hearted or at peace when my body grabs a new diagnosis or throws out a new scary symptom, I would say that She probably had healing sanctuaries.The Romans really liked turning any temple on a river into a healing dream incubation spa, so maybe that became a later regional part of Her cultus. However, I see Her healing as the abundance of real food shared among a community. As Multiple Chemical Sensitivity/ Chemical Intolerance requires truly fresh air, really clean water and very pure food and wholesome fabric, I think She’s understanding of anyone who feels like they’re dying from toxins and sensory overload, like chronic fatigue syndrome or after chemotherapy.

The Ritual

Reading the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone and their ancient Mystery Tradition for a happy Afterlife should be required, because it’s quite possible that the Celts themselves chose Proserpina as the Roman Goddess most like Ataegina and Erecura. Odds are that eastern Gauls participated in the Greek Mystery Tradition. Some Celts in the Roman Empire almost certainly must have. It would be odd if they hadn’t.

Southern Gauls chose to add Apollo and Hermes to their pantheon. I often wonder if having already known Hermes, the Gauls gave Mercury more importance than the Romans because they understood Mercury to be the powerful magician’s God Hermes. In Eastern Europe the curving and winding La Tene abstract art style developed unique animal designs based on Greek influences. It was not like Greeks and Gauls never hung out or lived in the same places.

As for Portugal and Spain, skillful Phoenician sailors navigated the Atlantic coast and Mediterranean, transporting precious Celtic metals to the Greeks. Ideas, slaves, merchants and explorers joined those travelers on the Sea.

Erecura and Ataegina are great Goddesses for interfaith Pagan ritual. Hellenistic, Roman and Celtic polytheists can all worship together quite easily. (They did it before!) Because orthodoxy is not very important, you need not be alone even if you only know duotheist Wiccans. In the Wiccan Wheel of the Year, these are perfect Celtic Goddesses for a spring equinox ritual. Perhaps you can also have a solitary rite focusing more on the Celtic polytheist aspects.

Spelt grain is easy to find at health food stores. Ovid wrote pure offerings were desired even if small, so organic would be best even if it’s very little. Homemade incense with salt (if no one has asthma, etc), milk, wine and honey – we know these are traditional Roman offerings for the rite. Flowers and early spring fruit (like strawberries) I personally believe would be appreciated but only if in season. It never has made sense to me to pretend that there’s flowers and seeds outside at a spring equinox ritual and then leave the building to find 2 feet of snow. (Please never buy flowers unless from a source you know, as the pesticides sprayed on them are at extremely high levels. Pesticides used on nonedibles like flowers and cotton for fabric are responsible for more dangerous endocrine disruptors than food cultivation because so many more toxic chemicals are allowed to be used.)

I quite enjoy ritual theater, something missing from much of today’s ceremonies. If you have a chance to reenact the return of the spring Goddess from the Underworld (even if the person “being Her” is not possessed or able to aspect), giving your offerings to someone in Her mask and garb can be very powerful. Watching a group of women in white dramatically search for Her with sounds, lights, and props can become engrossing. The Romans had theaters at many sanctuaries and many Celts would not be unfamiliar with plays about mythology.

(Steel Bars, Sacred Waters has a lot of information about the drinks, foods, ways of sitting at a feast, instruments, clothing, decor, language, fabrics, shrines and more used in traditional Celtic rituals in different places and times. If starting with the circular procession, I would enter from the southwest to face a shrine in the northeast, especially if you are basing your tradition on Brythonic culture or a culture near Britain. You could dance around a wooden pole carved into a female shape with glass eyes wearing a torc if you want a more northern Gaulish experience. The book provides more.)

If you are alone, you can still use any ritual structure in the book and make your offerings. If you want to visualize being at the ancient ceremonies described, go for it! Depending on the weather you may want to practice mindfulness meditation outside with the changes in the season.

I’ve often thought it was a good time for healing rituals involving rape, as Persephone was kidnapped and raped by Hades. She returns not as Kore the child girl, but as Queen of the Underworld with Her compassion for the dead. Rape recovery often involves “dead” parts of us returning to life, many terrified or enraged, and we need that compassion of the Queen of the Underworld. And as Persephone reemerges to Her old life, She’s changed but has great power and wisdom. Our lives may stop during recovery from trauma, but we will rejoin the world, just in a healthier, more whole way.

Your only ritual obstacle might be (if like me) you also have a strong relationship with the Anglo-Saxon Goddess Eostre, also honored on the full moon of April after the spring equinox!

 

Selected Bibliography

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

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

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

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

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)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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