Epona, Macha, Rhiannon & the Horse, Head & Hero Cult

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Epona from the Album Caranda per Moreau

For Epona’s Day, I’m sharing quite a bit from Steel Bars, Sacred Waters. If you would like information about the widely popular Dies Equeunu/ the Alci, Celtic funeral practices, to read the beautiful Epona ritual by Viducus Brigantici filius and learn more about the Folly Lane complex, check out the book. It’s less expensive here and all the profits go to sending copies to prisoners! Thank you!

Heads, Horses and Heroes: the Ancestor Cult

The Celtic Bronze and Iron Age religions focused a lot on death and rebirth. A stag cult with antlers probably symbolized the natural, never-ending cycle of life of everything. Roman records say that Gaulish Druids taught that after death comes rebirth in the Ancestor Paradise and then perhaps human reincarnation, continuing until everything is destroyed in fire and water. There is also a cult of important tribal ancestors.

In Southern Gaul life-sized statues of men in geometric-design armor sitting cross-legged on the ground began being made in the 7th century BCE. Over the next few centuries they became more realistic looking. They often sat in a row. Similar statues of at least four women were also recovered. Many scholars believe these statues depicted actual heroes or politically important ancestors.

As the Southern Gauls built oppida (walled urban centers usually on high land), they often included Greek columns, the ancestor-hero statues, along with images of horses and human heads. Space to display human skulls was included. Sometimes this shrine stood at the gates; at other places it was in the public center. The human head was a large part of the native Celtic religion.

Art of horses with pillars of male human heads were part of Celtic religion since the Bronze Age and into the Iron Age transition. Horses may have been guides home to the Ancestor Realm. Epona had a funerary aspect and it is the horse of Gwyn ap Nudd that is anxious to get the fallen heroes on the battlefield.

These seated warrior statues (often old and moved from another place), horse art, pillar and skull shrines were a central part of these Gaulish communities. The nobles kept the embalmed heads or skulls of their own deceased ancestors there. By displaying their own ancestors’ heads with the real or mythical ancestor of the community, they showed that they were the rightful heirs.

This cult was abandoned in the late Iron Age. Gaulish tribes migrated east and dynasties fought. The ancestor-hero statues were all destroyed, probably by rival Gauls. Later, the Roman Empire would not tolerate cults of tribal ancestors, because they kept Gaulish people from viewing themselves politically as Roman citizens. Some oppida probably were named after ancestor heroes which we assume are deities.

Continuing the Hero and Horse Cult Today

The ancestor cult involving horses was a pre-Roman Celtic religion for a long time. We can replicate the horse and head shrine, including images of our own dead heroes, those people who influenced us or had virtues or skills we desire and respect. At the horse and head shrine we can make offerings and pray for guidance from our heroines and heroes; serve others as a spirit worker communicating with ancestors; meditate on the mysteries of death and rebirth; or worship deities associated with those mysteries like Epona, Ataegina, Erecura, Gwyn ap Nudd, Arawn, Cernunnos, Sucellos, Nantosuelta, etc.

To bond a Celtic Pagan Circle, members can bring a human head or skull object that represents their own ancestors. Heads might show range of styles: Day of the Dead skulls, old ceramic doll heads, abstract skulls carved into wood, papier-mache heads, rocks that appear to have faces, etc. A tall, narrow shelving unit for the heads can serve as the pillar. Paintings, drawings, photographs or statues of horses, the guides, go around the pillar. Perhaps decorate with organic colorful striped or plaid fabrics, made from linen or wool if possible. (Even at Hallstatt the Celts were excellent weavers, the northwestern Iberian Celts invented new patterns used today, and Celtic cloaks from Britain became expensive luxury items in the Roman Empire.)

During a group ancestors ritual it’s important to make offerings like metal, ceramic or glass jewelry and art, handwoven fabric, daggers, small cauldrons of honeyed ale or grass fed butter (Kerry Gold butter is often with the fancy cheese in American grocery stores), and poetry, songs or stories about them. In Gaul offerings to the dead were often wrapped in expensive fabrics. The designs on metal are thought to originate from fabric. If you can knit with organic yarn (there’s cotton for vegans) or string glass beads into wildly colorful necklaces, you have perfect offerings!

In southwest Britain a point was made to destroy all the items used in a heroic ancestor feast, as seen in the Folly’s Lane complex. Enjoy a feast on wooden, ceramic or recycled paper plates and be certain the break, bend or tear all the dishes and utensils before burying them. You can find some beautiful inexpensive plates and bowls at second-hand shops. Do not use plastic, as it adds endocrine disruptors to the water supply.

Whenever the group meets, the shrine should be presented with offerings with feasts held when the year changes in November and May (and the night of June 23rd or daytime June 24th if you follow a Welsh tradition). New members can add their ancestor skull then. Leaving members should take theirs, unless they contributed a lot and still want to be remembered. (If the person or group cannot decide, use divination.)

Sometimes communities form around the values or skills of a common hero, dead or mythical. Marxists have Marx while Buddhists have the Buddha. The ancestor-hero joins people together. Humans are wired by evolution to want to belong. Cooperation, communication and collaboration has allowed us to survive and it’s a genetic desire to “fit in” and have a group home. Even if people do not share recent common ancestors, they can find a home with symbolic ancestors who represent the community’s virtues.

I once had a large mobile of Social Justice ancestors including Dorothy Day, Joe Strummer, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman, Oscar Wilde, Bob Marley, Paula Allen Gunn, Dr Rev Martin Luther King Jr, Joe Hill, and a long list of farmers in Asia, radicals in England like the Diggers, lots of people from Central America and Haiti, early feminists, indigenous leaders, deep ecologists and slaves who led rebellions or were maroons, among others. It was the focus of a Samhain ritual I led in Sojourner Truth Park on the Hudson River. We called on hundreds of ancestors for support, guidance, wisdom and courage.

Although our culture has a genre of storytelling called “magical realism,” it is unknown in indigenous cultures. Magical realism is simply reality in traditional stories. The Celtic peoples accepted shapeshifting and monsters in their ancestor-hero stories. The Gauls were great followers of the Greek hero demi-God Hercules and the Gaelic tradition continued with Cu Chulainn and Fionn mac Cumail. Characters from books and movies are possible ancestor-heroes just as much as “real” dead people.

For many of us, especially women, environmentalists, people with disabilities and polytheists, that’s good news, because there are not very many well-known, dead people who probably share our vision for the future. We’re being the ancestors who are needed now. How many female polytheist, animist, ecologically minded, creative, disabled, NeuroDiverse, courageous, honest, generous, intersectional feminist Solutionaries have passed over who left impressive legacies for me to honor? Not a lot, but there are many people who shaped the world so someone like me may proudly exist. I can honor them as well as the characters in the comic books, mythology and sci fi/fantasy novels I devoured as a child who also helped me form my values.

A Few Important Celtic Horse Goddesses

Epona “Divine Mare” Pronounced: EP-oh-nah

Epona is the protector of horses, ponies, mules and donkeys. She probably began as a native Celtic Goddess, but she also became a Goddess of the Roman cavalry whose worship spread among Gaulish, Germanic, and Illyrian horsemen. The earliest statues of Epona are found in Italy, Romania, England and Bulgaria. Later She appears in Gaul, especially northern, central and eastern Gaul. Epona is the protector of the Roman Imperial Horse Guard. Associated with many Roman deities, She is also linked to the Germanic Goddesses of the parade ground, the Campestres. Many works of art and inscriptions to Her are from outlying posts of the Roman Empire, especially at the well defended borders of Western Europe.

In Gaul, statues of Epona usually depict Her riding sidesaddle or walking with a horse usually to the right (sun wise), holding offerings of baskets of fruit or a cornucopia. Imperial statues show her seated facing forward between two horses who look at Her or eat apples or wheat. The Romans mass produced cult items. Statues of Epona were made from molds out of bronze, or the less expensive pipe clay. They were often kept in stables and barns and decorated with fresh roses. Epona was also very popular with the farming and mining Celtiberians in the mountains of northeastern Spain. To the Gauls, She appears to be associated with abundance (owning horses was a sign of wealth), while in Rome Her cult was strong with the cavalry and their family members who honored Her as their patron. Some images suggest She led the dead to the Afterlife. A rustic Italian calendar marks December 18 as Epona’s Day, but if anywhere else used that festival date is unknown.

Rhiannon “Great Queen” Pronounced: Hree-ANN-on

In the Mabinogi, Rhiannon is associated with sovereignty, horses, birds and being the wronged wife. Unlike the traditional women of Welsh medieval society, Rhiannon boldly chooses and courts Pwyll, King of Dyfed (pronounced Duv-ed) herself.

Pwyll (pronounced Pooy-ll) is now also called the King of Annwn, perhaps hinting at an earlier belief in His divinity. He purposely sits on an Otherworldly mound named Gorsedd Arberth where a noble will either be attacked or have a vision. Pwyll sees Rhiannon riding side saddle on a pale horse. She is so beautiful dressed in gold (perhaps a solar symbol) that even with a veil over Her face, He’s determined to meet Her. None of His men can catch Her, so Pwyll rides out himself. Her horse walks slowly and yet he can’t reach Her. Finally He calls for Her to stop. Boldly showing Her face (scandalous behavior when the Mabinogi  was written), She makes the witty reply it would have been better for him and his horse if he’d just asked in the first place.

This is an important lesson about the Sovereignty Goddess. You cannot catch Her; you must ask Her to stop. She follows Her will. The Gaelic Aine is a good example.

Rhiannon explains that Her father has promised Her to another man named Gwawl but She wants to marry Pwyll. Pwyll doesn’t handle the fiancé situation very wisely, much to Her frustration. However, due to Her plan, they are married.

When Her child is born on May 1st (Calan Mai), He is mysteriously stolen and She is falsely accused of killing Her baby. As punishment, She is forced to carry people up and down the hill to the palace like a horse while telling them Her sad tale. (This is the popular French court theme “The Wronged Wife” which is added to Branwen’s legend as well.)

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Dyfed, a man who lost a foal every May 1st to a monster, waited in his barn to stop the theft. Much to his surprise, a male infant mysteriously appeared as he protected the newborn foal. (This is probably from the famous Celtic version of the Indo-European young horse brother Gods, the Alci and Dies Equeunu. The earliest myths about Irish hero demi-God Cu Chulainn have Him born with a colt, too.)

This man (whose name is related to “thunder” and Taranus) and his wife raise this remarkable child as their own while Rhiannon continues her punishment. After seven years watching the boy excel at an astounding rate, the kind foster-family bring Her son to the King, recognizing they must be related. She named Her son Pryderi (pronounced Prud-ERRY), meaning “anxiety” or “care” when she announced that her “pryderi” has been returned to Her.

Eventually Pwyll dies in battle and Rhiannon is widowed. She is courted by Manawydan, the rightful King of Britain who is wise and respected. While She had to be sharp tongued with Pwyll, Manawydan enjoys Her keen wit. Their marriage goes well until Rhiannon and Her son are captured and imprisoned by allies of the rejected suitor of her youth. Manawydan smartly negotiates their release and the tale ends happily.

Her name may come from Rigantona, a Celtic Goddess whose name is either “Great Queen” or “Divine Queen.”

The Mabinogi used many popular medieval folk tale themes that were popular with French and other nobles. Celtic deity names, often very similar to those in the Irish Mythological Cycle, are found throughout the Mabinogi but the context may be wrong. However, Rhiannon breaks many rules for women in that time period, especially by choosing Her own husband, speaking directly and showing Her face, which link Her to Gaelic horse Goddesses Macha, the Morrigan and Aine.

Macha Pronunciation: MAH-kuh

“The remarkable, spirited one unbound, Loosened the hair on top of her head. Without a fierce shout driving her, She came to the racing, to the games… Though swift the horses of the chief, Among the tribes strongly apportioned, The woman was swifter, without effort; The horses of the king were too slow.” – From The Metrical Dindshenchas (place lore)

Probably the oldest of the Horse Goddesses, Macha is an important Goddess of Sovereignty, especially of Ulster. Her many roles show her ageless power. There are four mythological women or Goddesses named Macha in Irish literature. Emain Macha (pronounced EH-vin MA-cha), a real place where the ruler of Ulster lived, is named for Her. Horses and crows and ravens are Her symbols, much like Her sisters the Morrigan and Badb. The three Goddesses worked magic together against the Fir Bolg. The severed heads of the Fir Bolg were called Macha’s acorn crop. Macha was Nuada’s wife when two were killed in the Second Battle of Moytura by Balor‘s deathly eye. Macha doesn’t stay dead and Nuada isn’t dead either. When composing these tales the Christian monks made everyone a mortal. 

Macha first appears as the wife of Nemed (“sacred one” or “sanctuary”). Macha and Nemed both derive from pre-Bronze Age Celto-Germanic root words, hers for horse, his to sacred groves. Nemed cleared a plain where Macha died that He named after Her. Some say she died of prophetic heartbreak, seeing how the land would be destroyed by the battles told in Tain Bo Cualigne (“The Brown Bull of Cooley”). There were Lughnasa-style festivals held at Emain Macha, the royal center of Ulster. Macha doesn’t stay dead.

Next is the story for which She’s most famous. It sets up Ulster for its lack of warriors in Tain Bo Cualigne (“The Brown Bull of Cooley”). Macha now is an Otherworldly beautiful young woman who silently enters the home of Crunnchu, a wealthy farming widower, and begins caring for the house. She cleans it in a clockwise (deiseil pronounced JEH-shel) direction before going to his bed. Crunnchu watches his land flourish as Macha grows bigger with child. Macha is a fertility and prosperity Goddess. Her husband goes to the assembly, but Macha warns him not to mention her name. Watching the King’s horses race, Crunnchu accidentally says his wife can run faster. The King wants to see this and demands that Macha come to his court. To make sure She’ll arrive, the King puts Crunnchu in prison.

Macha now is nine months pregnant. She asks to give birth first, telling the King and all assembled “A mother bore each one of you.” No one showed compassion and they threatened to kill Her husband. Macha loosened her hair and ran the race, reaching the pole before the King’s horses. Macha then gave birth to twins. (They are considered to be the Gaelic version of Dies Equeunu/ the Alci.)

With Her dying breath Macha cursed the cruel men of Ulster to be as vulnerable and weak as women in childbirth during the five days and four nights whenever they would need their strength the most. For nine generations her curse would last, causing Cu Chulainn to fight alone in Tain Bo Cualigne (“The Brown Bull of Cooley”). Her role as Sovereignty Goddess is clear – when treated well things flourish, when abused the people are cursed. Macha still refuses to stay dead.

Last Macha is Macha Mongruad or “Macha of the Red Mane.” Now She is a warrior queen who is challenged by the five sons of Dithorba. Their father wants to be King and claims that Macha is unfit because She is a woman. While the five brothers eat, She appears looking like a hag and a leper, which Gaelic Sovereignty Goddesses often do to test men. Still they desire her. She lures them one at a time into the woods and has sex with each. Macha forces them to build the rath (a circular earthen enclosure) that today is still named Emain Macha. Emain Macha means the twins of Macha. Her tomb is in Armagh (Ard Macha) on the top of a tall hill. But she’s still not dead.

August 1st Ritual for Macha

Lughnasa-type festivities occurred at Emain Macha in late July and early August. If you feel a connection to Macha or Ulster, make Her the focus of your first fruits ritual.

 

Bibliography

Cunliffe, Barry, On the Ocean: The Mediterranean and the Atlantic from Prehistory to AD 1500. Oxford University Press (2017)

Daimler, Morgan, Pagan Portals: Irish Paganism: Reconstructing Irish Polytheism. Moon Books (2015)

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)

Davies, Sioned, editor and translator, The Mabinogion. Oxford World’s Classics (2007)

Gregory, Lady, Gods and Fighting Men: The Story of the Tuatha De Danann and of the Fianna of Ireland. Public Domain (1905)

Haussler, Ralph, From tomb to temple: on the role of hero cults in local religions in Gaul and Britain in the Iron Age and the Roman period, Celtic Religion Across Time and Space, Junta de Comunidades de Castilla-La Mancha (2010)

Hyllested, Adam, The Precursors of Celtic and Germanic, Proceedings of the 21st Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference (2010)

Koch, John T, Rock art and Celto-Germanic vocabulary: Shared iconography and words as reflections of Bronze Age contact, Adoranten (2018)

Jones, Mary (ed), Jones’ Celtic Encyclopedia, http://www.maryjones.us/jce/jce_index.html

Sacred Texts Celtic, http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/index.htm

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

Waddell, John, Equine Cults and Celtic Goddesses, EMANIA Bulletin of the Navan Research Group (2018)

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

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.)

 

Bibliography

Butler-Ehle, Hester, Fieldstones: New Shoots from Stony Soil. Fieldstone Hearth

Daimler, Morgan, Pagan Portals: Irish Paganism: Reconstructing Irish Polytheism. Moon Books (2015)

Davies, Sioned, editor and translator, The Mabinogion. Oxford World’s Classics (2007)

Gibbons, Miael and Myles Gibbons, The Brú: A Hiberno-Roman Cult Site at Newgrange? emania 23 (2016)

Gregory, Lady, Gods and Fighting Men: The Story of the Tuatha De Danann and of the Fianna of Ireland. Public Domain (1905)

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)

Jones, Mary (ed), Jones’ Celtic Encyclopedia, http://www.maryjones.us/jce/jce_index.html

Khilhaug, Maria, The Maiden with the Mead, Masters thesis, University of Oslo (spring 2004)

L. Vitellius Triarius, Meditations on the Roman Deities: A Guide for the Modern Practitioner. CreateSpace (2013)

Laurie, Erynn Rowan, The Well of Five Streams: Essays on Celtic Paganism. A Megalithica Books Publication, An imprint of Immanion Press (2015)

Laurie, Erynn Rowan, The Preserving Shrine, http://www.seanet.com/~inisglas/

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

Noyer, Rolf, PIE Dieties and the Sacred, Proto-Indo-European Language and Society

Serith, Ceisiwr, Deep Ancestors: Practicing the Religion of the Proto-Indo-Europeans. ADF Druidry (2007)

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

Willoughby, Harold R., A Study of Mystery Initiations in the Graeco-Roman World (1929)

Online Index to the Lebor Gabála Érenn (Book of Invasions) based on R.A.S. Macalister’s translations and notes, https://celt.ucc.ie//indexLG.html

 

December Pagan Holy Days Resource

Onje Keon Pierce Gullveig Press logo
Gullveig Press logo design by Onje Keon Pierce

Gullveig Press sends an 18 page detailed polytheist calendar with dates of new (NOT dark) and full moons, Mercury Retrograde and lots of information about other Pagan cultures’ division of the year, month and week to incarcerated prisons for $2.25. But if you are pen pals with a Pagan in prison, you can copy each month’s calendar from this blog, print and mail! Make sure that you included the Introduction to the Calendar so they can understand the Athens calendar, the Julian calendar and have the dates for the new and full moon. Thank you for doing this work for your pen pal!!

Gullveig Press Pagan Festival Calendar by Heather Awen, author of “Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners” Gullveig Press, PO Box 126, St Johnsbury, VT 05819, 556 pages, $12 includes shipping.

The Anglo-Saxons called December and January Yule.
In one Yoruban region of Nigeria, Ogun, the Orisha who literally is iron, traditionally had an annual December Festival.
The Romans held a ritual for Neptune on December 1.
On the 3rd Roman women held a private rite for Bona Dea (“Good Goddess”), the earth fertility Goddess. Her priestess was called Damiatrix. There was a play, music, wine called “mother’s milk” and an offering of a pig. In this Mystery rite, sacred objects were shown to women only.
The 4th is dedicated to the Orisha of thunder, justice and courage Chango who repels all enemies and negativity.
Rural Romans asked Faunus, God of wilderness, on December 5 to bless the countryside and farmland. Worshipers built altars of sod where incense burned, made wine and other sacrifices and then joyfully danced in the fields. The Hymn to Faunus: “Guarantee me a fertile and bountiful year, and I will not fail in pouring a libation of wine to you… The valley resonates with the beat of music and dancing feet in your honor.”
On December 8th the Geledé Iyamí Oxorongá & Eshu Agbo festival is held in Brazil. An ancient mask ritual from the Yoruba people of Nigeria, it celebrates the power of sexuality. The Iyamí are the female Orishas and mothers, often called birds, while phallic Eshu represents male sexuality. Later under the influence of Christianity, the Iyamí became associated with evil witchcraft.
During the waning moon of the November-December lunar month was the Haloa, a fertility celebration of Demeter, Kore (a young Goddess similar to Persephone) and Dionysos in Athens. The new wine was tasted and a vegetarian feast (with fish) was served. Women brought models of female and male genitals and had raunchy, erotic discussions.
The lunar cycle of December-January was a very popular time for weddings in Greece.
On December 13 (or full moon) the Roman Senate honored the earth Goddess Tellus. Ceres, Goddess of grains, also received a banquet.
The 15th (or full moon) was dedicated to Roman God of the storage bin of harvested grain, Consus. His sacred animal the mule had races, while other mules, horses and donkeys rested with garlands around their necks.
On the 17th the Orisha Babalu-Aye is honored, for He grants healing especially of skin conditions, looks over those with smallpox and HIV/AIDS and brings us the abundance of the earth.
Rome’s Saturnalia, held from December 17 to 23, reminded people of the Golden Age of Saturn, a time of peace and prosperity. The statue of Saturn in His temple normally was bound, but He was freed now. After sacrifices held at Saturn’s temple, Romans changed into comfortable clothing for the banquet. For the next week official business stopped and stores closed, while parties and feasting took their place. As a misrule festival that allowed the oppressed some release, role reversals occurred: masters waited on children and slaves, while children and slaves led the rituals and attended the festivities. Pine boughs and wreaths hung over doorways and windows, with ornaments of stars, sun symbols and the 2 faces of Janus. Gifts were given, especially on Sigillaria, the last day of the Saturnalia. Saturn’s wife Ops (“plenty”) was honored on the 19th.
A couple days before the December-January full moon and continuing for 4 to 9 days was the Greek Lenaia (“feast of vats”). Statues of Dionysus Leneus were dressed in ivy and He received sacrifices. Attending the theatre was a large part of the holiday.
Roman festival for Epona was honored by the military horsemen on December 18. Epona is a Gaulish horse Goddess whose image was kept in stables and barns. Not only the protector of horses, She led people to the Afterlife.
December 21 is the Roman Angeronalia, a day of sacrifices to Angerona, Goddess of disease angina. Angerona also causes and stops anguish and anxiety. Her mouth is bound, because Jupiter covered it when Angerona told Juno of His infidelity. Jupiter ordered Mercury to take Angerona to Hades. Mercury seduced Angerona, and in the Underworld She gave birth to the Lares (household protectors). The Divalia was the secret rite of Angerona.
On the 23rd funeral rites were performed before the tomb of Roman Goddess Larentina, who may be connected with the Lares (household protectors). Offerings to Di Manes (the dead) were made by Priests.
The same day Dea Tacita (“silent Goddess”), an earth Goddess, received offerings in Her grove.
Yule is a Norse 12 day celebration of returning sunlight that starts on the night of the Winter Solstice or the evening of December 24. In Germany Frau Holle demands that all spinning be put away for the 12 days of Yule. Some Heathens interpret this to mean that there should be no work done during Yule. It probably has to do with the weaving of the new year’s fate by the Norns in this transitional time. The Yule log was as big as a tree, decorated with garlands of greenery and carried to the house in a happy procession. (Some Scandinavians lived in “long houses” which held a couple dozen people or more.) The log burned for 12 days. Pork, Frey‘s sacred animal, is eaten, with the belief that wishes said over it will be carried to the Gods.
The Anglo-Saxons called December 24 “Mothers Night.” Some Pagans speculate that it was to honor the Disir, the female ancestors; others think that it continues the worship of the popular Celtic-German Matres (“Mothers”), and others connect them with the three Norns, the Norse Goddesses of destiny. Each family is said to have their own Norns, who may be the Disir.
On December 25th ancient Romans celebrated Bruma, the winter solstice. In 273 CE it became the sacred day of Sol Invictus (“Unconquered Sun”), patron of soldiers. Emperor Constantine decreed Sunday a day of rest: “On the venerable day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed.” Sol Invictus probably was imported from Syria. He is associated with the popular military God imported from Persia Mithras and the date may have become His birthday.
December 31st is commonly the Festival of the Yoruban Orixa Yemaya in Brazil. As the sun sets, people release little boats to the Pacific Ocean. The boats hold flowers, pastries, jewellery, white candles and other gifts to Yemaya.

 

If we’ve missed a traditional Pagan festival please let us know! Include information about the festival and the source of the information.

UllR & Ullin: Glorious Couple of Norway & Sweden

Ullensaker_komm.svg
Cost of Arms of Ullensaker

I read somewhere the theory that Saint Hulbert, honored on November 22, is actually the very ancient Germanic God UllR. If it’s true, I don’t know, but it gives me an entrance to discuss such an important God – and Goddess! Yes, UllR has a much neglected sister and/or wife named Ullin, probably with a relationship like those of Fjörgyn and Fjörgynn or FreyR and Freya.

His Name – Already known in 200 CE

His name seems to comes from wolþu- which means “glory”. Wuldor is used in parts of kennings for the Christian God in Old English, but there’s no evidence that Wuldor was ever a Saxon God. However, it’s helpful to remember that most deities’ names are titles. If UllR does descend from the title “glorious one” or something similar, He’s mentioned in one of the oldest recovered Elder Futhark inscriptions. A chape from a scabbard found in the Thorsberg moor, Denmark from around 200 CE has an inscription that reads:
owlþuþewaz / niwajmariz
owlþu means something about “glory” while -þewaz means “servant, slave”. It’s thought to be a name or job title “servant of the glorious one” with niwajmariz meaning “well-honored”. Many scholars think it refers to a Priest of UllR. That someone is called a deity’s slave may give us insight into how the Iron Age Germanic tribes understood Priesthood. Was “well-honored slave of UllR” owned by UllR, called to a vocation of service without free will? Does this have anything to do with UllR’s early role as the Norse God of oaths? These are just ideas to spark questions about how differently people thought in communal polytheist cultures and highlight the importance of UllR even then.

UllR’s Only Myths: Ceremony and Kingship

The two of oldest poems in the Poetic Edda, Atlakviða and Grímnismál, are our only real literary references to UllR. He lives in a yew grove, a tree used for making bows. “Yew” (ýr) was sometimes used to mean “bow”. Later I’ll focus on how He is referred to as the archer God and why that wouldn’t have much relevance for Icelandic settlers.

UllR is the God named a ceremony:  “Ullr’s and all the gods’ favour shall have, whoever first shall look to the fire; for open will the dwelling be, to the Æsir’s sons, when the kettles are lifted off.”

To me, this seems pretty straight forward. We know that fire was a common way to give offerings to the deities for all Indo-European language speaking people. The Norse made such offerings; Freya‘s devotee had an altar of blood made smooth as glass by fire. Funeral pyres took people to Valhalla or Hel, as is the case with the God Balder. The hearth fire is the most important of all fires. Fire is the way to reach the deities, the gateway to Their worlds. The first to look at the hearth fire when nothing is blocking it has the honor of seeing past the gate at the same time that the Gods will look upon the home. The Gods will bless that person.

We know that the Gods and mortals connect at the fire in any dwelling. The fire is holy. When we look at the fire, we must always remember that. The first to do so by looking at the fire receives the blessings of the Gods. If there’s more to it, like the Gods travel into the building through the fire, the Gods communicate with the first person by signs in the flames, etc we don’t know. (I say Gods because it’s the Æsir’s sons. The poet excludes the Goddesses rather explicitly.)

But why is UllR the only God named? Was He the Father God for some Scandinavians? We know that such a decentralized religion without bards for the regular people, the myths and practices were different from region to region, tribe to tribe, kingdom to kingdom. There’s no reason to assume that Odin was the top of the pantheon for all Norse Heathens. Tyr was the top God in the beginning, which means that there were originally very different Germanic myths about the formation of the worlds and anything else starring Odin. I’d like that reality to sink into the reader’s understanding of the ancient, thriving, wide spread Heathen cosmologies, practices and mythology. The myths we know weren’t the myths for all Germanic-speaking polytheists.

Evidently the farther back we go, the more important UllR as King becomes. Read the relevant 12th century story in Saxo Grammaticus’ Gesta Danorum. The deities survive as Magickal beings, somewhat like how medieval Irish monks turned the Gaelic Gods and heroes into the Fae. UllR as the Latinized Ollerus is a wizard who marked a bone with spells. The magic bone can cross the seas as fast as a rowed ship, allowing UllR to travel over waters blocking His way. (I’m guessing that this is where some modern Heathens got the idea that UllR invented ice skates using bones on His feet. There’s nothing in the source material to suggest that the seas He crosses are frozen and He clearly has one bone, however.)

UllR here is associated with Magickal travel over water, which would be an odd thing for Saxo to just make up. FreyR has a Magickal ship, Njord is the God of sea-faring voyages (not the actual ocean, as I’ve heard too many educated Heathens say) and Freya as Mardoll is associated with the Sea. This connection with the Vanir repeats itself in many aspects of what we know about UllR.

Saxo Grammaticus’ Gesta Danorum suggests that there was a bioregional or historical struggle between UllR and Odin for top God. Odin is exiled and Ollerus is chosen to replace Him. This Ollerus does under the name Odin until the actual God Odin is allowed to return after ten years. I know some Heathens don’t use Saxo Grammaticus as a primary source because he was a Christian, but so was Snorri Sturluson. If we can’t use source material that doesn’t call the deities actual deities, then all the Gaelic deities but The Dagda and The Morrigan never existed. At some time in some place in continental Scandinavia, UllR appears to have been the Alfather.

God of Oaths

The archeological evidence suggests that UllR was very powerful anywhere the Vanir were popular. In Norway, UllR is found in place names near Njord. In Sweden, it’s FreyR. In fact Lilla Ullevi (“little shrine of Ullr”) in Sweden is near Uppsala. Its arrangement of rocks in two rooms with four large post holes is from the Vendel Period. 65 oath “amulet rings” were recovered, clearly showing that UllR is a God of the oath. Oath Gods tend to keep the laws of society running smoothly. The Iberian Celtic God Tongoenabiagus and pan-Celtic Lug probably served a similar role, as Their names are related to oaths.

Norse God of the oath? Isn’t that Thor’s role? Not according to the final mention in the Poetic Eddas. The “oft-sworn oaths” between two men were taken “by Ullr’s ring”. UllR apparently fulfilled roles later/also held by Odin and Thor. With Heathenry having no Bible or formal Priesthood among the remote homesteads of the north, people had living traditions. Norse mythology is a literary construct, not a religious text. Snorri didn’t even include any myths about UllR and left out some key religious myths such as Odin sacrificing Himself to grab the magic of the runes.

For a God barely mentioned in the 13th century Icelandic writing of Snorri Sturluson, UllR certainly was widely and actively worshipped in Heathen Norway and Sweden. Yet Snorri may explain why Thor replaced UllR as the deity of making sure that people held to their oaths. UllR is called the son of Sif (whose name intriguingly seems to mean “relative by marriage”, as if She married into the Aesir family of deities). Sif has married Thor, who is UllR’s step-father.

It’s easy to imagine the thunder God marrying an important Goddess of a conquered or neighboring tribe. Thor was more popular than Odin for most “common people”. The Southern Saami even worshiped Thor as Grandfather with a wife associated with rowan berries. The Saami and the Germanic people traded language, religious practices and technology in Eastern Sweden. The amazing ships of the Norse came from Saami designs, and Swedish families had bear skeletons under their homes. The polar shamanic cult of the bear, especially important to the Saami, reached some ancient Swedes.

(It’s important to see this as yet another example of how the Germanic tribes were not xenophobic “nationalists” who never lived with “outsiders.” All fascist Heathens stating such nonsense need to study actual history. 25% of women in Heathen Iceland were Irish or Scottish, Christian and spoke Gaelic. So much for “not mixing cultures.” The Rus influence disappeared so quickly that the funeral record we have of a Rus is thought to contain Slavic elements.)

God of Archery

Snorri gives a brief description of UllR: beautiful, all the qualities of a warrior, called upon in duels, but most importantly, UllR is the best archer and “ski-runner” of all the deities. That’s been UllR, the ancient glorious God of the Germanic tribes, to most Heathens today. I find that very sad, because He and His sister – lover Ullin are great deities ignored because most people want myths. Again, the myths are literary creations. It was not as if Snorri was Mohammed recording the words of an angel from a God. It’s believed that the myths of UllR are so old, Snorri didn’t even know them. If you are seeking to reconstruct pre-Conversation era Heathenry, odds are in your favor that somewhere UllR and Ullin were very high ranking.

Neither UllR or Ullin are connected to any known place names in Denmark or Iceland. Icelanders clear cut Iceland so quickly all wood, including yew, had to be imported. Iceland never needed a military because the island was so remote. There was no need for warrior archers, specialists greatly valued in the military. For these farmers Thor and Frey were the most important, with Njord also vitally important because so much had to be imported. The oath God UllR never really made it to Iceland and part of His role went to His step-father Thor.

Where Were UllR and Ullin Worshiped?

What types of places were named after UllR and Ullin? As stated before, places near other places named for the Vanir Gods. Several Norwegian farms or clusters of farms are named for UllR, and one or two fjords. In Sweden Ullevi (“Ullr‘s sanctuary”) is found in Västergötland and Västmanland, while place names of His fields, mountains, towns, bays, lakes, groves and especially Ullstämma (“Ulls meeting”) also exist.

Christian policy has been to build churches where the religion was politically forced on Pagans worldwide, so we should expect to see this pattern with UllR. Instead, we get a twist. Ullin appears to have been the biggest threat to the new faith. Four early Christian churches were built on sites named for Ullin, places with the names Ullinshof (“Ullin‘s temple”), Ullinsvin (“Ullin‘s meadow”) and Ullinsakr (“Ullin‘s field”); one early church was built on Ullensvang (“Ullr‘s field”).  In Norway They seem to have an agricultural connection.

Vanir?

For the following reasons I consider UllR and Ullin to belong to whatever is meant by the Vanir deities: Their names and relationship seem to be similar to that of the royal FreyR (“Lord”) and Freya (“Lady”) as the Glorious God and the Glorious Goddess. Their names only appear in places where Njord or FreyR were popular, the two “for sure” Vanir Gods. UllR has a Magick boat, and only the Vanir have any direct connection to over seas travel. Sif, the mother of UllR (and we can probably safely presume of Ullin as well), is not originally from the Aesir. She married into the Aesir, which means Her children are from another “tribe” (or other Norse tribes’) of deities. Vanir could refer to deities who had their own strong regional cults and had to be forced into the literary mythology of 12 Gods ruled by one (Odin). That’s too similar to the Classical Greek mythology Snorri and other cosmopolitan medieval scholars would have known for me to take very seriously.

For example, Heimdall may be referred to as both Vanir and Aesir because He had an ancient following of His own. In the myth where He’s called Rig (a royal title) He creates the three castes of humans. (The 1/4 to 1/3 of Norwegians who were horribly treated slaves aren’t mentioned in mythology or by “authentic” Viking reenactment festivals.)

It’s easy to piece together more about who UllR and Ullin are when you study the known information. Whatever your personal hunch or opinion of UllR, we must admit that He is a very important God with a long history of Heathen worship. As He is the God of skiing it makes sense to honor Him as the winter months have begun.

A note on pronunciation: Ullur is the Icelandic spelling, so “UL-ur” makes sense. UllR, like FreyR, should just be Ull with a bit of a “z” at the end which is not in English. Since we call FreyR “fray” it makes sense to call UllR “Ul”. Modern North German languages write and say Ull. Latinized, He was the medieval Norse Ollerus, like how Njord is Nerthus or Joshua is Jesus.

 

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!

 

Bibliography

Broadbent, Noel, Lapps and Labyrinths: Saami prehistory, colonization and cultural resilience. Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press (2010)

Ellis Davidson, H. R., The Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. Penguin

Gregory, Lady Augusta, Gods and Fighting Men: The Story of the Tuatha De Danann and of the Fianna of Ireland. J Murray (1904)

Greer, John Michael, A World of Many Gods: An Inquiry into Polytheism. ADF Publishing (2005)

Lafayllve, Patricia, A Practical Heathen’s Guide to Asatru. Llewellyn Publications (2013)

Lecouteux, Claude, Encyclopedia of Norse and German folklore, mythology, and magic, Jon Graham trans. Michael Moynihan editor. Inner Traditions (2016)

Perabo, Lyonel D., Article review of Brink, Stephan; “How Uniform was the Old Norse Religion?”

THE POETIC EDDA Translated with an Introduction and Explanatory Notes by Lee M. Hollander, 2nd Edition Revised, University of Texas (1962)

Saxo Grammaticus, Gesta Danorum, Books I-IX, translated to English by Oliver Elton (1905)

Serith, Ceisiwr, Deep Ancestors: Practicing the Religion of the Proto-Indo-Europeans. ADF Druidry (2007)

Short, William R., Icelanders in the Viking Age: The People of the Sagas. McFarland & Company (2010)

Sturluson, Snorri, The Prose Edda, Jesse L Byock trans. Penguin Classics (2005)

Van Cleef, Jabez L., God Wears Many Skins: Myth and Folklore of The Sami People. Spirit Song Text Publications (2008)

The Viking Anthology: Norse Myths, Icelandic Sagas and Viking Chronicles. Bybliotech (2014)

Wikipedia Ullr

Wodening, Swain, A Handbook on Germanic Heathenry and Theodish Belief, self published (2007)

Balder, Loki & Hela in the 6th Century: New Depictions of an Old Myth

I came across an article on Burgundian 6th century belt buckles by Speidel that appear to depict a scene from Balder‘s travel to Hel which was lost by the time of the Eddas. It seems to be a missing part of Baldrs Draumar. Loki‘s role as Balder’s adversary continues beyond death. They may depict a previously unknown gift to humanity of Balder’s. Our understanding of Hela is greatly improved as well.

The Image on the Saint-Maur Buckle

On the left, a tall woman leans out from a door, stepping to the right. In her right hand is a bent object, probably a torch. She is very tall and wears a dress with a long coat, similar to those worn by Scandinavian women at the time. Her hair is long and loose. Her raised eyebrows and open mouth show her anxiety and anger as she looks to the figure in the middle.

The middle figure is a short bird-man. His body is bell shaped and striped; his head is human. He wears a tight cap over messy hair and although he has eyes and his right eyebrow is angled in anger, he has no mouth. Two wings emerge from behind him, and his left arm can be seen.

Between the arm and bird tail is a twig with berries and four or five leaves on each side. His left wing shows ruffled feathers as if the tall woman is bothering him. He faces us, feet turned out, but leans away from the woman and toward the lion on his right.

The giant lion rears up on his back legs and roars at the man on his right. This man stands firmly facing us, feet turned outward. His head is turned partly to the right where another smaller lion attacks. The smaller lion is in position to tear open the man’s chest with one paw and his penis with another. The man stabs the larger lion on the left in the mouth with a curved sword. His bare left hand is shoved into the smaller lion’s mouth, while his thumb points to his own mouth.

The man’s chin sticks out. He’s bearded with sharp eyes. His hair has six curls that loop on the left into a hair knot. Rising from his head are nine rays. Around his neck is a narrow double necklace. His kirtle and undershirt are raised. And the man does something not found in Christian art but is known in Germanic magick: his pants are down enough to show his penis.

There is a Christian inscription around the buckle, but it covers something else. It’s hard to know what is underneath. In some places it’s letters while the rest may be knotwork. Unlike most buckles of the time, the inscription does not describe the image.

The Myth?

Who are these Heathen deities? Comparison with contemporary Heathen jewellery from Denmark and the Visigoths gives us the answers. The Kongsvad bracteates depict the same bird-man with a horizontally striped, bird-shaped trunk and a twig of mistletoe. Always portrayed as shorter than the other deities, He is Loki. The fifth and sixth centuries’ three-god bracteates from Gudme show Loki with bird wings and tail, a human arm and His symbolic mistletoe. Loki’s lack of a mouth may refer to when His lips were sewn closed by the dwarf Brokk.

We know this is Loki. He has His symbols. In the sixth century, this is how He was depicted and Germanic tribes from Spain to Denmark. Everyone understood what the symbols meant. Loki, the main agent of change in Norse mythology, is a bird-man. Normally He is depicted in scenes from myth with other deities, but a belt buckle from Lavigny in Switzerland depicts Loki alone and menacing, with bird claws for feet. We know exactly how Loki looked to the pre-Viking Heathens. (I think it would be wonderful for today’s Heathens to depict Him (and the other deities) in Their traditional ways.)

In the Eddas, the falcon cape He borrows or takes from Freya. Perhaps the cape was His originally. However, because Frigga has a hawk cape, I tend to believe that the bird of prey is a well established aspect of these Germanic Goddesses. Both names Freya and Frigga originally came from the same proto-Indo-European root found in the Sanskrit Priya “beloved.” In the early migration into Central Europe, the people who would later develop the Celtic and Germanic languages changed the meaning to “free” which probably reflected Their noble status as the leader Goddesses.

A Visigothic belt buckle from the same time depicts Balder on His way to Hel, with the same bird-man Loki between Him and Hela. The small Loki stands on a wild beast. The world tree with a throne, a wolf and an eagle stands between Loki and Hela.

As seen on the Cottel buckle and other metal work, a common way to identify Balder is with the rays rising straight up from His head. Balder typically wears a double necklace. The Himlingøje silver cups, the Grésin tile, and several bracteates all depict Him with curls. We now know that Balder has curly hair and wears a double necklace.

Balder also shows His penis to menacing beasts on the Visigothic Herrera buckle. The lions are replaced with a wolf and snake here and on the Cottel buckle. (Perhaps they are Loki’s other “monster” children?) They fit into the Germanic mythology and cultural fears better than the lions. The Völuspá mentions a warg-wolf and the Nidhögg dragon as dangers to those on the journey to Hel:

“There Nidhögg sucked
corpses of the dead;
the wolf slit men.”

In the magickal fight with the two animals Balder not only exposes his penis on the Saint-Maur buckle and Herrera buckle, but also on the Pramay disc and the Grésin tile. It is large and wards Him. It is interesting that on a journey to the World of the Dead, His life-giving penis is His magickal weapon.

While Balder‘s death is certainly an important myth in the Eddas, we learn very little about Balder Himself. He is a relatively passive figure in such an important myth. Balder’s protective fertility gives us a chance to gain a more complete understanding of who this key Germanic God is. Although some people interpret Him as the Sun, that has never “worked” for me. After all, we have Sunna.

Much of Norse mythology is about the creation of our cosmos from the gap between the raw materials of ice and fire (usually water and fire in Indo-European cultures) and the beloved Indo-European cow. Typical for Indo-European myth, the first ritual sacrifice is of the first being (the Jotun Ymir) whose body is divided into the world. The world tree appears with the three important wells at its roots, the Norns exist and water the tree with Wyrd, and deities turn drift wood into humans. While Thor and Loki go on adventures, Odin constantly prepares for the battle between the Jotun and the Aesir that will usher in the end of our cosmos with another time of fire and ice.

We are promised that the cycle will begin again. The world tree remains, with a female and male human hidden in its trunk. Asgard is renewed. Odin‘s favorite son Balder (who was safely hidden in Hel, the realm of the dead), takes His father’s place, joined by the other children of the Aesir and perhaps the Goddesses and Vanir such as Njord.

Balder certainly is a God of tomorrow’s rebirth, but not that of the Sun. Balder shines, but so does Heide, Heimdall, Sif‘s hair, Gerda, etc. The proto-Indo-European meaning of deity is “shining ones” probably referring to the Sun, moon and stars. Shining is what deities usually do.

Balder seems more related to Hindu concepts of Ages, the cycle of generating (Brahma), operating (Vishnu) and destruction (Shiva). These three Gods have lifespans of Their own, and reincarnate as Themselves after death. The world and the Universe always live again. Greek and Irish mythology wonderfully explain past ages and their monsters or deities, but don’t tell us about what will come next. Gaulish Druids, according to Roman sources, taught that the soul was immortal until it and this world are destroyed by water and fire. Water and fire are the main Indo-European ways to purify from disruptive forces. Combined, they are the Indo-European source of wisdom, spiritual connection, creative inspiration, healing, Sovereignty, etc.

The Norse give us information about the way our cosmos started and will (or may have, according to some Pagans) end and be reborn. The myth Balder’s Dream explains how the trouble-making Loki tricks Balder into being killed. Then Loki ruins Balder’s chance to leave Hel. Although the deities grieve, this keeps Balder safe until the next cosmos is born. If Balder lived only to die when the Jotun and Aesir kill each other, there would be no God to be chieftain of the Aesir in the next cosmos. Loki makes sure that the prophecies which Odin learned from the dead volva will come true. Loki often does Odin‘s dirty work, like stealing Freya‘s necklace for Odin. As the two are blood brothers, perhaps this is Loki’s role. Yet Loki seems to have gone even further originally.

