Festival of the Celtic Vulcan & Venus (Ucuetis & Bergusia, Gobannus, Goibnui & Gofannon)

288px-Statuette_Vulcanus_MBA_Lyon_A1981 © Marie-Lan Nguyen
Statuette of Vulcanus © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons

The Celts created their own relationships with Roman deities, obviously viewing Them through cultural lens. Today it’s become more common to discuss the “native” Mars or “native” Jupiter of a Celtic region. Celtic polytheism did not appear to be as concerned  with the names of deities as much as the cultural context of Them. Who the Romans thought a “native” Mars or Jupiter was not relevant. This was explored in the post about the native Diana and Abnoba.

In some places we’ve lost the names of the Celtic deities, although archeological and historical evidence clearly points to a Celtic interpretation of the Roman deities. Sometimes the name of the Celtic deity became an epitaph for a Roman deity, but in other cases a Roman deity was embraced without a Celtic title. 

Two deities embraced by the Gauls and worshipped in Britain* are the Goddess of gardens Venus and the smith God Vulcan. The two were never considered a couple in Roman mythology or ritual, but in Celtic mythology and ritual it appears that They were. First a little information about these Roman deities, especially before discussing Their association with the Greek Aphrodite and Haephestus.

On August 23 is the Roman Festival Vulcanalia, the anniversary of the eruption of mount Vesuvius in 79 CE. Vulcan is the Roman God of destructive fire, lightning bolts (which He made for Jupiter) and craftsmanship. Under the volcano Mount Etna Vulcan forges weapons for Gods and heroes. Vulcan was in some ways connected to the Greek God Haephestus, the cuckold husband of Aphrodite. However, Vulcan and Venus were never a couple to Romans. Instead, Vulcan was sometimes married to Maia.

The season of drought** brought risks of fires. Even the temples of Vulcan were normally built outside of cities for protection from His wild fire. On August 23rd people gathered on the banks of the River Tiber and sacrificed living fish to bonfires. The ritual was probably meant to appease Vulcan and prevent dangerous fires.

In the north of England* when the Roman military, especially Gauls and Germans, defended Roman Britain, many inscriptions to Vulcan were carved.

The “Good Goddess” usually worshipped by women, Bona Dea, had a festival which shared the date of the Vulcanalia with Vulcan.

Venus became popular in Gaul much like the Roman God Mercury. Although She later gained attributes of the Greek Aphrodite, Venus was originally a goddess of fruit trees and market gardens. A fertility Goddess, as Venus Genetrix She became the mother of the Roman people through Her son Aeneas. Julius Ceasar, who conveniently claimed to be a direct descendant of Aeneas, started the cult of Venus Genetrix with a temple built in 46 BCE. As Venus Libitina, She is associated with death. A temple on Mt. Eryx celebrated Venus as the Goddess of love and beauty. In Britain six engraved gems to Venus Victrix (“Victorious”) wearing a helmet and holding a shield have been found, along with four other gems to Venus.

An incredibly multifaceted Goddess, the Gauls probably understood Venus as a powerful Goddess of the life force, as described by Roman poet Lucretius: “Throughout seas and mountains and sweeping torrents, and the leafy dwellings of birds and lush green plains, the Goddess Venus strikes soft love into the breasts of all creatures. She cause them to be lustful, and reproduce” (De Rerum Natura 1.1–15 LCL).

The Celtic peoples were used to Goddesses who were life-nurturing, deciders of death on the battlefield, mothers of dynasties, and guides to the Realm of the Dead. It’s possible that the complex Venus may have been the Roman Goddess Who made the most sense to the Gauls. Titles of deities often changed; as with Greek and Roman polytheism, many Celtic Gods appear to have  had several descriptive names. To replace a local Goddess with the name Venus wasn’t difficult, but the local Celtic Venus would be different from the Goddess Romans knew.

The Galicians in Iberia, according to Saint Martin, the Bishop of Braga, still celebrated the Vulcanalia in the mid-6th century and couples still married on Friday, the day of Venus.

As seen with Mercury and Rosmerta and  Nemetona and Mars, it probably did not make sense to Celtic peoples that deities would not be in couples. Venus and Vulcan appear to be a couple in the Gaulish religion. They were often depicted together.

Gaulish Vulcan was especially popular in Eastern Gaul, from Metz to Worms. Usually depicted in the traditional Graeco-Roman style, a 1st century CE relief of the smith God with Venus provides a very different image. Vulcan is young and without a beard. A stag stands behind Him. His right hand holds a torch as if it is a scepter.

Elsewhere in Gaul a two sided relief allows us to view the Celtic Venus and Vulcan. On one side Venus stands naked, her left hand holding Her hair while Her right hand gently touches a winged Cupid. On the other side Vulcan holds His hammer and tongs, a stag again behind Him. There’s no Roman mythology to account for the stag. This is an interpretation of Vulcan that is Gaulish. The stag may represent the annual vegetative cycle of death and rebirth, as its antlers are shed and grow back. Or it could refer to the Celtic nobles’ recreation of hunting.  There’s even a chance it’s a magickal stag like in the first book of the Mabinogi.

As in most Pagan cultures, the Celtic peoples revered the apparent magic of the blacksmith. In Alesia, Burgundy, the Gaulish God Ucuetis and Goddess Bergusia were honored by craftsmen who worked with metals, while the Gaulish Gobannus was probably a God of smiths near Bern. The Gaelic smith God Goibnui serves the Ale of Immortality to the Tuatha De Danann and owns the cow whose milk is now the Milky Way. Smiths were associated with Druids in Ireland when Druid simply meant sorcerer, someone who works with mysterious forces and should be feared.

Currently the general consensus is that Venus and Vulcan were understood by the Gauls to be providers and protectors of the land’s fertility. In typical Celtic fashion, They have many aspects to Their power and need to be in a heterosexual couple to access them.

Although Ucuetis and Bergusia were not associated with Vulcan or Venus, the Vulcanalia may be the best time to honor Them. At Alise-Sainte-Reine is the inscription, “Martialis, son of Dannotalos dedicates this keliknon (small temple?) to Ucuetis – together with the smiths, who (worship) Ucuetis in Alesia.” An image of a Romano-Celtic God with a hammer and Goddess with symbols of abundance was discovered there, so perhaps Ucuetis and Bergusia are not so different from the Gaulish Vulcan and Venus. They certainly deserve the worship They once received!

Celebration Possibilities

Today’s Celtic Pagans could put statuettes of Venus and Vulcan in their gardens or with houseplants. Gauls especially loved Venus and bought pre -made little terra cotta statuettes of Her. Give prayers and offerings to form a relationship with these deities of great, wild powers that include everything from sexual passion to fires raging out of control. Pay attention to how the seasons change your potential food intake.

If you live where there’s a threat of wildfires, offerings to Vulcan should be made. You may also want to do this if you live near an active volcano. Real fish or Goldfish crackers burned in a fire pit or outdoor grill would be appropriate offerings. If you know the indigenous name of the mountain, use that after you’ve studied the indigenous cultures of where you are. You don’t want to offend any deities or spirits. To prevent cultural misappropriation, follow your usual ritual format, but include the name of the local volcano. (If there’s any traditional taboos, likes and dislikes of the indigenous deity, definitely follow those!)

This is a festival that could be for the wealth of craftspeople. Bergusia seems to be associated with prosperity and Ucuetis with smiths. Any artists and makers could keep a shrine to the divine couple to guide, protect and bless their workspace, and to ensure fair payment.

As we have no dates for a Festival of GofannonGoibnui or Gobannus, if you want a date for worshipping Celtic smith Gods, August 23rd may work for you.

03_Alesia_site_archeologique_monument_Ucuetis
Archeological site of Alesia, in Alise-Sainte-Reine, Burgundy, France: monument to Ucuetis. Photo by Myrabella/ Wikimedia Commons.

 

*Many of the deities, including Celtic deities, that we know were worshipped in Britain were not native, but instead were brought by the Roman military which included a lot of Gauls. These Gaulish deities, especially at Hadrian’s Wall where most names are found, were honored by the soldiers policing or actively opposing the native Britons. We don’t have many names of the Brythonic deities worshipped by the native Britons in the Iron Age.

** Unless you live in certain parts of the USA, the four Gaelic Pagan festivals don’t match what is happening with the land where you worship. Festivals from Rome (or imported from the Eastern Mediterranean (like Greek city-states), Persia (Iran), the Levant and modern Turkey) allow Celtic polytheists a way to connect to the drought in the majority of states. Athens has a seasonal cycle close to SoCal, for example. The Celtic Galatians ruled part of Turkey, others settled in the Hungarian Plain and an incredible amount lived for many centuries in the temperate forests of inland or on the Atlantic Iberia. The land is the focus of most rites, so seek ones that make sense for where you are.

Selected Bibliography

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

Butler-Ehle, Hester, Fieldstones: New Shoots from Stony Soil. Fieldstone Hearth (2013)

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

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

Haussler, Ralph, The civitas Vangionum: A New Sacred Landscape at the Fringes of the Roman Empire?

