This is part of an ongoing series of posts about Celtic deities Who have been associated with Roman deities. It used to be thought that the Romans forced their choice of Roman deity on the Celtic speaking tribes. Today it’s considered more likely that the Celtic natives often chose which native deity best matched their understanding of Roman ones, as many Celtic deities are associated with more than one Roman deity. The Roman pantheon, so neatly organized by function in the 1st century CE, just doesn’t match the Sovereignty Goddess and tribal chieftain God most common in Celtic cultures.
Perhaps if the Celtic peoples choose which Roman deities were similar to their native ones, they also used the Roman calendar for religious purposes. At the very least, the Empire’s calendar gives the Celtic polytheist (especially those who honor Gaulish and to a lesser extent Brythonic and Iberian Celtic deities) a year of organized festival days. It also allows me to get the word out about amazing, once-famous deities like Telesphorus, Neto, Erecura, Lenus, Sulis, the Matres, Lug, and, coming up, Sirona, Taranus, Abnoba and many others. Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners has a strong focus on ALL the Celtic speaking peoples’ and their deities, histories and known ritual activities. Knowing that people in prison can barely afford shampoo and paper, I wanted this giant book to cover everything known about Celtic Paganism so they wouldn’t have a reading list that they couldn’t afford. (And it is gigantic. I feared that it would be refused by prisons on the grounds that it was a blunt object. Not only is it 8×11″ and over 550 pages, we used every bit of white space for articles and art and eliminated the waste of blank pages where we could.)
Friends have said that it shouldn’t have been so obviously marketed to the 1 in 1000 Americans who are incarcerated Pagans because it is the only book about Gaulish, Brythonic and the new wealth of Celtic deities in Iberia (the possible home of the Celtic languages and known home to more Celtic settlements than the rest of the Western European Celtic world). After all, it’s the book which they’ve been “waiting all their lives” to read. (No pressure there!) Many, disappointed that there were no books on Celtic polytheism aside from Gaelic (and the Gaels are definitely covered in Steel Bars, Sacred Waters), ended up Heathens because of the large amount of Heathenry 101 books. (Also there’s a very old, pre-Celtic even, linguistic, cultural and religious connection between the two linguistic groups that continued into the Viking Age.) Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan “homework” is nowhere near as simple as that for Heathenry (the Eddas). The sources for accurate Celtic information are usually found in peer-reviewed journals published almost daily. Important bits are hidden in linguistics, archeology, biased Roman and Greek history, writing by Irish monks determined to make the ogham Biblical and other disparate sources. If you wondered how the Celtic speaking peoples depicted their deities before the Roman influence, what the deal is with all these boars, and why is this mysterious “Old North” of the Britons, Gaels, Angles and Picts that no one explains so important, this is your book. If you wanted rituals based on historical evidence that you can just start practicing, Gullveig Press has you covered.
Why? Because this is the book I wished someone had written instead of just websites complaining about the books with completely inaccurate information. Please, if you research and practice polytheism, consider having both print versions of your writing available for sale to those without Internet access (preferably at a discount for prisoners) and an e-book or pdf for those with ink intolerance, like me. (Our books are available for those with MCS ink intolerance.) I want to read them! (Anything anywhere on Kemetic Reconstruction? Non-fascist, academically researched Baltic Reconstructed Paganism? A respectful collection of Sumerian mythology, the basis for many myths in the Christian Bible’s Old Testament? Reading online really hurts my eyes but I can copy website information, especially if it’s well organized. Contact me!)
No profit is made by Gullveig Press – all money from sales to awesome, intelligent (and might I add quite attractive?) people like you covers the printer’s cost and postage to send free copies directly to inmates or books-to -prisoners organizations. Amazon takes a big chunk of those profits, so please consider buying your jam-packed, incredibly heavy copy directly from here. It’s even less expensive!
Enough plugging of the book and our love for these deities and consistent work supporting Pagans in prison! On with the post!
On July 17th the Romans made sacrifice to the Goddess of Victory, Victoria. The native British Goddess Brigantia was associated with Victoria sometimes. However, She’s been covered in this post. (Still, feel free to honor Her today. As the Goddess of the most powerful tribe in Britain, She is used to all the lovin’ you can give! How She probably was brought to Leincester by tribes already exposed to Christianity in Briton and became, partially for political reasons, Ireland’s first home grown Saint, Brigid, read here.)
