Celtic Festival of Nechtan, Nodens, Nuada, Nudd & Llud

371px-Neptune_et_Amphitrite
Neptune

On December 1st (or the new moon) the Romans made offering to Neptune. I don’t have any more information than that, but it’s interesting that a God not very popular in Rome has two annual Festivals. Sailors preferred the Greek sea God Poseidon to Neptune.

Neptune, Gaelic Nechtan, Brythonic Nodens, Brythonic Nudd and Llud, and Gaelic Nuada all have linguistic roots in the proto-Indo-European God Xákwōm Népōt also known as Neptonos. Xákwōm Népōt seems to have guarded a well of fiery water, something associated with magic, wisdom, poetry and prophecy in medieval Irish writing. His name translates to “Uncle/ Close Relative in Water” but probably means “God Dwelling in Water,” the source of fiery water rising from the Underworld in wells and springs. Xákwōm Népōt is associated with the deities’ drink of immortality, *Nekter “death overcoming.” We find drinks that provide immortality, wisdom and kingship throughout Indo-European cultures. In Ireland it’s the Ale of the smith God Goibniu and the pork from Manannan Mac Lir, but mead or honeyed ale probably was the drink given to the Irish king during his inauguration.

If you would like to organize your worship of Celtic deities who have no known Festivals, you may want to use the Roman Imperial calendar. Aside from Ireland, the Romans conquered the vast world of the Celtic tribes and kingdoms. (Newgrange did have Roman tourists.) Sometimes Romans associated a native Celtic deity with a very popular Roman deity. However, Celtic people also choose the deity for themselves, leading to many Celtic Gods associated with Mars in one region and Mercury in another. The Celtic understanding of what a deity is never really matched that of the Romans, so the fit was often strained at first. However, over a few generations, new Celtic cults developed. When deities share a common origin like Xákwōm Népōt it’s easier to work with Their core importance. In this case, we find both, overlapping in different Celtic deities.

The Deities

Nechtan Pronounced: NEK-tan

Nechtan is the Gaelic keeper of the Well of Wisdom. Around the well grow nine hazel trees which are in bloom and provide fruit at the same time. Drinking the water, eating a hazelnut from the well, or eating a salmon that has eaten the hazelnuts gives someone the knowledge of everything. Living in the Otherworldly Síd Nechtain, only Nechtan and his three young female cup-bearers could visit the well safely. (Cup-bearers were important for the safety of royalty, as they protected the cups from being poisoned.) Nechtan is often cited as the husband of Boann.

Many have searched for the well, which appears with different names such as Connla’s Well, Well of Coelrind, Well of Nechtan, and the Well of Segais in different tales. The famous Anglo-Irish poet William Butler Yeats visited the well in a trance and wrote it was filled with “waters of emotion and passion, in which all purified souls are entangled.”

Invocation to Nechtan by Heather Awen

He of the shining waters that spring from the earth,
He who is the fountain that arises filled with imbas,
He from where all rivers begin,
Nechtan, Nechtan, Nechtan, God of the holy well,
May you sense my call.
So crucial are you to the Celtic soul,
You fill the prophet’s head.
Hazelnuts fall, ancient salmon return to spawn,
For you are the source of it all.

Boann “white cow” Pronounced: BO-an

“Boann from the bosom of our great riverbank, Mother of very fine Aengus, The son she bore the Dagda, A clear honor in spite of the man of the Sid.” -From Dindshenchas (place lore)

Boann is a member of the Tuatha De Danann (pronounced TOO-ah-hah djay DAH-nahn). She is the daughter of Delbaeth, the son of Elada. The white cow is the ultimate Indo-European symbol of abundance and wealth. Cow Goddesses are usually mother Goddesses of fertility who are devoted to the tribe’s abundance. White animals have no camouflage and rarely live to adulthood. Because they are so rare, they are sacred in many cultures.

Some say Boann is the wife of Elcmar who lives in the sid (mound) of Newgrange; others swear that her husband is Nechtan, keeper of the Well of Wisdom. Even while knowing she was a devoted wife, the Dagda desired Boann. The Morrigan was wonderful at protecting their land, but the Dagda sensed Boann could make it flourish with life. Although it was against her faithful nature, Boann made love with the Dagda. To keep Boann safe, the Dagda tricked Elcmar into leaving for one day, but kept the sun in the sky for nine months. That was enough time for Boann to carry and give birth to Aengus Mac Oc “conceived and born on the same day.”

Boann later went to the Well of Wisdom, Tobar Segais, some say to purify herself and others say to prove herself innocent of having the affair. Those who approach the well must move in the correct ritual manner (clockwise/sunwise) and have no moral flaws. But Boann, who cheated on her husband, walked around the well counterclockwise. Did she do it on purpose, filled with shame, or did she truly forget how to approach the well? Whatever her reasons, as she circled the spring its fiery waters rose. They rose and rushed after Boann! She ran towards the ocean and the waters followed, ripping away one of her eyes, one of her arms and one of her legs. What was left was the newly created River Boyne, feeding the rich farmland near the High King’s court of Tara. She flowed past Newgrange, the huge astronomical observatory and cheiftain tomb from Ireland’s first days of agriculture.

Some say that by losing her eye, arm and leg to the Well of Wisdom Boann gained Second Sight, being half in the Otherworld.

The Boyne River has been an incredibly important river in Ireland since the Neolithic period and is the embodiment of Boann, the cow Goddess of fertility who gave birth to the God of youth. Boann’s painful transformation turned her into another source of life with knowledge of the Otherworld. Bealach na Bó Finne (“the White Cow’s Way”) is the Milky Way. Some say the milk comes from Boann herself.

Noden_bronze_plate
Fragment of a bronze plate from the Sanctuary of Nodens

Nodens Pronounced: NO-dense

An ancient Brythonic God of the sea, hunting and healing, Nodens (or Nodons) is the earliest form of the name of the Mabinogi Gods Nudd and Llud. His name may be related to the word “catcher” like a hunter or fisher, and some believe that his job included hunting and catching disease. Nodens is also connected with the Old Irish Nuada, an important figure from the Irish Mythological Cycle.

In ancient Britain, under Roman rule, a temple complex dedicated to Nodens was built at Lydney Park in Gloucestershire. The dormitories for the ill overlooked the Severn River and its tidal wave. (This river’s wave is so strong that today people surf on it. The Goddess Sabrina may be the Severn.) Pilgrims traveled to the temple for healing, especially to have a dream where Nodens would tell them how to get better. The beautiful temple had a mosaic floor with images of fish, dolphins, and sea monsters, and was decorated with bronze reliefs depicting a sea deity, fishermen and tritons, nine statues of dogs, some similar to Irish Wolfhounds and one with a human face. (Dogs are associated with healing because they heal their own wounds by licking them. They are also associated with hunting.) Among the offerings were over 8,000 coins. Coins were possibly considered payment for killing animals when hunting.

The Celtic people often viewed water as a deity or a gateway to the deities and ancestors. The Greek deities often spoke to mortals in dreams, and the Romans put healing sanctuaries by fresh water, so this type of sanctuary may not have been a native Celtic concept. This complex grew very popular in later Roman rule, but we do not know what it meant to pre-Roman Britons.

In later Arthurian literature, Nodens may be the inspiration for the Fisher King.

Nudd “mist” Pronounced: Neeth and Llud Pronounced: Lleeth

Nudd and Llud known to us from  from the Mabinogi are later developments of Nodens. Nudd is most famous for being the father of ruler of Annwn, Gwyn ap Nudd. Llud is father of Gwyn’s lady love Creiddylad (pronounced kray-DU-ladd), the most beautiful maiden in Britain. Gwyn’s rival is Gwythyr (pronounced GWEE-thr). Lludd is considered by many scholars to be the same as Nudd, making Creiddylad Gwyn’s sister. Perhaps before the Christian influence on these folk tales Gwyn and Creiddylad were a typical brother -sister and husband -wife (or lovers) duo, like Osiris and Isis, Zeus and Hera and FreyR and Freyja.

Nuada Pronounced: NOO-adh-a, also: NOO-uh-thuh (ancient), NOO-uh (modern)

“No-one escaped from the sword of Nuada after he had been wounded by it, and when it was drawn from its warlike scabbard, no-one could resist against him who had it in his hand.” – “The Four Jewels of the Tuatha Dé Danann” The Yellow Book of Lecan

In Lebor Gabála Érenn (pronounced LEV-ar GA-vah-la ER-inn, in English “The Book of the Taking of Ireland”) Nuada was an early King of the Tuatha De Danann (pronounced TOO-ah-hah djay DAH-nahn). With a broad chest and blonde hair, he owned one of the four treasures of the Tuatha De Danann, a magical sword that always gave victory to the warrior using it. A prophet and warrior, he was King when the Tuatha De Danann landed in Ireland. He’s the son of Echtach. Nuada has at least two children, a daughter Echtga of the mountain Slieve Aughty and a son Tadg Mor, from the Hill of Allen. He may be the grandfather of the Irish and Scottish hero Fionn Mac Cumhaill.

In the First Battle of Moytura (pronounced Moy Tura) his arm was cut off by a Fir Bolg warrior. The Fir Bolg King Eochaid predicted this would happen, describing the Tuatha De Danann as a flock of black birds. The Tuatha De Danann still won the battle and the Fir Bolg disappeared to the western isles off Connaught. (The western isles are often Otherworldly.) Dian Cecht and Credne made Nuada a silver arm and he became known as Nuada Airgetlamh (pronounced AR-gad-LAHV), Nuada of the Silver Hand. However, a king could not have any spiritual, emotional, mental or physical blemishes so Nuada had to step down. Bres took his place. When Bres was removed as king, Nuada became king again. Then he was killed by Balor, Lugh‘s Fomorian grandfather. As death doesn’t seem to apply to the deities, Nuada managed to rule for 20 more years.

Nuada’s name is linguistically connected to the Roman British God Nodens who had a healing spa. Another of Nuada’s names is Nuada Necht, suggesting a connection to the Gaelic God Nechtan, the God of the Well of Wisdom. This would make Nuada also a healer and a keeper of Wisdom. At first glance he may seem like only a warrior king but like the typical Celtic God there are many other layers to him. His marriage to the important Sovereignty Goddess Macha shows he is worthy of ruling.

Prayer to Nuada for Accepting Loss by Heather Awen

Once like you, old king of Danu’s children, I held power,
More than I do today.
Once like you, silver-armed Nuada, I had freedom,
More than I do today.
I pray to you, first king from the north, ancient leader of the Gods,
To have acceptance of my current situation,
Not to let it take my identity, but to merely accept this as merely one turn by the wheel of fate.
(Do we hear the Morrigan’s caw, and does that make you smile? Knowing
That the Goddess of destiny reminds us that her story for us is never over?)
Did you lose the power of kingship and control over the Tuatha De Danann? Yes, and yet
Did you lose your skill as a chieftain, your wisdom as a sorcerer?
Never!
Did you lose your arm, the one that led you and your family through many a battle? Yes, and yet
Did you lose your power as a warrior, your ability to provide and heal?
Again, we know the answer true!
Never!
What makes you, you, fair Nuada, is not a title, a position of power,
To be given and taken away, or
A body at the peak of perfection. No, that which makes you
You is your knowledge that the self is a glamour spell across the mind,
Filled with labels, beliefs and judgments that are
Not real, that change and shift
With new perceptions, such as how
A metal arm may be great in its own way
And a defeat may be a step towards a more important win in the long-term.
To hold lightly the sense of self and control,
You teach,
For we are more than external circumstances,
Greater than the stubborn illusions about identity to which our frightened minds may cling.
Instead you teach that there is life after what feels like death,
That change is inevitable,
And the wheel of fate will turn again,
And it’s best to stay at the calm center of the wheel
Than its spinning edges where the world is a blur of ups and downs.
Bring me to that calm center, Nuada of the silver arm,
Lead me to the wise acceptance that change is perspective
At least as much as situation
So I may know the greater pattern
And keep my balance no matter how the wheel may turn.

A Possible Ritual

Some readers have stated that they like actual ritual instructions. Xákwōm Népōt and the deities who continue spreading His Otherworldly fiery water have very specific rules about purity. This is physical and ethical, so if you have broken any vows, the root of relationships, late November is the time to make amends. Many tribal people have holy times for healing grudges and gossip in the community. Perhaps late November could be ours.

You could fast in a common way for Romans in the 1st century CE by not eating meat except for fish, abstaining from sex the night before and not drinking alcoholic beverages. (The diluted wine actually purified their drinking water and had a low alcohol content. We have better water purification – I hope.)

For your ritual, if you actually have a well or know where a spring emerges, make that your focus. Otherwise an altar with images and symbols of the deity is where you can make your offerings. A beeswax candle (which naturally purifies the air and smells a bit like honey) could be lit. You may want a container that won’t rust or leak as your sacred well of purified water. With the two primordial elements of the Celts and the fiery water represented, an image or symbol of the deity (or deities) being honored can also be added. If you and no one in your building doesn’t have asthma, burning herbs and resins on a charcoal made for incense could be added, using ones for purification. If you will be using an invocation or other poetry in the ritual, you might want to stash it someplace close and dry.

Clean the ritual space with nontoxic products. Baking soda gently scrubs everything from dishes, ovens to porcelain sinks. White distilled vinegar cleans glass and removes grease for shine. Both remove odors. Olive oil, fresh lemon juice and a little water cleans and protects wood furniture. Dr Bronner’s liquid castile soap cleans everything: add a bit to a bucket of warm water and some white distilled vinegar for mopping most floors. Add infusions of herbs that purify.

Clean yourself only with things you can safely eat. Honey washes off easily, is antimicrobial, and helps both acne and dry skin. Dr Bronner’s liquid castile soap diluted works great for hair and body. Baking soda is a safe exfoilant and a very tiny amount diluted in 8 ounces of water rubbed into the roots of the hair and rinsed away removes excess oil. Epson salts in a bath actually helps you detox through your skin and eases sore muscles. Hair rinse of apple cider vinegar makes it shiny. For dry skin and hair there’s everything from the light jojoba oil to rich shea butter, with olive or coconut oil in the mid-range. (Coconut oil on damp frizzy hair dries into ringlets.) There’s lots of recipes for nontoxic cleaning and body care, to which you can add herbal infusions, oils and salves.

Before you begin check that you have your offerings, matches, and any written praise poetry or invocations needed for the rite. (Hester Butler-Ehle has written fantastic ones!) Center, ground and shield. Keep your exhales long and do not hold your breath after the inhale. Droning instruments or rattles and bells (perhaps sewn on your clean clothing) may put you in a light trance state as you begin. Approach your altar or well respectfully, in a beeswax candlelit procession if possible. Circle it three times sunwise (clockwise). Offering ideas include but are not limited to: coins, ceramic, metal, glass and wooden images of fish, hounds and tridents, plus jewelry of the same materials. (Make sure that the ceramic glaze is safe – if it’s for holding food, you’re good. Also older metal pewter sometimes contains lead, which is really poisonous. With a deity based on purity, it’s even more important to not poison the soil or water.)

 

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