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)

Jones, Prudence and Pennick, Nigel, A History of Pagan Europe. Routledge (1995)

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

Macculloch, J.A., The Religion of the Ancient Celts, Edinburgh: T. & T. CLARK (1911)

MacKillop, James, A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford University Press (2004).

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

Rankin, David & d’Este, Sorita, The Isles of Many Gods: An A-Z of the Pagan Gods & Goddesses worshipped in Ancient Britain during the first Millennium CE through the Middle Ages. Avalonia (2007)

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

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

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A Brief History of the Ogham

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Cu Chulainn’s death from ‘Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race’

The ogham alphabet emerged in Ireland in the 4th century CE. (Pronounce ogham as “oh-um.”) It’s also called by its older name, ogam. Each letter is called a fid and can be made with straight lines that are easy to carve.

Although once carved into wood, what has survived until today comes two sources. One is manuscripts, where each fid is often more decorative, with dots, loops or swirls. The other form is the ogham stones. As tombstones and boundary markers, they were mostly used in southern Ireland and parts of western Britain (modern Wales), where the Irish had settled. At that time, those who could read and write knew Latin. Ogham seems to be based on the Latin alphabet but probably was easier to cut into the edges of standing stones. The legends talk about their use on wood but none have survived.

The Pagan mythological “father” of ogham was the Gaelic God Ogma and the “mother” of ogham was the knife or hand. Ogma was one of the greatest warriors of the Tuatha De Danann and discussed in the last post. Many people believe ogham was a way for warriors to leave short, inconspicuous messages carved on wood for other warriors. It was also a form of sign language. The nose or shin could be crossed with fingers to make a fid. In this way it could serve as code for silent communication between soldiers. (Imagine a baseball pitcher’s and catcher’s silent communication of ear tugs and nose touches.) Ogma gave this knowledge to humans, and we give the ogham birth using the knife or hand.

Another saying tells us that the father and mother of ogham are “sound and matter.” Not just written, ogham is to be sung or chanted. Magical uses are found in many tales. Ogma, legendary Druids (meaning sorcerers, not the traditional Priests) and Cu Chulainn all carved them on twigs to communicate or for magical reasons. We have no information about how they were chanted, but Celtic magic is very song-based. There was a short charm or prayer for everything people did, such as healing or protecting the fresh butter from the Fae. At one time it seems that there may have been an ogham practice similar to the Norse magical practice of galdor, where the runes are sung. (Please note that any references to the runes are not to suggest a common history between the two alphabets, but to compare the ogham with something readers are possibly more familiar.)

The Christian mythology about the ogham claims that the ogham was created after the Tower of Babel. Gaelic was supposed to have been the true language. Although a manuscript states the fid were named for trees, its medieval author clearly writes that some of those trees no longer existed. Also, some do not mean a certain tree at all. This obviously causes confusion, which most books on Paganism ignore, still calling the ogham a “tree alphabet.” At least traditionally, that’s not really true.

The confusing history of the ogham, with its necessary medieval Christian ties, has not been explained by most Pagans writing about the alphabet. They usually skip over the fact that there are no known magical inscriptions written with the ogham and focus instead on the legendary Druids (sorcerers) use of them in spell casting. These incantations or carvings don’t make very much sense or are vague. Remember that all written languages have been used for Magick because only the elites had access to literacy, making letters very esoteric. Every letter is a symbol that someone gave meaning to years ago. On their own, just like the sounds of letters and words, they only mean what was decided. Otherwise they are gibberish. (Sigil Magick is often based on using our alphabet.)

Some scholars believe that the ogham fascinated the new Christian storytellers who wrote for long hours every day. It was old and mysterious. They gave the ogham a mystical power because it belonged to something earlier than themselves: traditional oral storytelling.

In archaeology the most common use of the ogham is that of a standing stone with a name carved along the edges to probably establish a family’s ancestral proof of land ownership. That’s not something most occultists find interesting and many Pagans seek occult (hidden, secret) knowledge more than cultural context of a religion. This is where we have to watch for cultural misappropriation. Taking the ogham out of its Gaelic legendary and proven mundane uses to create things like ogham reiki is pilfering from a culture that is losing its language. Language contains ideas that cannot be translated.

Using a language that you don’t know how to speak with no in-depth study of the culture’s cosmology for occult matters is both dangerous and a sign of entitlement and privilege issues. Everything does not exist for you to use. That mentality leads to slavery, ecological destruction and cultural genocide. There are many reasons why you need to immerse yourself in the history and “mundane” life of the culture. Some things just will not make sense without that context.

In traditional societies teachers guide the student’s levels of knowledge, making sure it had become wisdom preparing the student for the next level. Because of books, individuals can access knowledge without the needed previous wisdom. Information arrives without an understanding of its source, usually to help the individual get ahead and the important community aspects that held it together are lost.

The same thing applies for the runes. I have no idea how Kenaz means “enlightenment” to so many occultists and New Agers when the rune lore says it’s infected sores (inflammation) on sick children. Whenever I receive it as a sign, it’s about inflammation, a huge problem with Mast Cell Activation Syndrome. When I had Babesia (sorta like malaria on steroids), Kenaz meant I’d have fevers. The Norse feared the death of their children to the plagues that commonly ravaged society as much as any culture. Odin gave us the runes for Magick, and cursing was a main focus in traditional Magick across Europe, the great coastal cultures on  the Mediterranean and parts of Mesopotamia.

The phrases for the ogham are much harder to apply to life than the full poems and kennings of the runes. The troll who hurts women and the thorn of Thurz make a lot of sense when I have terrible menstrual cramps. “One third of a chariot’s wheel” is harder to work with unless you have studied the use of the chariot in ceremony, warfare and the Heroic Cycle of stories. Even then a lot is theoretical. Before someone pours reiki of Tinne into you talking about the virtues of holly, I’d check that they understand what the ogham really is.

But if it’s not a tree alphabet or ancient Magickal spell, what is it?

Ogham seems to have been a memorization tool. Each fid is a letter, but it also is a word (like with the runes). Sometimes that word is a type of tree (again, like with the runes). However, there are around 150 other types of things that correspond with each fid! All that matters is they start with the same fid (letter). It’s like a much more complicated version of “A is for apple” or the jump rope song “My name is Abby, my husband is Albert, we live in Albuquerque! My name is Brenda, my husband’s name is Brian, we live in Boston!” etc. But instead of making up words beginning with the fid, the educated poet memorized the 150 official things that began with each letter.

Trees and shrubs were associated with each fid, but so were forts, rivers, herbs, birds, Saints -all the things a Christian medieval poet would have to know about the land and its history. That way, the ogham is like a filing cabinet. A Thelema teacher I had explained Kaballa as a system of organization. The ogham is very similar, except instead of organizing everything in the world by its qualities, the ogham leaves no room for error. There’s no intuition, only memorization of the most important factual information about Ireland at that time, organized alphabetically.

This could easily turn into some other type of cultural misappropriation. If you are thinking “What ogham am I? My name starts with M,” unless you were named for a Saint important in Celtic Christianity and know the Old Irish spelling, your name isn’t in the ogham. It can’t be because you were not important to people in medieval Ireland. And if your name is that of a Saint spelled in Old Irish, you probably won’t learn about yourself from the collection of things that simply begin with the same letter. The ogham frankly isn’t about you. It’s about Ireland during a certain time period.

If we think of the ogham as a memorization tool for poets (properly called file and someone of great value) who told stories about the world in which they lived, we are on the right track. But even then our sources on the original ogham are incomplete information. There is no complete list of all 150 or so things that begin with each fid. The written records leave us with large gaps of information.

Like the runes, we have mythological tales written by Christians clearly describing the ogham as having magical uses, and none that link it to divination. And yet like the runes, most modern Pagans use the ogham for divination or meditation. Also medieval monks, the new storytellers, seemed to be intrigued by the ogham symbols who spoke like the Pagan Priests which their clerical writing replaced. (See the last post on Ogma and how the ogham spoke to Him.) Symbols have power if you learn their meanings. The Stop sign is a great example of a symbol that “talks,” that gives us important information in our culture. A red octagon has other meanings in other cultures.

There are also a few manuscripts which contain phrases that go with each fid. They’ve been translated, which wasn’t easy to do because some cultural ideas cannot really be taken out of context. There are also often hidden meanings, perhaps from the stories and poetry a file also memorized, or perhaps local slang or puns. It’s impossible to know if the phrase sounded a lot like something else, giving it a different level of meaning, unless you can speak Old Irish. You need to hear the phrases and know what else they could allude to.

Still, by thinking about what those sayings would mean to an Irish person during that time, we can figure a lot out. But that means studying what had value for the medieval Christian Irish world. What else did the file know? When using a divination tool, we need to understand its meanings according to the culture that created it, before we begin putting our own meanings on them. I’ve repeatedly said that Celtic culture is many cultures, in many places and at many times, constantly growing while keeping to basic tribal values for survival. New elements from other cultures with which the Celtic tribes traded and often lived are apparent in changes to visual arts and clothing. But the ogham is an alphabet of a time and place.