Depicted in these belt buckles, Balder travels Helveg the path to Hel, the same road Balder’s half-brother Hermóðr took to find Him. We learn that Balder has to fight two monstrous creatures that Loki put in His way. Here Balder is an active figure in His journey to become ruler of the next cosmos. But He may also serve as a trailblazer on Helveg, a type of psychopomp. Even though Balder does not guide the dead, He does fight the monsters we’ll have to face.

The buckle may be showing the dangers almost all of us will face when traveling to Hel. Odin encountered a traditional Indo-European dog guarding the road to Hel. Although the lions could have been adapted from the Christian legend of Daniel and the lions, two hounds are common in Indo-Iranian myth. In the Avesta the bridge the dead must cross is guarded by two dogs, while according to the Vedas Yama has His own two hounds that seize the dead. The people who became Germanic speaking tribes may have believed that two hounds guarded the road to Hel. Perhaps these buckles served as reassuring reminders of how Balder successfully completed the journey we will take, and when that time comes Hela will welcome us to Her realm.

Hela is always depicted on on bracteates as a very tall, grim woman, attired in a long dress, standing in or by her hall. Holding up an object thought to be a torch, She greets the newly dead. Burgundian and Frankish buckles and fibulas show Her hair as pointing down the center of Her forehead. A similar image is on the Mauland medallion. Hela uses Her torch to scare off Loki and His lions as She welcomes Balder. Hela will light our way and help us overcome the snake and wolf, the two lions or hounds, that may attempt to make us draugar. (The draugar will be discussed further.)

The belt buckle also depicts a cuirass, which is also found on the the bracteate IK 3. On the bracteate Hela receives the trophy of a cuirass on a pole from Balder’s wife Nanna, so we know that Nanna was in the myth even then. The funeral gift of fabric may be Frigga preparing Nanna to take Frigga’s role as spinner of destiny with the ability to know everything which will happen.

Hela obviously understands Her special role as guardian of Odin‘s favorite son. Loki‘s interference worries Hela enough to move against Her father and cause Him some frustration. The Eddas never describe the relationship between these two family members who play such important roles in Norse mythology. Here perhaps we see that Hela, like the other deities, is angered by Her father when He disrupts the right order and jeopardizes the cosmos. And He does this in HER realm.

There’s a clear separation between the living and the dead which people worldwide maintain with funerals involving psychopomp deities. (I believe that much of the separation comes from the practical awareness that dead bodies rot and attract disease spread by flies. Death must not pollute the drinking water either. The Greek concept of miasma may have possibly originated at least in part due to the physical pollution caused by dead bodies.) The Saxons hung blackberry or raspberry branches in windows and on doors to prevent the return of the recently deceased. Until the dead reach where they are meant to be, most societies have traditions to protect the living from following the dead, and to keep the dead from returning.

Funeral rites keep the protective order of purity in place. But if Balder, the most pure of the Gods, cannot reach Hel, where will He go? He cannot return to the living and Loki strives to keep him from His rightful place in Hel. But Hela knows Her role in preserving Balder. She is so concerned that She watches from the gate in Hel’s fence, waving Her torch at Loki and upsetting His feathers. If something goes wrong when we travel along Helveg, we can count on Hela to maintain the proper order.

There’s a long history of Germanic, even proto-Germanic, peoples fearing the return of the dead. “Usually in the sagas the attempts of the living are concentrated on keeping the dead within the grave….” wrote Hilda Roderick Ellis, explaining that “Draugr is the word used for the animated corpse that comes forth from its grave-mound, or shows restlessness on the road to burial.” The Celto-Germanic words developed by Indo-European tribes probably in Central Europe 4,000 years ago include the root of draugar, showing just how ancient this fear is.

Dwarves are considered by many scholars to have a connection with the dangerous dead. Originally made from maggots, dwarves live underground and often having names meaning “Black,” “Deceased,” “Torpid,” “Death,” “Corpse,” “Cold,” and “Buried beneath the Cairn.” Thor keeps the dwarf Alvíss “The One Who Knows All” engaged in conversation until the sun rises and the dwarf turns to stone. (I think it is important to remember that Thor defeated Alvíss with His wits, because too often is He treated like a stupid thug.)

The Belt Buckles

The Visigoths in Spain wore belt buckles depicting the same deities as Scandinavians. Although the 6th century Burgundians belt buckles usually are about Christian themes, two well known ones, the buckles from Saint-Maur and Saint-Quentin, provide us with ancient images of Heathen deities. The buckle from Saint-Maur is 10 x 5 cm.

 

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!

 

Bibliography

Albertsson, Alaric, Travels Through Middle Earth: the Path of a Saxon Pagan. Llewellyn Publications (2009)

Ellis, Hilda Roderick, M.A., PhD., THE ROAD TO HEL A Study of the Conception of the Dead in Old Norse Literature, Idunnas Press (2011)

Hyllested, Adam, The Precursors of Celtic and Germanic, Proceedings of the 21st Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference (2010)

Lecouteux, Claude, Encyclopedia of Norse and German folklore, mythology, and magic, Jon Graham trans. Michael Moynihan editor. Inner Traditions (2016)

Mierzwick, Tony, Hellenismos: Practicing Greek Polytheism Today. Llewellyn (2018)

THE POETIC EDDA Translated with an Introduction and Explanatory Notes by Lee M. Hollander, 2nd Edition Revised, University of Texas (1962)

Sturluson, Snorri, The Prose Edda, Jesse L Byock trans. Penguin Classics (2005)

Speidel, Michael P., Burgundian Gods on Sixth-Century Belt Buckles. (2010)

Swami Achuthanada, The Reign of the Vedic Gods. Relianz Communications Pty Ltd (2018)

November Pagan Holy Days Resources

Onje Keon Pierce Gullveig Press logo
Gullveig Press logo design by Onje Keon Pierce

Gullveig Press sends an 18 page detailed polytheist calendar with dates of new (NOT dark) and full moons, Mercury Retrograde and lots of information about other Pagan cultures’ division of the year, month and week to incarcerated prisons for $2.25. But if you are pen pals with a Pagan in prison, you can copy each month’s calendar from this blog, print and mail! It’s usually posted on the 23rd.

Make sure that you included the Introduction to the Calendar so they can understand the Athens calendar, the Julian calendar and have the dates for the new and full moon. Thank you for doing this work for your pen pal!!

Gullveig Press Pagan Festival Calendar by Heather Awen, author of “Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners” Gullveig Press, PO Box 126, St Johnsbury, VT 05819, 556 pages, $12 includes shipping.

The Anglo-Saxons called November “blot month.” Blot means “blood” particularly sacrifices, given the deities to thank Them for the harvest season. All of the livestock that would not survive winter were slaughtered and their meat preserved. (In Indo-European cultures, as in West and Central Africa, most deities usually desire the blood “life force” of animals and share the meat with humans in a communal meal.)
The last 10 days of the October-November lunar month, as the moon waned smaller, the region of Greece named Attica held the Pompaia. A procession honored Zeus Meilichios (“Zeus the Kindly”) with a sheep sacrifice. The sheep’s fleece became the Sheepskin of Zeus, highly valued in Magickal purification rites.
The 1st is sacred to the lwas of the Ghede (the dead) and the graveyard: Baron Samedi and Manman Brigitte.
The Fet Ghede (Feast of the Dead) is a Vodou celebration of the ancestors on the 2nd. The Ghede (the dead) are lewd, funny, healing male lwaa. When they possess someone, they rub themselves with burning hot peppers, smoke cigars and wear sunglasses with one lens missing.
On the 11th the Orisha Ellegua is honored in New Orleans Voodoo, especially by business owners and gamblers.
November 13 (or the full moon) is the day of offerings to the central Italian Goddess of freed slaves, Feronia, who also had a temple in Rome. “The Goddess of Freedom” was originally an agricultural Goddess.
That same day Romans worshiped Pietas, Goddess of duty to the deities, Rome and one’s parents. Depicted as a young woman, Pietas was accompanied by a stork.
On November 15 the last powerful Heathen Anglo-Saxon King, Penda, died in battle. Although he worshiped the old deities, Penda believed in the freedom of religion and allowed Christianity in his kingdom.
In Rome on November 15 (or the full moon) was a ritual to Jupiter followed by a banquet.
In Germany when the first snows arrive it is said to be Frau Holle shaking her featherbed.
In New Orleans Voodoo the 22nd is dedicated to the Orisha Oshun, especially Her relationship with musicians.
There may be a connection between the ancient Norse hunting and oath God UllR and Saint Hulbert, whose feast day is November 22.
The 30th is the feast date for the Haitian watersnake lwa Simbi, a powerful but shy magician and herbalist.

 

If we’ve missed a traditional Pagan festival please let us know! Include information about the festival and the source of the information.

Samhain’s More Accurate Meaning?

Here’s a look at a new meaning of Samhain, from the short but clear guide to Celtic beliefs about death and rebirth and crow/raven Goddesses, snagged from an essay by Brendan Mac Gonagle. Look for the full essay, with art depicting the Celtic myth of rebirth, and get a great insight into Celtic mythology, funeral practices, and many Goddesses.

Check out Brendan Mac Gonagle at Academia.edu and the fabulous balkancelts: Journal of Celtic Studies in Eastern Europe and Asia-Minor, https://balkancelts.wordpress.com.

Happy New Year!

SAMONOS / SAMHAIN / HALLOWEEN – ON THE CELTIC FESTIVAL OF THE (NOT QUITE) DEAD 

(21/10/2017) by Brendan Mac Gonagle

This concept of death and rebirth is also reflected in the etymology of the Celtic Samhain “the Festival of the Dead”. The traditional interpretation, first put forward in Medieval glossaries, and still held by many, is that it means “summer’s end”, being a combination of Samh “summer” and Fuin = “ending, concealment”. This is obviously a later folk etymology, since we know that the earliest form of the word (Samon-) had a different meaning. In fact the original Celtic meaning of “Samhain‟ comes from the Proto-Celtic *samoni– = assembly….

The original meaning of *samoni– therefore would be “assembly of the living and the dead”….

Encapsulating the Celtic concept of reincarnation, Samhain therefore marks the beginning of darkness, and thus the beginning of life, a time for “The Gathering” of all beings; as darkness comes before light, so life appears in the darkness of the womb, all things having their beginning in the fertile chaos that is hidden from the rational mind. Thus, the year begins with its dark half, holding the bright half in gestation as the seeds lie in apparent death underground, although the forces of growth are already at work. The moment of death – the passing into the concealing darkness – is itself the first step in the renewal of life.

“If what ye sing be true, the shades of men

Seek not the dismal homes of Erebus

Or death’s pale kingdoms; but the breath of life

Still rules these bodies in another age –

Life on this hand and that, and death between.”

– Roman poet Lucanus, 1st century CE, (Pharsalia Book 1:453-456)

 

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!

THANK YOU

We received a generous donation to buy 2 prisoners their own copies of Steel Bars Sacred Water and it really made the world seem a lot better. We were already using our own personal money to send copies to a books to prisoners organization today and now we can ship more. (They go down in shipping price when it’s a bigger order.)

Pagan books are one of the top ten most requested topics requested at every books to prisoners group I’ve seen. People want to learn! Thank you, awesome donar!

Celtic Festival of Albiorix

VT winter Heather Awen
Northeast Kingdom Vermont by Heather Awen

In northern Italy after the Celtic lands were conquered by the Romans, many of the original names of the native deities became lost. However, the Celtic epithets for Roman deities there are extremely localized. It’s sometimes rather easy to understand a traditional Celtic deity under a Roman name by using what we know about Celtic cosmology. Much of the time Celtic peoples chose which Roman deities they thought best synchronized with their own. 

As Rome would be celebrating the Mars Festival of the October Horse on October 15, I thought it was a good time to introduce another Celtic deity associated with Mars. Many other Celtic Gods were discussed in depth for March 1st. Here is a lesser known deity, Albiorix.

Albiorix in almost every source is listed as the chieftain God of the Gaulish Albici tribe, known as Mars Albiorix. Yet there is more to Him and until someone writes an updated book on the Gaulish deities it will be difficult to get the word out. (No book has ever focused solely on the Gaulish deities, although Steel Bars, Sacred Waters invests a lot of space to them and the Celtic deities of Iberia, where the most important research is being conducted.) For now, I hope that people will find this blog and perhaps even read the new academic papers for themselves. These deities deserve worship as much as any others.

While there are some dedications to Mars Albiorix, there are others to Albiorix alone in Cisalpine Gaul. Albiorix means “God of the mountain of Albion” according to Ralph Haussler.  In Galatia, Albiorix is known as “King of the Celestial World.”

This not only gives us information about the nature of Albiorix; it tells us how the Celts in northern Italy understood Mars. The most popular Mars there was Mars Conserviator, or Mars the Preserver. “The Preserver” is an important description of Indo-European deities and we see it with these Gaulish deities: Sucellus (a rural God Who, with Nantosuelta, took care of the peasants and is associated with Dis Pater, the Father of the Gauls and Ruler of the Realm of the Dead); Epona (a Gaulish Goddess popular in the Roman Empire as the Goddess of the mostly Gaulish and Germanic Imperial horsemen and the protector of stables and horses, donkeys and mules, Who also probably is a psychopomp); and the Suleviae (Goddesses known as the “Good Helmswomen” or “Good Guides” who look after groups of people, families and individuals perhaps like the Matres or Disir).

Not only is Albiorix the Celestial King and the Preserver, for many northern Italian Gauls, so was Mars no matter how the Romans understood Him.

 

Bibliography

Haussler, Ralph, A Landscape of Resistance? Cults and Sacred Landscapes in Western Cisalpine Gaul, STUDI E RICERCHE SULLA GALLIA CISALPINA 26, Roma tra il Po e le Alpi: dalla romanizzazione alla romanità ATTI DEL CONVEGNO, Venezia 13-15 maggio 2014, Giovannella Cresci Marrone

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)

http://maryjones.us/jce/aliborix.html

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

Celtic Festival of Taranus & Lugh

220px-Lugh_spear_Millar
Lugh’s spear by Millar

This is my way of organizing worship of Celtic deities based on the Roman or Greek deities associated with Them. After a couple generations of interaction with the conquering Romans, the Celtic speaking tribes who had the most contact with the Empire created their own versions of deities and rituals based on Roman religious practices. (Sulis Minvera is a great example.) If the tribes did that, then perhaps they also used the Roman Festival calendar to organize their offerings to different deities, like I do. 

October 7th is the Roman celebration of Jupiter Fulgar (Jupiter “of the Daytime Lightning”) and Juno Curitis. Although Jupiter Tonans (“the Thunderer”) and Juno Regina fit very well for Taranus (as discussed in this post), who doesn’t want another scheduled day to honor the Gaulish sky storm God?

There’s another deity who came to mind. Lugh‘s spear of fire that never misses always seemed like lightning to me. With so many other Indo-European Gods throwing bolts of lightning, it’s odd that the Celtic people don’t appear to have such a deity. Most modern scholars consider Lug to be an ancient storm God who is associated with Odin in the Celto-Germanic culture discussed more here. (Old scholars thought He was a sun God.) The connection with agriculture is very common for Indo-European thunder storm Gods such as the most popular God in Iceland, Thor. The history of Lug is discussed more hereIf you want a day for honoring Lugh, this date may make sense.