This is part of an ongoing series where Celtic deities are matched with Festivals in the Roman calendar. I don’t know if these Celtic deities were worshipped on these days back then, but it helps modern polytheists organize a ritual calendar. The Celts were not passive in how their religion changed after being conquered by the Romans, and the Empire didn’t force much on the Celts after killing the politically powerful Druids. Where a Celtic deity is said to be like a Roman one, or their name becomes a new epitaph, or Celtic names are followed by Roman ones, we usually don’t know who made that choice or why. Over a few generations, how anyone understood the relationship between the deities probably was different from shrine to shrine, and maybe even from devotee to devotee. Polytheism is more concerned with right religious action than right beliefs, so different cultures could worship together and have very different ideas about why.
Apollo is a Greek God: the bisexual healer, the beautiful eternal youth, the radiant sun, the twin of Artemis. The Romans merged Artemis with their important Goddess Diana, but the cult of Apollo stayed in His name. Centuries before this, southern Gauls adopted two Greek Gods, Apollo and Hermes. During the Celtic migrations traveling East, we have a well known story of a group of Gaulish warriors fighting their way to Delphi, at that time under Apollo’s protection, and stealing all they could. The chaotic weather of the area and other problems caused the Gauls to panic, drop the shrine goods, and die in a messy battle. Perhaps the power of Apollo was told to other Gauls who heard the news. When the Romans brought Apollo to other Celtic tribes, often with southern Gaulish soldiers, the cult of Apollo grew even greater. Here, I explore Celtic deities who were identified with Apollo for Ludi Apollinares (Sacred Games of Apollo), a 7 day festival with the main sacrifice on July 13th.
The Roman games of Apollo began during the wars with Hannibal in the late third century BCE. By 44 BCE the Festival lasted for seven days: two for horse races and five for theatre productions. In every home, decorated with garlands of flowers, the most important woman led everyone in prayers. The front door was left open and tables graced each entrance during the time of feasting. Was this so Apollo would enter? Or to share with neighbors? We don’t know, only that it was a popular festival.
The first deity associated with Apollo for this essay will be Belenos, if only so mistakes can be corrected. We only know of Belenos from the northeastern Italian city of Aquileia, where His name was a Celtic epithet for Apollo: Apollo Belenos.
Unfortunately, a popular Gaulish deity with a similar name, Belinos (pronounced “beh-LEY-noss”) meaning “bright, dazzling” who was never identified with Apollo in any inscription or shrine, was confused by older scholars with Belenos. They actually began replacing Belinos with Belenos, assuming all translations (the originals of which they never saw) were wrong.
Now scholars have reviewed the original source material and found that inscriptions and shrines across Europe said “Belinos” not “Belenos.” These are different deities. Only one was associated with Apollo and only in one city. The information is so new that it’s not even mentioned at Wikipedia.
This is a great example of why it’s so important to read current research. There’s thousands of academically sound papers for free at Academia.edu – Just check that a peer-reviewed publication chose their work, that they are a respected name in the field, or the writing has strong sources and doesn’t go into neo-Pagan fantasy. I’ve seen Celtic and Germanic polytheism websites citing books so outdated that their information about the deities is way off. With Academia.edu this is a Golden Age for people interested in Celtic studies.
So much new research over the last decade has completely changed everything we thought we knew. The Bronze Age Celto-Germanic words invented before there was a proto-Celtic or proto-Germanic language announced in 2010 as possibly originating in the current Czech Republic now have physical evidence (rock art and stele show the same sun boats and warrior poses for example) of being created in a connected trade culture between Iberia and Scandinavia – amber traded for copper. The basics of both religions is found in these words. Nerthus, Macha, Badb and other deities ‘ names originate here. Groves with horses, magic performed with string (origin of seidR), prophetic poets, angelica, one-eye, spear and other Woden and Lug related terms plus much more is revealed. (Steel Bars, Sacred Waters has more in depth information.)
Information about Celtic deities and tribes in Iberia is published at an astonishing rate. Ways statues of deities were used is among the completely new knowledge. In the Celtic Iron Age Iberia had more Celtic settlements than anywhere else. The Celtic language may have started in Iberia, where so many versions were spoken. The Phoenician traders had a port in Spain starting in the 9th century BCE. Lug (Lugh, Llew) is honored in a Celtic language in Phoenician script in 6th century BCE east of the Straits of Gibraltar. An entire Bronze Age Atlantic seaboard proto-Celtic culture spanned (due to trade) from Iberia, the French coast, the Low Countries coasts, Ireland, Britain including the Scottish Highlands. All built the same style tombs, used versions of the same proto-Celtic language and similar art designs and symbolism. Hallstatt as the origin of Celtic cultures is falling fast out of favor.
This will shake up some Pagans, who have created a mythology of the sun God Belenos whom a scholar once assumed Beltain celebrates. But those Pagans could have a genuine personal connection to Apollo or an Aquileia version of Celtic polytheism. Both are traditional to Celts at different places and times.
Belinos was a widely popular God in Gaul, Austria, northern Italy, the Alps, and Slovakia. He was even worshiped in Aquileia – nowhere near Apollo Belenos, more proof they are two different Gods. Perhaps He was the most worshipped Celtic God, sometimes paired with a Goddess who may be Belisama. Worship of Him has not been found in Britian, but “the King of the Britons” was Cynobellini, a name that contains beli and appears on coins. Belinos‘ name is also found in some place and personal names, like the second half of Llewellyn (probably “Lugus-Belinos”). Belinos has possible sun connections, but none to Apollo, so this would not be His festival. However, it definitely could be the Festival of Belenos.
Endovelicus (pronounced “en-doh-VELL-ih-cuss” – try it; it actually floats off the tongue) is a solar God of healing. I don’t know if He was ever directly connected to Apollo, but the Romans took such a strong interest in Him, I am going to guess that some did.
Endovelicus was first worshiped by Celts in Portugal and southern Spain, probably as the chieftain God of their pantheon. Endovelicus was the guardian of any town with a temple for Him. The main magical animal of the Celts, swine, were His main sacrifice.
(The importance of boars and pigs is now believed to be from a cult the proto-Celts learned from the native Neolithic culture along the southern coast of the North Sea. These non-Indo-Europeans later moved east into the southern Baltic shore, where the Pagan Estonians embraced the cult of the Great Sow Mother, which was recorded by the Romans. Unfortunately until recently it was believed that the Sow Mother was Germanic and possibly connected Nerthus with FreyR and Freya. Estonian is part of the Finnish language group, not Germanic or Baltic, but one connected to the Bronze Age Celto-Germanic words.)
The Roman Empire was quite taken with Endovelicus. Temples dedicated to Him were very popular. At His sanctuaries a ritual was held and then people in search of healing slept. His spirit or in Roman terms His numen was considered to be present in His sanctuaries, and Endovelicus would give the sleeping pilgrims helpful dreams. Sometimes people came to receive prophetic visions at a temple that filled with hot steam from a hot spring. (Some Iberian Celts had saunas, so they understood the healing and probably the spiritual purification power of sweat and heat.) In the 5th century CE, Christianity worked hard to destroy His large following of devotees.
One way that scholars know Endovelicus is a solar God is because of how He was depicted. Artists gave Him several faces, including an “infernal” one, because the solar God travels underground at night. In the morning He returns to us with renewed healing powers. If you’ve studied Kemetic mythology some, you’ll notice a similarity.
He was an incredibly popular deity whose worship has returned. This way, there’s a date for making offerings and prayers.
Grannus possibly “the Warming One” is the first Gaulish God most people would identify with Apollo. Pronounced “GRAN-nuss”, He is a God of healing thermal or mineral springs. Grannus had many sanctuaries. The most famous, Aquae Granni, was in what today is Aachen, Germany. Its hot springs were in a marshy valley. Even during the Hallstatt culture, it became a healing center. His name may be connected to the sun’s heat or possibly a man’s beard. It seems that beards were common on mature Celtic deities. (The clean shaven Roman God Mercury often is depicted with a beard and Celtic epitaph.) At one spa he was called “The one with a piercing or far-reaching look.”
Already ancient, Grannus had a 10-day celebration in the 1st-century CE. A Latin inscription on a fountain in Limoges mentions it. (If we knew when it was or how it was done, there’d be a post about that!) But this shows how long His popularity lasted.
The Goddess Sirona is commonly His partner, who has Her own “Heather’s invented” Festival date, based on that of Salus. Grannus is also invoked with many different cultures’ deities. The list includes Diana, the Nymphs, Hygieia, the Mother of the Gods, Sol, Serapis, Isis, Core, and Mars Sagatus. Frankly, I’m surprised that modern Pagan artists don’t depict Him very often. He was a major deity for so long and flexible enough to work with a multitude of deities. Instead, Sirona gets all the art (although it’s basically the Greek Goddess Hygieia). I understand that drawing women with snakes is sexier, more taboo. But with Grannus, we have great imagery: beard, piercing look, hot springs, sun. I’d love to see people working with that.
According to “The Religion of the Celts” by J.A. MacCulloch, “The god is still remembered in a chant sung round bonfires in Auvergne. A sheaf of corn is set on fire, and called “Granno mio,” while the people sing, “Granno, my friend; Granno, my father; Granno, my mother.”
Maponos, “the Divine Youth”, is a Gaulish God who became important in the Roman military zone of Northern Britain. At the Clochmabon Stone, offerings were even made by Roman military chiefs. There Maponos was linked to hunting, depicted with a hunter Goddess or a dog companion. He was often associated with Apollo, including one inscription about Apollo the Harper. In Gaul he had a healing spring sanctuary.
He and Mabon of the Mabinogi are often thought to be the same God. Maponos once was as a way of saying “Apollo, young son of Jupiter” while Mabon is once called “the son of lightning.” (Jupiter throws lightning bolts.) Maponos may also connected to the Gaelic Aengus. He generally seems to be a young, typical Celtic God good at everything: battle, healing, hunting and the arts.
Another Celtic God from Iberia, Neto was said to be a combination of the Roman Gods Mars and Apollo. There’s more information about Neto in the post about Celtic deities to be celebrated on March 1st. He can be honored on both days – the Celtic Iberian deities have been left out of Celtic Paganism books for far too long. One might think that only the Gaels had anything known about Celtic religion, when really we have so much more – a continent more – to embrace.
For all of you who want to learn about a lot of Gaelic deities (understanding how fractured the Mythological Cycle is) and study the Celtic deities, religions, culture and history from the medieval Mabinogi to ancient Ukraine, Steel Bars, Sacred Waters was written to do just that. Knowing prisoners could never afford any other books on Celtic Paganism, we crammed in everything possible, making it truly “all in one” (and rather big and heavy). You can buy it here for less than Amazon, and all profits will go towards buying copies for incarcerated Pagans.
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