Andraste and Andate
This leaves us with the formidable Goddess Andraste (“indestructible”?) Who may be the same Goddess as Andate, a name meaning “victory.” Andate may be associated (at least linguistically) with the Gaulish Goddess Andarta Whose name means “well-fixed, staying firm” and was worshipped in Southern France and Bern, Switzerland.
The information we have about Andraste and Andate
comes from Roman writing about the rebellion of Britons led by Queen Boudicca of the Iceni. Although the Roman historian Tacitus spelled her name as Boudicca, it may have been Boudica, which means “victory.” Among many other things, Tacitus wrote about events in Britain. His father-in-law served the Roman military during Boudicca’s rebellion, so Tacitus probably recorded much of the older man’s memories of battle.
Historian Cassius Dio is our other source of information and he, too, obviously was biased against the Britons. After all, the Romans were at war with the Britons at this time (60 or 61 CE) and like all writers of war, he had to demonize the enemy as “the Other” and probably made up the detailed torture described. (Tacitus never mentioned it.) However, the rebellion was incredibly violent and both sides used torture. Boudicca’s forces did burn down three important Roman cities and massacred around 70,000 Romans and pro-Roman Britons. Red charred debris can still be found 2,000 years later in London, at that time the Roman merchant center Londinium.
It’s speculated that the Southeastern British tribes’ rebellion was meant to be coordinated with that of one led by the Druids from their island of Mona (modern Anglesey) on the other side of Britain. The Roman military was actually slaughtering the Druids when Boudicca led her forces to war. Another tribe who joined in the rebellion was the Trinovantes, whose capitol was taken by the Romans and turned into Camulodunum (modern Colchester). Roman historian Tacitus wrote in The Annals:
“(T)hese new (Roman) settlers in the colony of Camulodunum drove (the Trinovantes) out of their houses, ejected them from their farms, called them captives and slaves ….”
Cassius Dio wrote of the rebellion more than a century after it happened. He has Boudicca speak of history she would not have known for the benefit of his Roman readers. Obviously no one had no electronic recording devices so what she actually said is unknown.
For the Celtic Polytheist
What is particularly interesting for the Celtic polytheist is that: Queen Boudicca speaks directly to Andraste possibly because nobles also had a Priestly function or because Britons prayed to their deities without the Priest middlemen (as noted with Sulis); Boudicca uses a popular form of divination in the ancient world that continued in Scotland until a couple hundred years ago: looking at the movement of animals; female Britons were not only fierce warriors (which we’ve read about the Gauls and some Celtic tribes in Iberia) but were also military commanders; and the Britons held feasts and made sacrifices for deities like in other Celtic cultures.
This is even more helpful for the Brythonic polytheist. During the time when Britain was part of the Roman Empire, Gaulish and other Celtic soldiers in the Imperial military brought their native deities. Most Celtic deities whose names have been recovered in Britain were from the temples and inscriptions made by these foreigners. The groves of native deities do not have stone inscriptions, so Their names are lost to us. Although there was trade between the Britons and Gauls, most of the known deities worshipped in both Britain and Gaul probably were originally Gaulish. In Andate and Andraste we have definite names of native Brythonic Goddesses. Based on the evidence at the sanctuary of Sulis and records by Tacitus and Cassius Dio, we know that prayer was part of ancient religious practice. To honor Andate a feast and the making of offerings in a grove is suggested.
Sometimes I wonder about worshiping a deity of victory Who failed to deliver, and then I remember our deities are not all-knowing, all-powerful or all-loving. They have greater knowledge and power than I do and a divine ability to love which transcends “reason.” Andate and Andraste did provide victory to these people most of the time or They would not have been worshipped. We face so many battles against diseases, lookism, racism, misogyny, transphobia, heterosexualism, ableism, faithism, ageism, depression, anxiety, poverty, trauma, hubris, self doubt, violence in the home and streets, echoes from shame-based religions, pollution, self-harming relationship patterns, isolation, the 6th huge planetary extinction, nuclear weapons, fracking, family discord and so much else – surely Andate and Andraste have much to offer if we only return to Their worship.
No deity has ever given human followers everything they wanted or needed. Ever. The forces in motion (Wyrd) may prevent Them from helping, we do not at this time know what we really need, some plan is already in place, astrological transits fight our will, the laws of nature won’t allow our wishes to come true, our prayers interfere with the best course for certain others, possibly we broke an oath to a deity, or some other reason we may not currently understand means we all have to “lose” sometimes. But the deities provide much including comfort, so we honor Them and celebrate the miracles happening every day.
Thank you, Andate and Andraste!