Divination tools can be made using any symbols, numbers, lyrics, words etc that matter to you. You don’t need to use a different culture’s alphabet just because it’s old and mysterious. If you want to use the ogham, it should be while also studying early medieval Irish history, stories written at the same time as the writing about the ogham and the Christian mythology of the early Celtic church. Each of the forts and Saints associate with a fid were important to this society. Knowing why ought to help you understand the world contained in the ogham memorization system.

Please remember that anything from Robert Graves is not traditional. He was not a historian. His spiritual writing was his own poetic creation. There’s no Celtic tree calendar, for example. Well, there wasn’t until recently.

Bibliography

Bernhardt-House, Phillip A., Warriors, Words, and Wood: Oral and Literary Wisdom in the Exploits of Irish Mythological Warriors, Studia Celtica Fennica VI (2009)

CR FAQ: An Introduction to Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism, http://www.paganachd.com/faq/

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

Ellison, Robert Lee (Skip), Ogham: The Secret Language of the Druids. ADF Publishing (2007)

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

Laurie, Erynn Rowan, Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom. A Megalithica Books Publication, An imprint of Immanion Press (2009)

Celtic Festival of Herakles, Ogmios, Ogma

This is part of the Celtic polytheist calendar I’ve been developing throughout this blog. (Click on the Subject “Festival” and you’ll find them all.) Basically, since we know that the Celtic speaking tribes had quite a lot of say in which Roman deities were associated with which native deities (based on their limited understanding of Roman religion) and changed Roman practices to fit the Celtic cosmology, I thought “Maybe some Celts used the Roman Festival calendar for their own purposes.” There were a lot of changes over a few generations, including a nostalgic, self-conscious effort to be “more traditional” especially in Britain. Celtic religion has never been static. Celts constantly, of their own volition, changed cultural elements since we know of their emergence into history.

The southern Gauls adopted some Greek architectural elements. They chose to include foreign deities to their pantheon like Apollon (Roman Apollo) and Hermes from the Greeks. Later the Romans recorded that the Celtic people were big followers of the Roman demi-God Hercules. It stands to reason that they may have already known Hercules from the Greeks, in His original spelling Herakles.

And some time in August, Athens had a festival for Herakles that involved feats of strength.

Aside from the possible inclusion of Hercules to your Celtic polytheist practice, this may be a good time for honoring Ogmios and Ogma. The Greeks and Romans understood that the deities were pleased with human excellence and so they involved the best of athletic and dramatic skills in festivals. Your Ogmios or Ogma festival could involve dedicating physical exercise (like your work out, dance class or hike) to the God. You also can’t go wrong with offerings of wine (Ogmios) or ale (Ogma), pork or animal crackers, fresh water, grains, organic grass-fed dairy, glass beads, metal symbols like a chain (Ogmios) or small sword, beeswax candle, singing, reciting of poetry, praise, prayer or depicting Him yourself. You may want to have Ogma bless your Ogham set.

Ogmios

Gaulish Ogmios was portrayed as an old bald man with dark skin, armed with a bow and club, leading smiling people whose ears were chained to his tongue. The Gauls thought of Ogmios as being like their favorite Greek/Roman hero Hercules, and from this we know He was a strong and clever warrior. But for the Gauls, His strength was not just brute force; His powerful words led people to follow him cheerfully.

In one cemetery Ogmios was depicted as a companion of Erecura who usually appeared in statues with the Underworld God Dis Pater. Herakles was (among many other things) a psychopomp, so perhaps Ogmios plays a role in the Underworld. He is petitioned for help on two curse tablets, so He’s used to people in need turning to Him.

From Lucian of Samosata’s Prolalia Herakles, we get this quote from a Gaul: “We Celts do not agree with you Greeks in thinking that Hermes is Eloquence; we identify Heracles with it, because he is far more powerful than Hermes…In general, we consider that the real Heracles was a wise man who achieved everything by eloquence and applied persuasion as his principal force. His arrows represent words, I suppose, keen, sure, and swift, which make their wounds in souls. In fact, you yourselves admit that words are winged.”

To most Celtic polytheists, He is a God of eloquence and persuasion. This fits with the Celtic belief that a chieftain or deity had to be both a warrior and a poet. A warrior could prevent a battle with his words or rally the troops with an inspirational speech. Words have magical power, and charms were spoken or sung to add the necessary energies of healing, protection, and cursing. Poets were also prophets who could predict the future and devise ways to work with it. Ogmios shows us the reverence the Celtic tribes had for the power of speech.

If you are at a loss for words, I include my Invocation to Ogmios from Steel Bars, Sacred Waters:

Invocation to Ogmios by Heather Awen
Hail, Ogmios!
God who gifts humans with language, powerful as any weapon,
God in the leopard’s skin, dark of complexion,
Your followers of old smiled upon hearing your words.
Speaker to oracles, God giving joyful news,
A hero who faces all challenges, a bard able to amuse,
Even followers today smile as your great power continues.

Ogma

Even though they look similar, the names Ogmios and Ogma are not great linguistic matches. However, They do seem to have a connection. Ogma is one of the greatest warriors of The Tuatha De Danann (pronounced TOO-ah-hah djay DAH-nahn). Known also as “Strong-Man,” “Sun-Faced” and “Sun-Poet,” he is eloquent like all good leaders of warriors. In Lebor Gabála Érenn he is described as so eager for battle that other warriors had to hold him back until it was time to fight. Ogma is the brother of the Dagda and Nuada.

Ogma invented the Ogham alphabet and many people studying the Ogham pray to him for guidance. In the mythological stories, the Ogham was a magic used by Druids (sorcerers) and a way for warriors to communicate about dangers. The knife that cut the wood is like a sword in battle.

Cú Chulainn is the greatest hero warrior in Gaelic mythology, just as Hercules is the greatest in Graeco-Roman myths. According to Bernhardt-House the connection between Ogmios and Hercules is found with Ogma and Cú Chulainn:

“The way this first ogam-cutting is described in the Book of Leinster’s version of the Táin is noteworthy: ‘Cú Chulainn went into the wood and cut a prime oak sapling, whole and entire, with one stroke and, standing on one leg and using but one hand and one eye, he twisted it into a ring and put an ogam inscription on the peg of the ring and put the ring around the narrow part of the standing-stone at Ard Cuillenn.’”

(Yes, he’s in the prophecy and Magick position also used by Babd and Lugh, the Crane Position.)

Celtic Pagans differ in how they relate to Ogma; some link him with speaking well, while others focus on his great skill as a warrior. Ogma is both and more. (Celtic deities are rarely as simple as “God of (this part of life).” They are usually talented in many ways, just like any Celtic chieftain would have been expected to be.)

Ogma found Orna, the sword of the powerful Fomorian king Tethra. After Ogma cleaned it, Orna told Ogma all the acts it had ever done in battle, another connection between battle and speech. (Animists often believe powerful tools have their own spirits and are living like everything else. This why many are named, like the harp the Dagda owns.)

With the help of the Ogham, Ogma could cause stones and sticks to speak. Things that normally cannot speak receive the ability to talk. If you are working on the psychic skills to learn the history of an object or place, perhaps Ogma would be a good teacher.

Invocation to Ogma by Heather Awen

Strong warrior, leader in the field,
Father of the Ogham alphabet
Valued by soldiers and Druids.
Ogma, powerful force for good,
Clever with signs and strategies,
Always ready to halt the source of injustice,
I call to you, and hope that you hear my words of praise.

Want to read about 159 other Celtic deities and heroes? Steel Bars, Sacred Water is available from us at a lower price than Amazon! Plus we receive more profits for buying copies for incarcerated Pagans!

 

Next Post: A historic overview of the Ogham!

Bibliography

Bernhardt-House, Phillip A., Warriors, Words, and Wood: Oral and Literary Wisdom in the Exploits of Irish Mythological Warriors, Studia Celtica Fennica VI (2009)

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

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

Ellison, Robert Lee (Skip), Ogham: The Secret Language of the Druids. ADF Publishing (2007)

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

Guide to Gaelic Polytheism, http://www.GaelicPolytheism.info (accessed 2017)

Haussler, Ralph, Interpretatatio Indigena: Re-Inventing Local Cults in a Global World, Mediterraneo Antico, xv, 1-2 (2012)

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

Laurie, Erynn Rowan, Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom. A Megalithica Books Publication, An imprint of Immanion Press (2009)

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

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

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

Rolleston, Thomas William, Myths & Legends of The Celtic Race. Public Domain (1911)

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)

Celtic Festival Calender: Abnoba & the Celtic Artemis/Diana

abnoba
Abnoba by Alexandra Rena

Celtic and Roman Deity Differences in the Roman Empire

This is part of my series where Festivals for Roman deities are linked with the Celtic deities associated with those Roman deities. For example, a Roman Festival for Minerva is a Brythonic Festival of Sulis, or the 2 week Festival of Aesculapius includes possibly the most popular, longest-worshipped Gaulish deity Telesphorus. Once the Celtic tribes and cities were conquered by Rome and made part of the Empire, the Celtic leaders and merchants would have learned the Roman year, which was filled with religious festivals. Even if Celtic people at that time ignored the festivals (highly unlikely for the cities of Gaul and Iberia, Celtic men in the Roman military and Celtic slaves) it gives modern Celtic polytheists a calendar for honoring many deities. We’re rarely lucky enough to know the date of a Celtic deity’s festival from an ancient Celtic culture – Erudinus may be our only one.

Many people believe that the Romans forced the names of their deities onto the Celtic deities, but scholars have shown that the Celtic people made the association between the deities on their own. This would explain why so many Celtic Gods are associated with Mars in one place and with Mercury in another. Even where Celtic people eventually forgot the Celtic titles of their deities, worship often continued under a Roman name. This is explored more in depth in the upcoming post on the “native” Vulcan and “native” Venus.

Celtic deities don’t have a lot of specialization, aside from smiths and healers. They provide everything a member of the tribe could need. There’s no ancient Gaulish, Gaelic, Celtiberian, Brythonic or other type of Celtic pantheon. Tribes were affected by place and shared history, which is reflected in the hundreds of Celtic deities whose names we know. There’s no God of only war, Goddess of only love, etc. Usually Celtic deities are in a couple: the tribal chieftain good at everything and the river/land Goddess of the bioregion. The Roman artisans mixed Celtic, Greek and Roman symbols together, providing us with an understanding of how the Celtic person who paid for the sculpture described the deity.

Usually the Goddess in the couple might have crows and ravens symbolizing scavengers who eat the dead on the battlefield or the funeral platform, or a horse associated with leading the dead to the Realm of the Ancestors. The God often holds a spear and shield, a hammer or club. He is sometimes accompanied by a hunting hound, although a few Goddesses are depicted with dogs. (The lap dog who sometimes sits on the lap of one of the Matres is possibly a way women warmed an abdomen with painful menstrual cramps.) Goddesses might be depicted with a cornucopia of fruits and grains of abundance and also have the crow of death in war; as the land, She’s Who provides and Who the people fight for keeping. This makes it difficult to say “Oh, She’s the Goddess of health (or the hearth or the harvest).”

At first neither the Romans nor the Celts probably knew very much (if anything) about the other culture’s deity. It would have taken a few generations before the cults became uniquely, regionally syncretic. Hymns and myths about the Roman deities would be taught by the poets and in theaters and Roman naturalist statues of their deities taught Roman and Greek symbolism. When depicted by a Roman sculptor, Celtic Gods often wore a cape and held a spear in one hand, shield in the other, much like a Celtic chieftain.

(When a large mitigating Gaulish warband attacked the Oracle of Delphi it was recorded that the men laughed at the statues of the Gods, unable to image deities in human form. As it was a brutal journey there and about to become much worst, and because we don’t know what Greek person present would have understood why the Gauls were laughing, and because the only the Greeks left a written record of this attack, this may be inaccurate. Archeology has recovered ancient Celtic statues of deities in northern Gaul and Scotland. The Celtic deity statue was made from a large pole and had a roughly cut faces and large genitalia. Their eyes were glass and some wore torcs. In northern Gaul the wood statues seem to have stood in the center of a square or rectangular open sacred space outside. The ground was packed by people walking or dancing around the pole.)

Celtic sacred groves by rivers were considered healing sites to the Romans, who built their healing spas by fresh water. Were deities with Roman healing temples like Nodens (the earliest form of the name of the Mabinogi Gods Nudd and Llud and the Old Irish God Nuada) originally healing deities or did They gain that function from the Romans? The huge healing sanctuary at Trier dedicated to Lenus Mars (a Belgae tribe’s primary God) was by a river probably because rivers and valleys (the same word in Gaulish) tended to be an important Goddess. Lenus Mars defended His people in that land, including from plagues, but the Romans added the dorms for sick pilgrims. Even though Lenus was associated with Mars, His battles were now focused on disease. This should remind us that how the Celts understood Roman deities like Mars was not the same as how the Romans understood their deities. (This is somewhat similar to a Dahomey native in Haiti worshipping python lwa Damballa with symbols of St. Patrick. That St. Patrick is nothing like what the Catholic church would recognise.)

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

It took a few generations to build the Romano-Celtic cults and I imagine that when they did, many Celtic people made offerings to their own deities during the festival of the related Roman deity. Even if they didn’t, for people who are resurrecting the worship of Gaulish, Iberian Celtic and/or Brythonic deities and seeking a calendar for rituals, this provides a lot of structure to adapt as desired. The Celts, typical for polytheists, brought in worship of “foreign” deities, like the Roman Mercury and Hercules. A Celtic Pagan need not worry about honoring only deities of one culture, as the Celtic tribes seem to have had varied pantheons based on the bioregion and tribal history. Many Southern Gauls adopted Apollon and Hermes from the Greeks in the 5th century BCE, so the lunar calendar from Athens may also have appropriate days for worship.

A Gaelic Reconstructionist worshipping Brig and Aine would seem very strange to ancient Gaelic tribes, when Brig was the Goddess of Leinster and Aine was the Goddess for Munster. No matter how we try, we won’t be able to recreate the pantheons ancient Celts knew; so many deities are lost to us in spite of knowing over 200 names. Also, those in Belgae had strong relationships with the North Sea Germanic tribes (the People of Ingvi-Frey), while those in Gaul adopted Venus, Goddess of gardens. How this would have continued if Christianity never appeared is impossible to guess except that some deities of new trade partners would have been become part of a Celtic people’s lives. Inclusive polytheism would have continued, especially as people traveled, married and had new bioregions to survive. Different cults would have formed around labor guild unions, river valleys, heroes and heroines, and a diverse understandings of past cults melded into rituals for modern needs. (Kinda like today’s well researched reconstruction -based polytheism!)

The Nemoralia and “Native” Diana

On August 13 (originally the full moon) Romans celebrated the Nemoralia. “‘Twas the season when the vault of heaven bends its most scorching heat upon the earth … and now the day had come when the torch smoke rises from Trivia’s [Diana’s] grove … and the [torch] lights twinkle on her lake” (Statius Silvae 3.1.55-57 LCL). This ritual for Diana was also known as the Festival of Torches, held at at Lake Nemi. Diana was know by many titles including Mistress of the Beasts, Grand Midwife, Goddess of the Moon, Lady of the Wilds, Guardian of the Oak, Friend of the Nymph, and the Protector of Maidens, many of which come from Her merging with attributes of the Greek Artemis.

On Diana‘s Festival, slaves and women were allowed to attend the ritual instead of working. All who participated washed their and decorated it with flowers. Diana’s sacred hunting hounds were also given garlands of flowers. All hunting was forbidden. The people walked in a religious procession to Her grove and lake (which most Celtic peoples would have understood from their own rituals). Diana received offerings of clay stags, ripe fruits and statuettes of mother and child. Her worshippers wrote their prayers on tablets or ribbons which were tied to trees. Later the popular festival was held on August 15, which possibly is why August 15 became the Christian Feast of the Assumption, the main holiday honoring Mary.

In his recent paper A Landscape of Resistance?, Ralph Haussler discusses the possibility of a Celtic interpretation of Diana in northern Italy: 

“The goddess Diana is often associated with a villa context, as goddess of hunting. But we should not forget that Artemis/Diana has more profound meanings which we might need to consider when trying to understand her distribution pattern in the Transpadana and Liguria: besides a cluster in Novarese and Lombardy, we also find her between Turin and Ben. Can she have been an interpretatio of an indigenous deity? In this respect, there is a dedication from Casalino (Novara) where Diana is associated with the Matronae. But we also find a sanctuary for Diana at Savigliano (Cuneo). It was organised by priestesses of the local pagus, magistrae pagi, suggesting that this was an extra-urban sanctuary, a civic cult of the local ciuitas.  Unlike many of our previous example, this sanctuary is not in a more marginal, hilly location, but it is situated in the plain, at the centre of a heavily centuriated area. Does this mean that
we are dealing with a Greco-Roman style Diana? Perhaps not since Diana seems to be a local phenomenon: nearby at Fossano, for example, we find a dedication to the ‘august’ Diana, but with the interesting formula sub asci, – a Celtic formula that is well attested in Transalpine Gaul and might therefore support the goddess’s more ‘native’ perception. And just north at Chieri / Carreum-Potentia, we find Diana again in a votive dedication Fonti Dianae Victoriae (‘to Fons, Diana, Victoria’ or ‘to the sacred spring of Diana and Victoria’?)….”

Another “native” Celtic Diana/Artemis Goddess was worshipped in Galatia, both in Camma where Her Priestess resided and further west. In Camma Her ritual focused on the hunt. Money was paid for every animal killed in the hunt, which was used for the Goddess’s Feast. The money also paid for Her sacrifice in gratitude for Her generosity. The ritual was similar to the Nemoralia in that dogs wore crowns made of flowers. Again we learn of a Celtic Goddess whose name was forgotten but who kept Her own identity.

Abnoba: Goddess of Mountain, the Danube and the Black Forest

Abnoba is a wonderful example of a Celtic Goddess of place. She is the mountain where the Danube River begins with the the Breg river, the Abnobaei montes are in the Baar foothills of the Swabian Alb near Furtwangen im Schwarzwald. Her name appears to have a connection with water, which would very likely be the Danube. The Danube was an incredibly important Celtic source of transportation, trade, food and life itself. Many deities are thought to be named for the Danube, including the Gaelic Danu. Abnoba was primarily worshipped in the Black Forest region.

As the source of the Danube, Abnoba had to be very important. In some ways She could have been viewed as the source of life. She may have served as the typical Celtic Sovereignty Goddess, with Her domain once associated with a tribe we don’t know. To the people in the area Abnoba must have had some maternal, royal and protective qualities much like Goddesses of other rivers. Her association (to the Romans) with Diana was probably because of Abnoba‘s importance in the Black Forest and Diana‘s home in the woodlands.

While many Romans honored Diana while far from home on August 13th, the Gauls in the Imperial military probably joined in the rite, while focusing on Abnoba. The Roman soldiers probably focused on Diana‘s powers over the hunt or the health of pregnant wives in Rome. The Celts don’t seem to have any deities related to the moon, so that aspect of Diana was probably not important to them. The roles of Guardian of the Oak, Mistress of the Beasts and Lady of the Wilds seem to fit Abnoba the best, while She would have been still much more. The forest, the river and the mountains – all of these and their benefits to humans are the gifts that are Abnoba.

Why Worship Deities of Distant Bioregions

For those of us not living in the Black Forest, how can we honor Abnoba? Maybe more important to others is why would we? Celtic religion is very place-based. However, so is Greek religion and Pagans outside of Athens worship Athena. The Orishas from different parts of Yorubaland have become a neo-Yoruban pantheon where the river Orishas Oba, Oshun, Oya and Yemaya have changed to meet the needs of their worshipers. We worship the deities Who care for us and there is no reason why Abnoba would not care for you any less than Athena or Ogun care for other people an ocean away from Their original home.

There are many ways Abnoba cares for us. Abnoba is present in the pure spring water of mountaintops, something incredibly valuable if we look at how much money people pay for it. Of course, clean water is worth much more important than a dollar amount, but people sometimes forget how much they are interacting with the deities. When you buy mountain spring water, you’re paying for the goodness that is Abnoba. (It would be much better for the all life if no one used plastic and instead properly filtered their own water and carried it in a metal bottle, or better yet water sanitation was done with Living Machines and tap water was clean and safe.) I don’t walk 5 miles to get safe drinking water and carry it back another 5 miles; do you? But we would, like many people affected by Climate Chaos, if we had to because water is that valuable.

For hunters, Abnoba could be an important Goddess of the hunt. Anyone against mountaintop removal mining could pray to Abnoba as She probably is offended by the dangerous harm caused by greed and fossil fuel addiction. People living deep in a forested area fed by a powerful river and those who live in high elevations where large rivers begin may develop a natural relationship with Abnoba just because they live where She’s used to being called. (Bear Mountain in California comes to mind.)

Isis had a temple in Britain where Her sacred Nile is nowhere to be found. Obviously deities are carried by their worshipers wherever they go. We don’t know the different myths about Abnoba which definitely would have changed over the generations, but She must have qualities that transcend place. Her devotees may make a pilgrimage to Her place of origin, and I hope that people do learn about the bioregional and cultural homes of the deities they worship. It’s the greatest way to understand the deity who has no mythology (along with linguistics and archeology).

But you may have a connection to Abnoba simply because She chose you.

Ritual Suggestions

Your Festival of Abnoba should feature clean drinking water. I would wash my hair in a way that won’t posion the water. A very small amount of baking soda massaged in the roots for the oil, rinsed clean, and an apple cider vinegar after rinse for the acidic shrine really works. A castile soap like Dr Bronners and a lemon juice rinse for blonde squeaky clean hair or a rosemary infusion for a healthy scalp and lush darker hair also works wonders. Shampoo is basically dish detergent. Real soap does not make bubbles of lather. If you wouldn’t eat it, don’t put in the water supply or on your skin, especially when honoring nature deities. It’s hypocritical. Deities are impressed by what we do. To moisturize hair, leave in light-weight jojoba oil on the ends or use coconut oil to turn frizzy into ringlets.

Dogs should definitely be honored, as the Celts valued their hunting hounds greatly. If you have any canine companions whom you want to include, get them a treat. (If you have many dogs or Pagan friends with dogs, you might schedule a quick rite at a dog park.)

As for flowers: the flower industry uses a few dozen times more pesticides than the agricultural sector! I wouldn’t let that near my altars (or my planet if I had that power). Try the farmers market, your or a friend’s flower garden or a wild field, careful to not take more than 10% of any species or kill any endangered species.

For those who are able, a hike or ski lift to the top of a mountain might be the best place to make an offering to Abnoba. (In Vermont ski lifts often run in summer.) Woodlands are also good places. (Remember to stay covered and check for ticks! Lyme disease and other tickbourne diseases are horrible! I speak from horrible experience!)

If inside, build an Abnoba altar with something to represent a mountain (photograph, pile of peddles, etc) and a bowl or cup of fresh, purified water. (Rain water might be fine, but check about the water quality of any local streams or rivers – if it’s bad, a very Celtic service offering would be to volunteer in river clean up work).

Have a bowl for your libations that you can pour outside later and a plate, tray, bowl or basket with your offerings. Ritually broken metal or glass bead jewelry (good sacrifices for Celtic Goddesses in general) and organic fruit are fine offerings. Carved wooden or ceramic stags add another Celtic layer to the offering, as Celtic people probably would not know the myth about Actaeon and may have thought about the deer Her forest gave the hungry. (Please don’t use the plastic-y “oven bake” modeling “clay” as it’s really toxic.) As deities change, maybe Abnoba likes Black Forest cake for all I know!

The traditional “circle the holy” procession three times sunwise is a good start for most Celtic rites. You may want to use traditional Celtic percussion of rattles and little bells (probably sewn onto clothing). Try chanting Abnoba to become more receptive to Her.

Next praise Her, say what you know about Her, and thank Her for the gifts She’s always provided human beings. Water is fundamental for life. We know that intellectually but don’t always act like it. We are made of water. Transportation along rivers meant information, trade goods, contact with new people. Trees hold the top soil of fertile soil, are the “lungs of the Earth” (with bluegreen algae), prevent heat waves, talk to other trees through their roots in the “wood wide web”, feed their children saplings through their roots and are home to an incredible amount of life, even when dead.

Tell Abnoba the offerings are for Her. Write your wishes in pencil on a strip of organic linen (or cotton) and thank Her again, knowing that She’ll be working on them if they fit Her needs, too, and will be best for you. Put the cloth with your offerings.

Circle your altar again clockwise, and gather the offerings, libations and cloth for a trip outside. You may want to go to a nearby river for this. Otherwise bury the jewellery and pour the libation into the soil. Then loosely tie your wishes to an oak or the tree that feels right to you.

Of course a financial offering to a dog rescue organization or shelter is highly appropriate! Adopting a dog if your housing, schedule and finances will allow you to be a good caretaker could be another modern offering. Planting native trees that you will protect or donating to an organization working successfully to end deforestation is a logical sacrifice for Abnoba and Diana, too.

 

Selected Bibliography

Bernstein, Francis, Classical Living: Reconnecting with the Rituals of Ancient Rome. Harper Collins e-books (2007)

Butler-Ehle, Hester, Fieldstones New Shoots from Stony Soil, 2nd Edition by Hester Butler-Ehle

Cunliffe, Barry, Britain Begins. Oxford University Press (2013)

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

Ellis, A. B., The Yoruba-Speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa. 1894.

Filan, Kenaz, The Haitian Vodou Handbook: Protocols for Riding with the Lwa. Destiny Books (2

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)

Macculloch, J.A., The Religion of the Ancient Celts, Edinburgh: T. & T. CLARK (1911)

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

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

Rankin, David & d’Este, Sorita, The Isles of Many Gods: An A-Z of the Pagan Gods & Goddesses worshipped in Ancient Britain during the first Millennium CE through the Middle Ages. Avalonia (2007)

Ross, Anne. Pagan Celtic Britain. Academy Chicago Publishers, Chicago (1967)

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

Sweet, James H., Domingos Álvares: African Healing, and the Intellectual History of the Atlantic World. The University of North Carolina Press (2011)

Sweet, James H., Recreating Africa: Culture, Kinship, and Religion in the African-Portuguese World, 1441–1770. The University of North Carolina Press (2003)

 

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Celtic Festival of Erudinus, Harvest God of the Cantabri

Blanca-Maria Prosper, who has been breathing life into the ancient Celtic world of Iberia, has brought us another once-lost deity: Erudinus. Known from the federation of Celtic tribes known as the Cantabri who lived in northwest Spain, ERVDINO was inscribed once, dating to 161 CE. The interesting clue about the inscription is that it has the date when written: July 23/July 24. 

Prosper believes the God’s name comes from the Indo-European adjective *peruntino meaning “the one of last year.” (The beginning P is usually removed in Celtic languages.)

At this time the early rye and barley harvests would have begun. In Ireland, various August 1st Lughnasa festivals were celebrating the start of the harvest, not only dedicated to Lugh (who as Lug was incredibly popular in Iberia and Gaul), but also Macha, Brig and other deities depending on where in Ireland you lived. (Macha in Ulster; Brig in Leincester.) There is the 1879 account of the July 23rd evening ritual for fertility and safety of the crops and cattle in the name of the Goddess Aine, detailed here.

Many cultures celebrated Midsummer as July 24th when the sun, after keeping still in the sky on the solstice, again moves. During a solstice the sun appears to stop moving for 3 days. This probably made people very anxious. Solstices were usually celebrated when people actually saw the sun began moving again. On December 25 and June 24 we can see that the sun’s journey has resumed. Evenings of December 24 and June 23 began many solstice celebrations.

Examples of Midsummer rituals: Kupolė is the Lithuanian spirit of springtime vegetation. Women picked sacred herbs, danced and sang songs honoring the spirit on June 24. On the Isle of Man, people “pay the rent” on June 24. Under feudalism, human lords took a portion of the crops from their subjects. The island’s mythical first king, sea God Manannán mac Lir, only asks for rushes and yellow flowers as a token to remember His sovereignty. Rushes are still scattered when the Manx legislature ceremonially meets outdoors on Midsummer, and people host parties and bonfires. On June 24 Romans honored Fors Fortuna with boat parties drinking wine. June 23rd is St John the Baptist Eve. In Louisiana, Marie LaVeau the Second held her famous Voodoo dances on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain. People of all races sang, feasted and danced together, shaking in trance, sometimes with candles on their heads. At midnight they joyfully played in the shallow water. As the sun rose Marie, who was filled with the spirits of Snake, Sun, and Water, blessed the dancers in the name of the Saint. Saint John’s Day is, along with November 1st and May 1st, one of the three best times to communicate with the spirits, according to Welsh folklore. Members of the Mithraic mysteries met at Midsummer, with a known date of June 26th. The Baltic Sun Goddess Saulė‘s feast was celebrated during the summer solstice. Both the Lithuanian festival Rasos (now Christianity’s Saint Jonas’ Festival on July 24th) and Latvian Līgo (turned into Jāņi) involved making wreaths, dancing around and a bonfire, and greeting the sun when She rises at around 4am. In Latvia it’s believed that wreaths braided with 27 flowers and herbs prevents disasters and diseases and repels enemies. Men wear oak leaf wreaths, symbolizing strength.

So we see a pattern of July 23/24 and festivals of feasts and fires usually associated with the start of the grain harvests and gathering of herbs. Vegetation Gods are literally “the one from last year.” This year’s crop grows from seeds that came from the crop of last year. From Prosper’s translation of ERVDINO and a look at the importance of Midsummer rituals, which especially in Celtic cultures (Irish and Manx) focus on giving back some of the harvest to the deities, we can easily understand Erudinus. A Celtic God of the Cantabri, Erudinus is the first harvest of grains grown from the saved seeds from the year before.

Although the importance of the annual resurrection vegetation deities in most of Rome’s Mystery Religions (like Persephone, Osiris and Dionysus) along with the popular Semetic annual descent of Goddesses like Ishtar to find and resurrect Their lovers like Tammuz (these specific deities are Babylonian) has been downplayed by modern researchers, the start of the harvest season is still a fragile time. Anything as important as food is under the protection of deities. In Erudinus we have a Celtic version (or title) of the resurrected grain God.

 

Selected Bibliography

Prosper, Blanca-Maria, Universidad de Salamanca, Linguistic Observations of Two Divinities of the Celtic Cantabri, http://www.Academia.edu retrieved January 29, 2019

Celtic Festival Calender: Sirona

Sirona by Heather Awen
Sirona by Heather Awen

This is part of a series to match Celtic deities with dates on the Roman calender. After being conquered by the Roman Empire both Romans and Celts found ways to interpret the other’s religion. I would be surprised if there were no Celts who used the Roman calender this way, but even if I’m the first, it’s a convenient way to organize rituals for many important deities.

On August 5th, or almost a week after the new moon in August, Romans honored the Goddess Salus of health, safety and well being. She was given a public sacrifice on Her hill top. Originally Salus seems to have been an agricultural deity – after all, without a good harvest there is poor health and instability. Some of Her imagery comes from the Greek Goddess of health Hygieia, especially the snake She feeds. Sometimes She also holds sheaves of wheat.

Similar imagery was used to depict the popular Gaulish Goddess Sirona. Like Salus, She has a snake, to whom She sometimes feeds eggs, and may hold sheaves of wheat, or a cornucopia, or fruit. All are associated with abundance. It’s important to remember that the Celts at first were hiring Roman artisans to make their statues, so the Celtic deities were envisioned with Roman symbolism. Celtic art was not normally so naturalistic. Earlier statues of deities appear to have been wooden poles with rough carvings of genitalia and faces with glass eyes, probably wearing torcs.

Sirona is rather well known by modern Pagans as a healing Goddess. Her name is pronounced “(t)see-ROE-nah” or “thee-ROE-nah” and sometimes spelled Dirona. It comes from the word stir/dir, meaning “star.” She’s an indigenous Gaulish night time Goddess who had temple spas at hot and mineral springs. She was worshiped both on Her own and with the Gaulish healing God Grannus or the Greek healing God Apollo. Apollo, also the God of the Sun and youth, was actually adopted by the southern Gauls a couple centuries before the Roman conquest, so although the Romans also adopted the foreign cult of Apollo, everyone probably agreed that they belonged together. Sirona’s shrines were widespread in the Gaulish world.

Sirona can also be celebrated with Telesphorus in January and with Apollo or Grannus in July. (Or any day!)

Selected Bibliography

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

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

Did the Celtic Britons Have Tattoos?

Every so often I find information that I think will interest a number of Pagans. I have not shared it due to having nothing to add, but I believe that sharing the quotes could enhance discussions about many topics. I plan to do it more often so people without as much time (and NeuroDiverse hyperfocus) as me may read some academic sources for themselves.

Some Celtic Reconstructionist Pagans have attempted woad tattoos that didn’t work. It is generally believed that the Britons used woad to paint blue designs on skin instead. So, did they ever have tattoos?

Dzino writes:

“In a recent comparable study of tattooing in pre-Roman and early Roman Britain, it is well-argued that tattooing there was visibly displayed and short-lived, taking place only during the period of Roman conquest as a part of changing communal and private identities, resistance and acculturation.”

This time period matches with the other short-lived, unusual practices by the Britons, detailed in Steel Bars, Sacred Waters.

 

Bibliography

Dzino, Danijel, “The people who are Illyrians and Celts”: Strabo and the identities of the ‘barbarians’ from Illyricum, Arheološki vestnik 59 (2008)

 

Celtic Festival of Andraste, Andate, Andarta & Brigantia (Brythonic)

BrigitteCelt
Brigantia, Museum of Brittany

This is part of an ongoing series of posts about Celtic deities Who have been associated with Roman deities. It used to be thought that the Romans forced their choice of Roman deity on the Celtic speaking tribes. Today it’s considered more likely that the Celtic natives often chose which native deity best matched their understanding of Roman ones, as many Celtic deities are associated with more than one Roman deity. The Roman pantheon, so neatly organized by function in the 1st century CE, just doesn’t match the Sovereignty Goddess and tribal chieftain God most common in Celtic cultures.

Perhaps if the Celtic peoples choose which Roman deities were similar to their native ones, they also used the Roman calendar for religious purposes. At the very least, the Empire’s calendar gives the Celtic polytheist (especially those who honor Gaulish and to a lesser extent Brythonic and Iberian Celtic deities) a year of organized festival days. It also allows me to get the word out about amazing, once-famous deities like Telesphorus, Neto, Erecura, Lenus, Sulis, the Matres, Lug, and, coming up, Sirona, Taranus, Abnoba and many others. Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners has a strong focus on ALL the Celtic speaking peoples’ and their deities, histories and known ritual activities. Knowing that people in prison can barely afford shampoo and paper, I wanted this giant book to cover everything known about Celtic Paganism so they wouldn’t have a reading list that they couldn’t afford. (And it is gigantic. I feared that it would be refused by prisons on the grounds that it was a blunt object. Not only is it 8×11″ and over 550 pages, we used every bit of white space for articles and art and eliminated the waste of blank pages where we could.)

Friends have said that it shouldn’t have been so obviously marketed to the 1 in 1000 Americans who are incarcerated Pagans because it is the only book about Gaulish, Brythonic and the new wealth of Celtic deities in Iberia (the possible home of the Celtic languages and known home to more Celtic settlements than the rest of the Western European Celtic world). After all, it’s the book which they’ve been “waiting all their lives” to read. (No pressure there!) Many, disappointed that there were no books on Celtic polytheism aside from Gaelic (and the Gaels are definitely covered in Steel Bars, Sacred Waters), ended up Heathens because of the large amount of Heathenry 101 books. (Also there’s a very old, pre-Celtic even, linguistic, cultural and religious connection between the two linguistic groups that continued into the Viking Age.) Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan “homework” is nowhere near as simple as that for Heathenry (the Eddas). The sources for accurate Celtic information are usually found in peer-reviewed journals published almost daily. Important bits are hidden in linguistics, archeology, biased Roman and Greek history, writing by Irish monks determined to make the ogham Biblical and other disparate sources. If you wondered how the Celtic speaking peoples depicted their deities before the Roman influence, what the deal is with all these boars, and why is this mysterious “Old North” of the Britons, Gaels, Angles and Picts that no one explains so important, this is your book. If you wanted rituals based on historical evidence that you can just start practicing, Gullveig Press has you covered.

Why? Because this is the book I wished someone had written instead of just websites complaining about the books with completely inaccurate information. Please, if you research and practice polytheism, consider having both print versions of your writing available for sale to those without Internet access (preferably at a discount for prisoners) and an e-book or pdf for those with ink intolerance, like me. (Our books are available for those with MCS ink intolerance.) I want to read them! (Anything anywhere on Kemetic Reconstruction? Non-fascist, academically researched Baltic Reconstructed Paganism? A respectful collection of Sumerian mythology, the basis for many myths in the Christian Bible’s Old Testament? Reading online really hurts my eyes but I can copy website information, especially if it’s well organized. Contact me!)

No profit is made by Gullveig Press – all money from sales to awesome, intelligent (and might I add quite attractive?) people like you covers the printer’s cost and postage to send free copies directly to inmates or books-to -prisoners organizations. Amazon takes a big chunk of those profits, so please consider buying your jam-packed, incredibly heavy copy directly from here. It’s even less expensive!

Enough plugging of the book and our love for these deities and consistent work supporting Pagans in prison! On with the post!

Victoria

On July 17th the Romans made sacrifice to the Goddess of Victory, Victoria. The native British Goddess Brigantia was associated with Victoria sometimes. However, She’s been covered in this post. (Still, feel free to honor Her today. As the Goddess of the most powerful tribe in Britain, She is used to all the lovin’ you can give! How She probably was brought to Leincester by tribes already exposed to Christianity in Briton and became, partially for political reasons, Ireland’s first home grown Saint, Brigid, read here.)

Andraste and Andate

This leaves us with the formidable Goddess Andraste (“indestructible”?) Who may be the same Goddess as Andate, a name meaning “victory.” Andate may be associated (at least linguistically) with the Gaulish Goddess Andarta Whose name means “well-fixed, staying firm” and was worshipped in Southern France and Bern, Switzerland. 

boudicca-engraved-vintage-illustration-queen-boudicea-victorian-book-dated-no-longer-copyright-41960046_kindlephoto-1647170015
Boudicca on her chariot

Boudicca/ Boudica

The information we have about Andraste and Andate

comes from Roman writing about the rebellion of Britons led by Queen Boudicca of the Iceni. Although the Roman historian Tacitus spelled her name as Boudicca, it may have been Boudica, which means “victory.” Among many other things, Tacitus wrote about events in Britain. His father-in-law served the Roman military during Boudicca’s rebellion, so Tacitus probably recorded much of the older man’s memories of battle.

Historian Cassius Dio is our other source of information and he, too, obviously was biased against the Britons. After all, the Romans were at war with the Britons at this time (60 or 61 CE) and like all writers of war, he had to demonize the enemy as “the Other” and probably made up the detailed torture described. (Tacitus never mentioned it.) However, the rebellion was incredibly violent and both sides used torture. Boudicca’s forces did burn down three important Roman cities and massacred around 70,000 Romans and pro-Roman Britons. Red charred debris can still be found 2,000 years later in London, at that time the Roman merchant center Londinium.

It’s speculated that the Southeastern British tribes’ rebellion was meant to be coordinated with that of one led by the Druids from their island of Mona (modern Anglesey) on the other side of Britain. The Roman military was actually slaughtering the Druids when Boudicca led her forces to war. Another tribe who joined in the rebellion was the Trinovantes, whose capitol was taken by the Romans and turned into Camulodunum (modern Colchester). Roman historian Tacitus wrote in The Annals: 

“(T)hese new (Roman) settlers in the colony of Camulodunum drove (the Trinovantes) out of their houses, ejected them from their farms, called them captives and slaves ….”

Cassius Dio wrote of the rebellion more than a century after it happened. He has Boudicca speak of history she would not have known for the benefit of his Roman readers. Obviously no one had no electronic recording devices so what she actually said is unknown.

For the Celtic Polytheist

What is particularly interesting for the Celtic polytheist is that: Queen Boudicca speaks directly to Andraste possibly because nobles also had a Priestly function or because Britons prayed to their deities without the Priest middlemen (as noted with Sulis); Boudicca uses a popular form of divination in the ancient world that continued in Scotland until a couple hundred years ago: looking at the movement of animals; female Britons were not only fierce warriors (which we’ve read about the Gauls and some Celtic tribes in Iberia) but were also military commanders; and the Britons held feasts and made sacrifices for deities like in other Celtic cultures.

This is even more helpful for the Brythonic polytheist. During the time when Britain was part of the Roman Empire, Gaulish and other Celtic soldiers in the Imperial military brought their native deities. Most Celtic deities whose names have been recovered in Britain were from the temples and inscriptions made by these foreigners. The groves of native deities do not have stone inscriptions, so Their names are lost to us. Although there was trade between the Britons and Gauls, most of the known deities worshipped in both Britain and Gaul probably were originally Gaulish. In Andate and Andraste we have definite names of native Brythonic Goddesses. Based on the evidence at the sanctuary of Sulis and records by Tacitus and Cassius Dio, we know that prayer was part of ancient religious practice. To honor Andate a feast and the making of offerings in a grove is suggested.

Sometimes I wonder about worshiping a deity of victory Who failed to deliver, and then I remember our deities are not all-knowing, all-powerful or all-loving. They have greater knowledge and power than I do and a divine ability to love which transcends “reason.” Andate and Andraste did provide victory to these people most of the time or They would not have been worshipped. We face so many battles against diseases, lookism, racism, misogyny, transphobia, heterosexualism, ableism, faithism, ageism, depression, anxiety, poverty, trauma, hubris, self doubt, violence in the home and streets, echoes from shame-based religions, pollution, self-harming relationship patterns, isolation, the 6th huge planetary extinction, nuclear weapons, fracking, family discord and so much else – surely Andate and Andraste have much to offer if we only return to Their worship.

No deity has ever given human followers everything they wanted or needed. Ever. The forces in motion (Wyrd) may prevent Them from helping, we do not at this time know what we really need, some plan is already in place, astrological transits fight our will, the laws of nature won’t allow our wishes to come true, our prayers interfere with the best course for certain others, possibly we broke an oath to a deity, or some other reason we may not  currently understand means we all have to “lose” sometimes. But the deities provide much including comfort, so we honor Them and celebrate the miracles happening every day.

Thank you, Andate and Andraste!

Some Source Material

It’s important to read some source material so you at least understand what modern polytheist writers have to work with. You can also check that the writer knows what they are writing about. It is possible to understand some information in different ways because we all have our own interests and beliefs. Below is part of Thayer’s translation of Cassius Dio:

“(T)he person who was chiefly instrumental in rousing the natives and persuading them to fight the Romans, the person who was thought worthy to be their leader and who directed the conduct of the entire war, was Buduica, a Briton woman of the royal family and possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women. This woman assembled her army, to the number of some 120,000, and then ascended a tribunal which had been constructed of earth in the Roman fashion. In stature she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh: a great mass of the tawniest hair fell to her hips; around her neck was a large golden necklace; and she wore a tunic of divers colours over which a thick mantle was fastened with a brooch. This was her invariable attire. She now grasped a spear to aid her in terrifying all beholders and spoke as follows:

” “You have learned by actual experience how different freedom is from slavery. Hence, although some among you may previously, through ignorance of which was better, have been deceived by the alluring promises of the Romans, yet now that you have tried both, you have learned how great a mistake you made in preferring an imported despotism to your ancestral mode of life, and you have come to realize how much better is poverty with no master than wealth with slavery…. Why is it that, though none of us has any money (how, indeed, could we, or where would we get it?), we are stripped and despoiled like a murderer’s victims?…

” “However, even at this late day, though we have not done so before, let us, my countrymen and friends and kinsmen, — for I consider you all kinsmen, seeing that you inhabit a single island and are called by one common name, — let us, I say, do our duty while we still remember what freedom is, that we may leave to our children not only its appellation but also its reality. For, if we utterly forget the happy state in which we were born and bred, what, pray, will they do, reared in bondage?”

“When she had finished speaking, she employed a species of divination, letting a hare escape from the fold of her dress; and since it ran on what they considered the auspicious side, the whole multitude shouted with pleasure, and Buduica, raising her hand toward heaven, said: “I thank thee, Andraste, and call upon thee as woman speaking to woman; for I rule over no burden-bearing Egyptians as did Nitocris, nor over trafficking Assyrians as did Semiramis (for we have by now gained thus much learning from the Romans!), much less over the Romans themselves as did Messalina once and afterwards Agrippina and now Nero (who, though in name a man, is in fact a woman, as is proved by his singing, lyre-playing and beautification of his person); nay, those over whom I rule are Britons, men that know not how to till the soil or ply a trade, but are thoroughly versed in the art of war and hold all things in common, even children and wives, so that the latter possess the same valour as the men. As the queen, then, of such men and of such women, I supplicate and pray thee for victory, preservation of life, and liberty against men insolent, unjust, insatiable, impious, — if, indeed, we ought to term those people men who bathe in warm water, eat artificial dainties, drink unmixed wine, anoint themselves with myrrh, sleep on soft couches with boys for bedfellows, — boys past their prime at that, — and are slaves to a lyre-player and a poor one too. Therefore may this Mistress Domitia-Nero reign no longer over me or over you men; let the wench sing and lord it over Romans, for they surely deserve to be the slaves of such a woman after having submitted to her so long. But for us, Mistress, be thou alone ever our leader.”

“Those who were taken captive by the Britons were subjected to every known form of outrage. The worst and most bestial atrocity committed by their captors was the following. They hung up naked the noblest and most distinguished women and then cut off their breasts and sewed them to their mouths, in order to make the victims appear to be eating them; afterwards they impaled the women on sharp skewers run lengthwise through the entire body. All this they did to the accompaniment of sacrifices, banquets, and wanton behaviour, not only in all their other sacred places, but particularly in the grove of Andate. This was their name for Victory, and they regarded her with most exceptional reverence.”

 

Bibliography

Cunliffe, Barry, Britain Begins. Oxford University Press (2013)

Haussler, Ralph, Interpretatatio Indigena: Re-Inventing Local Cults in a Global World, Mediterraneo Antico, xv, 1-2 (2012)

MacKillop, James, Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, Oxford University Press (1998)

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

Prósper, Blanca María, “The Venetic Inscription from Monte Manicola and Three termini publici from Padua: A Reappraisal”, Journal of Indo-European Studies 46, Number 1 & 2, Spring/Summer (2018)

Tacitus, The Annals, 14.31

Thayer, Bill translation, Cassius Dio, http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Cassius_Dio/62*.html (retrieved July 16, 2019)

Turkilsen, Debbie, An In-depth Analysis of the Lives of Boudica of the Iceni and Queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes

Lockdown & Shakedown: What This Means for Pen Pals

Toin Adams
by Toin Adams “I am Looking for the Face I had before the World was Made.” Used with permission.

If you haven’t heard from your pen pal in a while, you can call the warden’s office and ask if their building is on lockdown. (The phone number will be available online if you search for the facility.)

Lockdown means that inmates cannot leave their cells except for the group showers. Your pen pal is unable to go to the Commissary to buy paper, envelopes or stamps. This leaves your pen pal with whatever they have in their cell for writing you until lockdown is over. If your pen pal trades art, cleaning other inmates’ cells, girlie pix, tattooing, etc for stamps, etc, they can’t continue work until the lockdown is over and other inmates have been able to shop at the Commissary. People hoard more and trade less in lockdown.

Food is usually brought in a paper bag, like 2 peanut butter sandwiches, with the peanut butter often diluted 50% with deadly hi-fructose corn syrup. This is made worse because they cannot buy snacks. Also, all activities are cancelled, including going outside or making telephone calls. (Medical appointments usually still happen, however.)

Lockdown and shakedown are performed regularly to check for contraband like drugs and cell phones. If there was a murder or other violence, lockdown is often immediate while the situation is investigated. The contraband being sought is often weapons.

During lockdown your pen pal can receive mail and, if they have the means, they may send mail. However, remember that they cannot buy anything including stamps and paper. Because lockdown is so boring, it’s often a good time to send a book, printed blog posts or photocopied magazine articles.

Lockdown is a common occurrence and it can last for weeks. During lockdown, C.O.s (correctional officers) will search every cell. This is the shakedown. Sometimes the inmates can stand aside as their belongings are thrown on the floor, often damaging the few family photos or letters they have. Mattresses are flipped over and items in lockers swept to the ground. It’s a serious process, as C.O.s have a lot of places to search for contraband. After just one shakedown, things can become broken like inmate-bought radios and fans.

The process can be even slower if a prisoner becomes upset with seeing their valuables harmed. It’s a normal response; after all, how would you react to someone going through all you own like it’s worthless? Pepper spray may be used on the upset prisoner, which tends to travel into other cells. My pen pal had tear gas in his cell 4 times in one week due to C.O.s using it on others.

Other times shakedowns involve having inmates choose what they can carry out of their cells. What they can’t carry, like expensive text books or work boots, is thrown away by the C.O.s searching the cells for contraband. Obviously prisoners with disabilities are at a real disadvantage if they can’t carry much. Once the prisoner is out of the cell, they often wait in a line with other prisoners with what they carried. The C.O.s will go through their belongings. It’s often rushed and rough, so again photos are torn, fans damaged and your letters could be scattered around the floor with the belongings of other inmates. It’s not uncommon for things to be lost.

Pagans often lose their shrine and altar goods. The homemade prayer beads or a tiny pebble are confiscated. Altar cloths are stepped on and origami broken. These can be irreplaceable and leave your pen pal without any visual or tactile reminders of their religion.

Just like when transferred, during shakedown expect your pen pal to have lost important belongings like a drawing board, fan, all toiletries, books and your past letters. It’s NOT a scam and it doesn’t mean that your gift of a magazine subscription or a beautiful drawing was not incredibly precious to them just because they have lost them. They didn’t have much choice. Artwork they’ve been working on will be crumpled and snacks crushed under boots. It’s a time of stress because it usually comes with loss. Deciding what to take out of the cell is very difficult and frustrating.

Afterwards, your pen pal probably has to wait in line for the Commissary. Many items might be sold out. What little money they have probably must go to replacing their fan in 110° heat, or buying soap, lotion, shampoo and toothpaste, or stocking up on snacks. They’ll be depressed about what was lost and may not tell you or know how to tell you if it was a gift. You may have sent them the greatest Wiccan book they’ve ever read and it’s the nicest thing anyone has done for them in years. Still,  it’s often difficult to tell you that it’s gone. Pen pals tend to try to be “upbeat” especially in the beginning because they don’t want to scare you off with their real emotions. Also there’s a lot of pressure in prison to not be “soft” and complain.

Your pen pal might be anxious that you’re angry they have not written and not know what to say. A lot of prisoners don’t like to discuss prison because, frankly, it sucks. Having to explain shakedown can feel risky, like you’ll realize that they are in prison or bore you and you will leave. Or they can’t figure out a way to explain a shakedown without sounding upset and ruining their laidback cheerful facade. And because it happens so often, they may be tired of thinking about it and write you to get away from the stress of prison.

If it was a murder or other violent crime that caused the lockdown, you may want to help your pen pal process their feelings. You may be upset that a kid with a 10 year sentence for drug possession is dead, angrily saying “It was not supposed to be a death sentence!” You might worry about if your pen pal is in danger.

Unfortunately, your pen pal usually cannot mention anything more about the death or violence. As you know, all your mail is read. In times like this, it’s read more closely. Just expressing fear, anger or grief in a letter could lead to your pen pal being interrogated by the prison staff who are seeking suspects. After returning from interrogation, other prisoners who were involved may not trust your pen pal. Your pen pal is now at risk from both the staff and other inmates.

Often your pen pal will suspect that a lockdown is coming soon. That’s why they’re scrambling to stock up on necessities. They’re telling you that you may not hear from them for a while. You can and should keep writing – this is a really boring time. Tell them in advance that you are sorry if anything is lost or damaged in the shakedown. It’s easier if you bring things up and set the tone sometimes. They tend to follow the emotional rules of the person who has the most power, which is you.

 

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The Inner Work of Liberation

Toin Adams
by Toin Adams, used with permission

“Being a victim of oppression in the United States is not enough to make you revolutionary, just as dropping out of your mother’s womb is not enough to make you human. People who are full of hate and anger against their oppressors or who only see Us versus Them can make a rebellion but not a revolution. The oppressed internalize the values of the oppressor. Therefore, any group that achieves power, no matter how oppressed, is not going to act differently from their oppressors as long as they have not confronted the values that they have internalized and consciously adopted different values.”

– Grace Lee Boggs