Some Source Material
It’s important to read some source material so you at least understand what modern polytheist writers have to work with. You can also check that the writer knows what they are writing about. It is possible to understand some information in different ways because we all have our own interests and beliefs. Below is part of Thayer’s translation of Cassius Dio:
“(T)he person who was chiefly instrumental in rousing the natives and persuading them to fight the Romans, the person who was thought worthy to be their leader and who directed the conduct of the entire war, was Buduica, a Briton woman of the royal family and possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women. This woman assembled her army, to the number of some 120,000, and then ascended a tribunal which had been constructed of earth in the Roman fashion. In stature she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh: a great mass of the tawniest hair fell to her hips; around her neck was a large golden necklace; and she wore a tunic of divers colours over which a thick mantle was fastened with a brooch. This was her invariable attire. She now grasped a spear to aid her in terrifying all beholders and spoke as follows:
” “You have learned by actual experience how different freedom is from slavery. Hence, although some among you may previously, through ignorance of which was better, have been deceived by the alluring promises of the Romans, yet now that you have tried both, you have learned how great a mistake you made in preferring an imported despotism to your ancestral mode of life, and you have come to realize how much better is poverty with no master than wealth with slavery…. Why is it that, though none of us has any money (how, indeed, could we, or where would we get it?), we are stripped and despoiled like a murderer’s victims?…
” “However, even at this late day, though we have not done so before, let us, my countrymen and friends and kinsmen, — for I consider you all kinsmen, seeing that you inhabit a single island and are called by one common name, — let us, I say, do our duty while we still remember what freedom is, that we may leave to our children not only its appellation but also its reality. For, if we utterly forget the happy state in which we were born and bred, what, pray, will they do, reared in bondage?”
“When she had finished speaking, she employed a species of divination, letting a hare escape from the fold of her dress; and since it ran on what they considered the auspicious side, the whole multitude shouted with pleasure, and Buduica, raising her hand toward heaven, said: “I thank thee, Andraste, and call upon thee as woman speaking to woman; for I rule over no burden-bearing Egyptians as did Nitocris, nor over trafficking Assyrians as did Semiramis (for we have by now gained thus much learning from the Romans!), much less over the Romans themselves as did Messalina once and afterwards Agrippina and now Nero (who, though in name a man, is in fact a woman, as is proved by his singing, lyre-playing and beautification of his person); nay, those over whom I rule are Britons, men that know not how to till the soil or ply a trade, but are thoroughly versed in the art of war and hold all things in common, even children and wives, so that the latter possess the same valour as the men. As the queen, then, of such men and of such women, I supplicate and pray thee for victory, preservation of life, and liberty against men insolent, unjust, insatiable, impious, — if, indeed, we ought to term those people men who bathe in warm water, eat artificial dainties, drink unmixed wine, anoint themselves with myrrh, sleep on soft couches with boys for bedfellows, — boys past their prime at that, — and are slaves to a lyre-player and a poor one too. Therefore may this Mistress Domitia-Nero reign no longer over me or over you men; let the wench sing and lord it over Romans, for they surely deserve to be the slaves of such a woman after having submitted to her so long. But for us, Mistress, be thou alone ever our leader.”
“Those who were taken captive by the Britons were subjected to every known form of outrage. The worst and most bestial atrocity committed by their captors was the following. They hung up naked the noblest and most distinguished women and then cut off their breasts and sewed them to their mouths, in order to make the victims appear to be eating them; afterwards they impaled the women on sharp skewers run lengthwise through the entire body. All this they did to the accompaniment of sacrifices, banquets, and wanton behaviour, not only in all their other sacred places, but particularly in the grove of Andate. This was their name for Victory, and they regarded her with most exceptional reverence.”
Cunliffe, Barry, Britain Begins. Oxford University Press (2013)
Haussler, Ralph, Interpretatatio Indigena: Re-Inventing Local Cults in a Global World, Mediterraneo Antico, xv, 1-2 (2012)
MacKillop, James, Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, Oxford University Press (1998)
Nova Roma, http://www.novaroma.org/nr/Roman_religion
Prósper, Blanca María, “The Venetic Inscription from Monte Manicola and Three termini publici from Padua: A Reappraisal”, Journal of Indo-European Studies 46, Number 1 & 2, Spring/Summer (2018)
Tacitus, The Annals, 14.31
Thayer, Bill translation, Cassius Dio, http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Cassius_Dio/62*.html (retrieved July 16, 2019)
Turkilsen, Debbie, An In-depth Analysis of the Lives of Boudica of the Iceni and Queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes