Celtic Festival of Dies Equeunu and the Alci

Alci Alexandra Rena
The Alci sketch by Alexandra Rena

This continues my modern Reconstruction-derived practice of interpreting Roman holy days in a Gaulish, Iberian, trans-Alpine Celtic manner. Erudinus is the only ancient Celtic deity for whom we have a Celtic festival date, so for the rest, I’m trying what some ancient Celtic language speaking tribes may have done: match a native deity with a Roman one.

Researchers now tend to believe that the conquered Celtic peoples often chose what parts of Roman religion to take, even choosing the Roman God for the correspondence, which is perhaps why many Celtic Gods are linked to Mars in one inscription and Mercury in another. The official Roman pantheon really doesn’t match the tribal deities of the different Celtic peoples. To the Gauls, Mercury, who was not very popular among most Romans,  was considered far more important than Jupiter. Mercury had the strength of communication, wealth and safe travels. Mars was the protector. Together They met the requirements for a good chieftain. As the Gauls rejected attempts by nobles to unify different tribes and form a permanent empire, a “top God” like Jupiter was not traditional.

Relevant parts of Roman religion was adopted and sometimes a self-conscious nostalgia for their own almost forgotten ways was revitalized. The latter seems to be especially true for the Britons, based on Folly Lane. (What’s that? You don’t know what is at Folly Lane and what it says about how Britons were adapting and reacting to Roman religion? Maybe you should buy a copy of Steel Bars, Sacred Waters and find out! Shameless plug for a great cause!)

On February 27 the Romans held a festival celebrating the birth of the Greek Castor and Pollox, the horse riding sons of Zeus, also known as “dioskouri”. They have a beautiful myth of self sacrifice which is related to the meaning of the astrological sign Gemini, according to East. “Castor was born mortal. Pollux was born immortal. When Castor was slain in battle, Pollux was inconsolable in his grief. He begged Zeus to relieve him of the bonds of immortality and allow him to die along side his brother. Zeus refused. And yet, in his wisdom, Zeus solved Pollux’s pain by granting Castor immortality as well.” Also, according to Brady, “Castor was connected to the morning star and was the horseman; Pollux, the boxer, was connected to the evening star and was associated with darkness.”

Castor and Pollox were very popular with the Gauls. The proto-Indo-European twin “Sons of God” survived not only in Greece and Rome, but in many cultures. They often are associated with a solar or mare (or both) Goddess who may be Their mother, wife, or both. The mother of Castor and Pollox is a mare in some myths and are the companions of the Sun. The Aśvins (“Horsemen”) are Vedic heroes, physicians and perhaps the evening and morning star (Venus) always found with the Sun, whose daughter Sūryā is Their wife. The Lithuanian Dieva Deli (“Sons of God”) travel the sky as horses with Their sister Saules Dukterys (“Daughter of the Sun”) whom They court romantically. The legendary brothers who led the Angles, Jutes and Saxons’ invasion of Britain, Hengist (“stallion”) and Horsa (“horseman”), may also have Their roots here.

It’s very odd that the famous horse riding Celts don’t have any horse twin hero Gods. Of course, the ancient mare Goddess Macha gives birth to twins after being forced to race the King of Ulster’s horses. (A race She won.) The greatest Irish hero Cu Chulainn in His earliest tales was born with a colt. The Mabinogi states that mare Goddess Rhiannon‘s son Pryderi was found as a newborn with a mare who just gave birth to a colt. Although these medieval hints suggest that there were ancient Celtic twin horse hero Gods, until recently Their names were unknown.

Then, an inscription was recovered in Pola de Gordón, León, to Dies Equeunu (pronounced: Dee-ess eh-QUEE-hu-nu), “the sons riding on the horse”. That’s about the clearest title for these deities as you can get! Notice that They ride one horse. More details are found in Iberia and Gaul, but with Their other title, the Alci.

Here’s what Tacitus wrote in Germania: “Among the Nahanarvali is shown a grove, the seat of a prehistoric ritual: a priest presides in female dress; but according to the Roman interpretation the gods recorded in this fashion are Castor and Pollux: that at least is the spirit of the godhead here recognised, whose name is the Alci (nomen Alcis). …they worship these dęities as brothers and as youths.”

There are Gaulish personal names like Alcovindos, meaning “white like the Alci” and place names like Alcobendas near Madrid, meaning “hills of the Alci.” Obviously, the “the sons riding on the horse” have something to do with being white. Guides to the Celtic realm of the dead ride white horses, like the Mabinogi‘s Arawn, Gwyn ap Nudd, and the Gaelic Donn. Gwyn and Fionn mean “white,” so we can pretty safely guess that Their horse is white. If They are associated with the Sun or Venus, white could possibly be connected to radiance. However, we don’t have any evidence linking Them to either.

“Hey! The Alci are German Gods, Heather! Now I doubt your entire blog and book!” No! Wait! Please, there’s fancy linguistic proof! Also, when the Germanic tribes migrated into a Roman Celtic world, the Germanic languages absorbed many Celtic words. And remember that Celtic people over a wide area were naming their children and places after the Alci.

The fancy linguistic proof: Take the Indo-European word Palkio, meaning “divine twins” and do the usual Celtic drop of the first letter “p”.  We get the Celtic “divine twins” – Alkio. Then, the logic goes, the Alci is a Celtic name for the divine twins. This is why we can learn so much about a deity by Their name, which often is a title.

We know that the Romans often were wrong about what tribes were of which culture. Despite their map showing that the Germanic tribes lived north of the Rhine and Gauls lived south of the important trade river, it was never that simple. The Belgae region seems to be Celto-Germanic, a merging of established Gaulish peoples and recent Germanic emigrants. According to Tacitus, in the 1st century CE the People of Ingvi-Frey, the Ingvaeones, had settled the area around and including Denmark. Also, early records of Germanic tribes mention leaders who had Celtic names. A few scholars think that there may have been a Celtic elite who ruled over some of the North Sea tribes. Before Denmark’s coastline drastically changed a few centuries before the German migrations, these Celtic tribes may have made southern Sweden a satellite state. If Celts were worshiping the Alci in Denmark then, the Germanic people may have learned about the Alci then, if Germanic tribes ever did.

Also, we now have a lot of linguistic and physical evidence that during the Bronze Age people in southern Sweden and coastal northern Spain were trading goods and culture. The Scandinavian petroglyphs and Iberian stele of that time depict almost startling exact images of wagons and warriors. Scandinavian amber has been recovered in Greece, increasing the range of the Bronze Age trading region. The Phoenicians built the first city in Iberia in the 9th century BCE on Spain’s Atlantic coast, being the first people to trade in the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic coast. The proto-Celtic Atlantic Seacoast Culture spread from the Straits of Gibraltar to Scotland, but some evidence may show trade with Sweden. This could be another way the Celtic word arrived in a  Germanic language – again, if the Alci ever were worshiped by Germanic tribes.

Prayer to Dies Equeunu for Fast Rescue Heather Awen 

O Dies Equeunu,
Please hear my prayer!
I am in trouble,
I need fast help,
I need the Divine Twins!
Please, quickly ride into this situation,
Stop the crisis,
Save my life, save our lives,
Save us!
Time is of the utmost importance,
Lives are at risk!
Dies Equeunu, you are Gods of heroes
And I need you here now!

 

Bibliography

Brady, Bernadette, Brady’s Book of fixed Stars. Samuel Weiser, Inc. (1998)

Cultraro, Massimo, Evidence of Amber in Bronze Age Sicliy: Local Sources and the Balkan-Mycenaean Connection. Eds. Galanaki, Tomas, Galanakis, Laffineur. Aegaeum 27, Between the Aegean and Baltic Coasts Prehistory Across Borders

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

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)

East, Sonrisa, Where Alpha Meets Omega: Mythology of the Constellations, Space Exploration & Astrology. (2019)

Fortson, Benjamin W., Indo-european Language and Culture: an introduction— 2nd ed., Wiley-Blackwell (2010)

Gibson, Catriona and John Koch, Beakers into Bronze: Tracing connections between Iberia and the British Isles 2800-800 BC, CELTIC FROM THE WEST 2: Rethinking the Bronze Age and the Arrival of Indo-European in Atlantic Europe, John T. Koch and Barry Cunliffe (eds), Oxbow Books (2013)

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)

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

Koch, John T, Celtic origins reconsidered in the light of the ‘archaeogenetics revolution’ (2018)

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

Ling, Johan & Koch, John, A sea beyond Europe to the north and west. Giving the past a future: Essays in Archaeology and Rock Art Studies in honour of Dr. Phil Gerhard Milstreu, Dodd & Meijer (eds), 2018

Manco, Jean, Ancestral Journeys: The Peopling of Europe from the First Ventures to the Vikings, 2nd ed. Thames & Hudson (2015)

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

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

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

Price MacLeod, Sharon, Celtic Myth and Religion: A Study of Traditional Beliefs with Newly Translated Prayers, Poems and Songs. McFarland Press (2012)

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

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)

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

Tacitus, Germania

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

Celtic Festival of Tongoenabiagus & Nabia: Exploring Celtic Iberian Castro Culture & Its Irish & British Shared History

Fonte_do_Ídolo_Braga_kindlephoto-314812406
Fountain of the Idol

As I’ve stated in each post of the series, we know that the Celtic tribes had more power than once thought over how they interpreted the religion of the Romans who conquered them. If they often chose the Roman deity names to match their own deities, altered how Roman style temples were built and had their own ideas about Roman deities, perhaps they used the Roman calender to synchronize festivals for their deities. Even if they didn’t, it is a way for the modern Celtic polytheist to organize festivals today.

On February 21, the 3 day Roman festival the Parentalia ended as the Feralia began. In the original Roman calender, March was the first month, in honor of Mars, God of war, and February was dedicated to purification from the previous year. The Feralia was the final festival to honor the ancestors. Offerings, usually food, were taken to the tombs. The Feralia also honored Jupiter Feretrius. When people sign marriage and other contracts, Jupiter Feretrius is witness. In the Roman Empire, people made an oath that if that if they lied, Jupiter Feretrius should strike them down.

It’s the oath aspect of the festival that concerns this post. Lugus may derive from the word “oath” as in “I swear to curse you if you are my enemy, that’s my oath.” Lugh and Llew both use Magick to deal with enemies, so it’s a strong possibility. It may tell us something about the way Celtic language speakers understood the word “oath.” He may be a God of destiny, with these oaths. (The ancient Celto-Germanic crow Goddess Badb of Irish myth also uses the Crane Stance on Her prophetic curses.)

The 1st century shrine in Braga, Fonte do Ídolo (Fountain of the Idol), isn’t just dedicated to the popular deity Nabia (Pronounced: “NAH-bee-ah”). The God Tongoenabiagus is also named. (Pronounced: “tong-goy-na-BEE-ah-gus” – for me, it’s easier to learn if I break the name into two parts, practice them separately and then altogether.) The Celtic root word for His name is related to making oaths (“I swear”). Considering what we know about Lugus, Jupiter and ancient oath God UllR, it would seem that Tongoenabiagus smites those who break their promises.

There’s quite a lot of talk in Heathenry about the importance of keeping your word which applies to Celtic tribes as well. The entire structure of society was based on oaths. Warriors pledged to follow a chieftain, king or new young cattle raider. Heterosexual couples married, maintaining the patriarchal family. Lesser chieftains and kings pledged themselves to greater ones. Tribes formed loose federations, especially in wartime. Merchants were expected to give and get a fair price for their goods. And humans made oaths to deities and fully expected to have a cursed life if they broke them. Trade was just as important for the 1st century BCE Celt as it was for an 8th century Viking. The Gauls relied on their role of merchants so strongly that they adopted the Roman God of commerce and travel, Mercury, and worshiped Him more than the Romans did. Obviously the Celtic people in pre-Christian Iberia would have needed a deity to witness the promises of their contracts to make sure that the oath would be enforced by a greater power.

In the farthest southwest point of Portugal during the 6th century BCE, a Celtic language inscription written in the Phoenician alphabet praises Lug. His popularity in coastal Iberia (Celtici in the south, Gallaecia and Asturias in the north) and the eastern part of the Meseta and south of the Pyrenees Mountains (Celtiberia) appears to have been active and consistent even after Lugus was forgotten in Gaul. Iberia may even be the original home of Lug.

However, Gallaecia probably relied on a local oath-enforcer, the God Tongoenabiagus. The oath Gods tend to be very high ranking, often the leader of the pantheon. With this in mind, perhaps it makes sense that Tongoenabiagus, who is only mentioned once in the evidence left for archeologists, was included with Nabia, whose followers left behind evidence of many inscriptions and sanctuaries, at Braga in northwestern Portugal.

The gender of Nabia, like a few other Iberian deities, is somewhat confusing. Although linked with Jupiter by the Romans, Nabia was also associated several Goddesses, such as Victoria (Victory, a war Goddess), Juno (Jupiter’s wife and equal, the Queen Goddess), Diana (Goddess of wild forests, hunting and midwives) and others associated with fertility and health. These many Roman Goddesses provide us with a good example of how most Celtic Goddesses were understood by most Celtic language speaking people: capable of any “function.”

It is possible that Nabia was the head of the pantheon for the ferocious Bracari tribe who at one time controlled much of Gallaecia and Asturias. The Romans recorded that the Bracari were one of the fiercest Celtic tribes whose fearless female warriors would rather die than live as slaves. Like many Iberian people, the Bracari relied on selling metal ore and goods. When the Romans attacked, the Bracari’s warriors hid in their iron mine and ambushed Roman troops.

The first encounter between Celts in Iberia and Romans was probably as mercenaries in the Punic War. Phoenicians built the first Atlantic trade port in southern Spain in the 9th century BCE and were involved in the Atlantic Seacoast Culture, so the Celtic association with Carthaginian merchants was very old. We are given an interesting look at these warriors who seem to have been trained in Druid divination.

“Rich Gallaecia sent its youths, wise in the knowledge of divination by the entrails of beasts, by feathers and flames— who, now crying out the barbarian song of their native tongue, now alternately stamping the ground in their rhythmic dances until the ground rang, and accompanying the playing with sonorous caetrae.” (A caetra was a small type of shield used in the region).
– Silius Italicus, Punica

Where there’s trade, there’s transportation of goods. Nabia is the Goddess of fresh water and many important rivers, including the Nabão River in Tomar, the Rivers Navia (which flowed into the southern Bay of Biscay) and Avia, and the Neiva River by the ancient Roman capital of Gallaecia Bracara Augusta, which today is called Braga. She had several sanctuaries, including one with thermal hot springs, which connects Her to health. The Gallaecians understood the healing power of saunas, “taking baths in vapours that rise from heated stones.” (Strabo, III.3.3) The door frames for the inner rooms of saunas were highly decorated, suggesting a ceremonial function, and called pedras formosas (“beauty stones”).

Rivers were an important part of the European transportation system, which makes Nabia important for trade. Her good favor was needed for safe travels to and from the Atlantic coast, where boats could take the Iberian metals north to Gaul and Britain or be exchanged with Carthaginian merchants for wine, glass and pottery. In the Roman Empire, some Gaulish tribes earned their wealth by controlling a river and demanding tribute from those who would travel it. There’s no reason to think that some Celtic tribes in Iberia did not do the same.

With so many people coming together to trade, perhaps Tongoenabiagus was needed to keep merchants honest. The Fountain of the Idol was in a shrine dedicated to just Him and Nabia in the important Roman capital of Gallaecia Bracara Augusta, a center for luxury goods. Celtic cultures often paired a hero chieftain God with a sovereignty Goddess, both of whom had a variety of roles in human society ranging from granter of fertility to psychopomp for the dead. The pairing was not always the same couple and They did not necessarily have to be lovers. Rosmerta is traditionally paired with Mercury, but Her age indicates that She probably was understood to be His mother.

Although historically Gallaecia is as Celtic as Gaul or Ireland, it’s mostly ignored in every pop culture Celtic Paganism book and academic book on different Celtic Reconstructionist reading lists. This is true for all of Iberia. But Galicia has the most information on its native pantheon compared to the rest of Iberia and even the well-known Belgae tribes north of Gaul bordering Germania.

So why don’t we know about Nabia when She’s far more documented than a currently popular Goddess like Nemetona or Don? One reason is that the research has been happening recently and still yields surprises. Also, the Celtic Iberian deities have very few remaining statues (if any). Even without the details of a specific myth, the root word of a deity’s name/ title and Their depiction can tell us a lot about a deity, and we often don’t have either for Iberian deities. (Iberia was home to many different Celtic languages, some of which are only now seriously being studied.) The hundreds of inscriptions are being reexamined and we’re learning important details. The “dying and resurrection” grain God Erudinus also of northwestern Iberia had a festival on June 23 and 24. This is the ONLY date from actual polytheist Celts for an ancient Celtic deity and proves that the Summer Solstice was important to at least some Celtic people. (I believe that medieval Gaelic monks didn’t mention any solar Pagan holidays because they had been replaced by Easter, St John the Baptist Day, St. Martin’s Feast Day and Christmas.)

Another reason I think contributes to the obscurity of Celtic Iberia is simply ethnicity of Celtic Pagans today, which is an almost taboo subject. The truth is that most Celtic polytheists I have met are looking for their pre-Christian ancestral religion. British Pagans often ignore the Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Danish Heathens and focus on the land in a neo-Celtic modern Druid cosmology. Brythonic polytheists mostly focus on the medieval Welsh text the Mabinogi and the inscriptions and temples to the deities of the occupying Gaulish soldiers in the Roman military. (Actual ancient Brythonic deities known today are few because native temples don’t have Latin inscriptions.)

Hughes* in his book The Book of Celtic Magic even invents a nationalist “Celtica” to describe the spirit, myth and traditions of the 6 nations that at least until recently had speakers of Celtic languages, which is odd because the ancients never referred to the inhabitants of Britain or Ireland as Celtic. The concept of a pan-Celtic cultural connection between these nations is very recent and ancient Celticia is a region mostly in modern-day France. The huge Keltoi culture across Europe into Turkey is ignored in his “Celtica” and implies that you must live in the U.K. and Ireland. If you are not there, you can’t feel “Celtica” which evidently exists only in those lands. Modern Saxon Pagans and German Celtoi  Reconstructionists are dismissed by writing like this, much less American Celtic Reconstructionists, which is sad. It is that type of attitude we’re trying to keep out of prison gangs using Paganism as a front – ethnic/national exclusion and cultural misappropriation.

Meanwhile, looking online, Scotland seems to have more Gaelic polytheists than Ireland, where Wicca is the most common Pagan religion. This could be because that much of Celtic mythology is common Irish knowledge woven into place and Catholicism, so it doesn’t feel like an occult (secret) religion. The Farrars, incredibly important English teachers of Wicca, have been based in Ireland for decades. Gaelic is a soon forgotten, difficult subject in school. Also, even in cosmopolitan Dublin and progressive Galway, bookstores have very limited Pagan sections compared to New Age and Buddhism. I hope the books by Lora O’Brien help Gaelic Pagans actually in Ireland, as they are very place-based.

The fascination with Gaelic polytheism mostly comes from the descendants of Irish immigrants. During the Irish Potato Famine the United States received a lot of Irish immigrants. Irish ancestry is the most common ancestry for Caucasian Americans, tied with German heritage. Australia and Canada also have many citizens whose ancestors came from Ireland and Scotland and so they turn to those deities. Even many Gaulish polytheists know from where in France or Germany their ancestors immigrated. As much as we say that ethnicity doesn’t matter in Celtic Pagan Reconstructionism – and it honestly doesn’t matter; anyone can worship Celtic deities in Celtic ways as it was a culture, not carried in DNA – it seems that most people are drawn to deities they think some of their ancestors worshiped. In fact, the only time I have heard someone say that they were Celtiberian was a Latino warrior in a primarily Gaelic ADF Grove.

Bilingual books about the Celtic tribes and their religion in Iberia probably would be popular with many Hispanic Pagans who seek an ancestral connection with ancient European polytheism, based on the pattern we find with other modern Celtic polytheists. I know that a lot of Latinos discover Paganism in prison, often through their devotion to Saint Muerte, but don’t feel like Wiccans or called to the Orisha, and of course are not allowed to be Odinist Heathens. From letters by Latino Pagans who received free copies of Steel Bars, Sacred Waters, I’m told that the ancestral connection with Celtic Paganism gives them a home once they know about it.

Yet Iberia should matter to all Celtic Pagans. Iberia had more Celtic settlements than anywhere else in Western Europe (yes, including France!) and deep cultural and linguistic ties to Ireland, Britain and coastal Gaul since the Neolithic Atlantic Seacoast Culture and the Bronze Age. So the culture of northwestern Iberia shares quite a lot with the most popular form of Celtic polytheism: Gaelic. It is even in important Gaelic mythology, as we’ll soon remember.

800px-Casa_reconstruida_do_castro_de_Santa_Tegra
Rebuilt hut in the oppidum of Santa Tegra, A Guarda, Galicia.

Nabia and Tongoenabiagus came from the Castro Culture, which was very similar to the Celtic tribes of Ireland and Britain. These tribes of the valleys and mountains near the Atlantic ocean were seasonally transhumant cattle-raising pastoralists protected by a warrior elite. That’s how we also describe the ancient Irish: seasonally transhumant cattle-raising pastoralists protected by a warrior elite. Like the Celtic peoples of Britain and Ireland, homes were round huts, unlike the Gauls. The Celtic people of northwest Iberia originally built small hill-forts (called “castros”) that were unoccupied and show no signs of warfare, just like in Britain. A few rounded huts with prominent hearths were available for some type of communal activity.

Two popular theories about the early hill-forts are: one, that they were tribal religious centers or, two, where the tribe’s pastoral animals were seasonally counted so the chieftain could take his share. The chieftain was responsible for sacrifices on behalf of the tribe. As archeology of Iron Age Britain shows that large amounts of animal sacrifices occurred in spring and autumn, coinciding with medieval Gaelic Beltain and Samhain, both ideas could easily be combined into tribal seasonal ceremonies based on the birth and death of cattle.

Casa_cividade_terroso
Family Setting of Cividade de Terroso

Just like in Britain, much bigger hill-forts were later constructed by fertile farmland, for defense and prestige. Some places built oppida (urban trading posts enclosed within intimidating walls), filled with round granaries, square workshops, communitarian halls, shared forges and of course saunas. Some even had fountains, drains and reservoirs, important for a Goddess of water like Nabia. At the same time, the round family hut became a fenced-in cluster of huts with a courtyard in the center, similar to those in coastal Wales when being raided by Irish pirates. Strabo described leather boats on northern Iberian rivers, lakes and coasts which probably were like Irish currachs and Welsh coracles. Bronze Age trade with Britain had long connected the two proto-Celtic lands, but this mostly ended in the early Iron Age. Iberia had iron and didn’t need to trade with Britain any longer. Yet their shared culture obviously continued.

The Celtic style of dress in Iberia was generally like that of other Celts, who all shared a love for fancy designs woven into fabric. Married women wore the same style head wraps as married Gaulish and Germanic women. A large scarf covered the braided hair, with the long ends of the fabric twisted and then wrapped around the head like a brim. (Statues of the Matres show these head wraps.) Every region had variations of the style; Iberians sometimes added a veil to cover the neck. Men wore arm bands and other accessories typical in metal rich Gaul, while women’s jewellery was somewhat influenced by the Mediterranean, especially earrings. Both men and women with power had their own versions of the gold torc neck band. The ends often had empty, large terminals which held little stones, making them rattles. As we know that rattles were sewn on garments in other Celtic regions, the find of torc rattles adds to our awareness that trance-inducing sound was valued by Celts in general.

The Castro Culture not only mined copper, gold, iron, tin and lead; they forged many tools. They were relatively self reliant communities. Breads were made from their own harvests of wheat and millet as well as roasted and ground acorns. Beer and bread came from oats and barley. Like the Britons they grew peas and cabbage and foraged for nutrient rich nettle and watercress. Clothing was made from linen and wool. Cattle provided milk and butter as well as meat along with pigs, sheep and goats. Hunts for wild boar and deer were popular, as in the medieval Welsh Mabinogi and depicted on carved and painted Pictish stones. The deities Epona and Lug were very popular, along with many local deities.

In Gaelic myth, Lugh‘s beloved foster mother is the Fir Bolg noble Tailtiu (pronounced: “TAL-dyoo”) who in one version is said to be a Princess of Galicia. It’s in Her honor that the early harvest festival Lughnasadh is celebrated. Marriage and fostering children were important political tools for gaining allies and ending wars. With Lug so popular in Iberia, could Lugh and Tailtiu be an old remembrance of an Iberian myth of the Celtic hero chieftain God and the sovereignty Goddess who makes the land fertile? Or of marriages used to form bonds between kingdoms that once included the Gallaecia and the insular Celts?

In Lebor Gabála Érenn (our main source for Irish mythology), the last invaders of Ireland are the sons of Mil, the ancestors of the Gaelic-speaking humans. They sailed to Ireland from Galicia, which makes northeastern Iberia home for the Gaels. Of course, this is tangled up with Biblical myth, like the whole Lebor Gabála Érenn and our sources for the ogham alphabet, along with Irish monks’ social commentary on the lack of protection from the Vikings. (Bres is usually a good member of the Tuatha De Danann. The myth about His greed and corrupt leadership seems to be an Irish monk’s creative writing about the current situation in 10th century Ireland. There’s many layers to the myths.)

If you once could not find a reason to learn about the Celts in Iberia, I hope that you now understand how important Iberia is for studying any Celtic language-speaking people’s religion. There’s even a strong Bronze Age connection with Sweden.

800px-Muros_de_San_Cibrao_de_Las
Walls of the oppidum of Lanobri or Lansbri, San Cibrao de Lás, Galicia.

The following prayer is from Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners. It is available from Gullveig Press to American incarcerated Pagans and those engaged in prison ministry at no profit to us ($12 for the huge book and shipping and taxes). For other people, if you buy it directly from us, it is less expensive than ordering it from Amazon and we get more profits which go straight to sending copies of the book to people in prison. ($25 covers everything – and it’s at least twice as long as most books!)

1% of Americans are in prison, more than any nation, and approximately 10% of prisoners are Pagan with few if any resources beyond white supremacist groups. This is 1 in 1,000 Americans, so there’s more Pagans in prison than outside of prison. Please donate your used paperbacks to your nearest books-to-prisoners organization. (Find it here.)

Prayer to Tongoenabiagus to Keep Your Word by Heather Awen

A person is only as good as their word,
And mine was often worthless,
Lying to family,
Betraying the trust of others.
I spread fear and doubt,
Made others suffer from my cowardice and greed.
O Tongoenabiagus,
Those broken vows
Those deceitful words
How I wish I could undo
The damage that came from every one.
Please don’t give up on me, Tongoenabiagus.
You see through all my broken promises,
Every con and every scam,
The hurt lovers and people poorer for knowing me,
And still believe I can change my ways.
I can change; I will! I have the courage to admit my mistakes to you, and
Unburdened, I have the courage to become a better person.
I admit them, you know what I have done.
Time to move into responsibility for the words I speak today.
Instead of being crushed by past shame I steady myself, making my vows something on which others can depend.
Truth – I know my limits and I know my strengths.
What I promise matches the reality of who I am and my situation.
I build my honor day by day, and although this is something only I can do,
Tongoenabiagus, I pray for help from you.
Thank you, strong one.

 

* Hughes is a Druid in his own order, not a Reconstructionist or focused on the living Celtic language cultures, so it’s his UPG without him stating this, a quality of the more dangerous types of Pagan books, especially for prisoners with extremely limited access to information. I like sharing UPG, but let’s be sure to call it that. It’s the main flaw in Raven Kaldera’s book for prisoners. Who said Frodi is Frey’s grandfather? Oh, him. Kaldera states as facts his own opinions, which confused many seeking a non-racist, non-homophobic Heathen resource

600px-Trisquel_de_Castromao
Triskelion from the Iron Age hill-fort of Castromao, Celanova, Galicia. Now in the Museo aqueolóxico provincial de Ourense.

Bibliography

Alfayé, Silvia, Contexts of Cult in Hispania Celtica, Cult in Context: Reconsidering Ritual in Archaeology, Barrowclough, D.A., & Malone, C. (eds), Oxbow, Oxford (2007)

Arenas, Jesús Alberto, Celtic divine names in the Iberian Peninsula: towards a territorial analysis, Celtic Religion Across Time and Space, Junta de Comunidades de Castilla-La Mancha (2010)

Ayán Vila, Xurxo M. A Round Iron Age: The Circular House in the Hillforts of the Northwestern Iberian Peninsula, e-Keltoi: Journal of Interdisciplinary Celtic Studies: Vol. 6 , Article 19. (2008)

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

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

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

de Milio Carrín, Cristobo, The Widower And The Goddess Or The Closed Door: On the connection between northern and southern Celts (March 2011)

Gibson, Catriona and John Koch, Beakers into Bronze: Tracing connections between Iberia and the British Isles 2800-800 BC, CELTIC FROM THE WEST 2: Rethinking the Bronze Age and the Arrival of Indo-European in Atlantic Europe, John T. Koch and Barry Cunliffe (eds), Oxbow Books (2013)

Giesler, Friedrich, Topos and Reality: Celtic and Germanic Women’s Clothing as mirrored in Roman Art (2017)

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

Hughes, Kristoffer, The Book of Celtic Magic: Transformative Teachings from the Cauldron of Awen. Llewellyn Publications (2014)

Koch, John T, Celtic origins reconsidered in the light of the ‘archaeogenetics revolution’ (2018)

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

McCaffrey, Carmel & Eaton, Leo, In Search of Ancient Ireland. New Amsterdam Books (2002)

Mosenkis, Iurii, Possible Sea Peoples activity in the Lebor Gabála Érenn

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

O’Brien, Lora, A Practical Guide to Irish Spirituality (Sli Aon Dhraoi). Wolfpack Publishers (2012)

Pedreño, Juan Carlos Olivares, Celtic Gods of the Iberian Peninsula, Guimarães, Portugal: E-Keltoi: Journal of Interdisciplinary Celtic Studies (2005)

Prosper, Blanca Maria, Celtic and non-Celtic Divinities from Hispania, The Journal of Indo-European Studies, Vol. 43, #1&2 (2015)

Prosper, Blanca-Maria, Universidad de Salamanca, Linguistic Observations of Two Divinities of the Celtic Cantabri

Quintela, Marco V. Garcia, Celtic Elements in Northwestern Spain in Pre-Roman times, e-Keltoi: Journal of Interdisciplinary Celtic Studies: Vol. 6 , Article 10. (2005)

Simón, Francisco Marco, Religion and Religious Practices of the Ancient Celts of the Iberian Peninsula, e-Keltoi: Journal of Interdisciplinary Celtic Studies: Vol. 6, Article 6. (2005)

Tenreiro, Marcial, For a Juridical Ethnoarchaeology of the Bull (and Horse): Sacrifice, Circunvalation & Ordeal in Celtic Iberia, Acts of the 1º International Congress The Horse and The Bull in Prehistory and History (2016)

Wolf, Casey June, The Mythical Pairing of Brig and Bres – Its Origins and Meaning in Cath Maige Tuired, 34 SFU (Surrey) HUM 332 Celtic Mythology with Antone Minard (2015)

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

 

Gullveig Press does not endorse whatever stuff WordPress is advertising. Odds are you don’t need it and it destroys your ecosystem, countless human workers and the planet in general, so you could use your money more wisely. Maybe buy a copy of Steel Bars, Sacred Waters for a prisoner with no income?

Ilurbeda: Celtic Iberian Goddess of the gold mine

Armi Dee
2 Salmon by Armi Dee

In this post I attempt to present the information relevant for Pagans in the paper The Hispano-Celtic Divinity ILVRBEDA, Gold Mining in Western Hispania and the Syntactic Context of Celtiberian arkatobezom ‘Silver Mine’ by Blanca-Maria Prosper (the incredibly prolific – and my favorite – scholar on Celtic Iberian deities). Prosper is at the forefront of Hispanic Celtic linguistics and is known for revisiting the original stone and metal inscriptions others take for granted. Her work, for example, has changed what we know about the Apollo epitaph Belenus which is only found in one city, and was wrongly identified with a completely different God by scholars who did not go to the original inscriptions and altars. This news sadly does not seem to have reached most Pagans, who are studying out dated academic or pop culture books. If we want to truly know our deities, we should at least use Their correct names and other accurate information available to us. I hope to continue to make much this new knowledge available here.

That’s a reason for this blog. The most common complaint of Celtic polytheists is that they can’t find reliable information about Gaulish deities (including the ones brought to Britain) and none of those from Iberia. Steel Bars, Sacred Waters covers about 160 deities and more are still being recovered. Especially for Iberian Celtic studies or the Celto-Germanic connection, this is a very exciting time! It’s interesting to me that recently Gullveig Press has been fulfilling requests mostly from Hispanic incarcerated Pagans for the book lately. It’s their European polytheist ancestors’ deities and religion, which most white supremacist groups forget. I don’t believe ethnicity has anything to do with which deities you are meant to worship, but it’s true that many Pagans are seeking their ancestral pre-Christian indigenous religion. I once had online discussions with a young Portuguese man who hated Portugal because he never learned it had tribal peoples like the Britons or the Norse. His internalized … not racism, but something similar, was very sad. The first inscription to Lugus – Lugh is written in a 6th century Celtic language using Phoenician letters at the farthest southwest corner of Portugal, beyond the Straight of Gibraltar.

The Iberian peninsula was a rich source of metals in the Bronze Age, the Celtic Iron Age and for the Roman Empire. With mining being so important to these peoples (and, indeed, other Celtic peoples and just any culture economically dependent upon mining), it would make sense that there would be deities of these mines. Whether the salt mines in Hallstatt or the tin of Cornwall, Celtic peoples would have been both grateful for the wealth and terrified of dying in the tunnels. Skeletons from Hallstatt show that men had great upper body strength but comparatively weak legs from their work in the mines. The women tended to have lopsided shoulder strength from hauling bags of ore. I had to think through the Goddess Domnu of Cornwall “Goddess of the deep” until the practical needs of the Celtic Cornish miners hit me. Humans are logical. They pray to the deities who are most connected to their identity, which often is their tribal ways, the fertility/protection of the land, their vocation or, as with pregnancy and childbirth, a specific function. Deities of mining, another way the Bronze and Iron Age peoples unknowingly destroyed their ecosystems (the main being clear cutting for farm land), would have to be necessary.

Iberia had a large amount of votive altars dedicated to the Goddess Ilurbeda. Her cult seems to have started in the northern Vetton region, especially the mines in Salamanca. A previous theory was that Her name meant “city of Beda” but there is no known city called Ilurbeda. Also Her altars are found along the Western facade and in a bigger region of central Iberia, particularly between the Ebro and Tejo Valleys. In the west, She’s named with a diversity of local Celtic and Lustianian deities. The rest are often in Celtiberian. There actually are not very many altars or deity names recovered in the Celtiberian region aside from Lugus and Epona. The reason why is not known, but Ilurbeda must have been very important. Strangely, Ilurbeda is (so far) unknown in the neighboring land of the Astures where thousands worked in mines that are now tourist attractions.

The root word *bedo is Celtic for “quarry, mine.” Two Portuguese inscriptions to Ilurbeda were recently found in a gold quarry in Coinbra. Ilurbeda IS Herself the mine, specifically the gold mine. She’s who you sacrificed to when asking Her to share Her riches. She is who you sacrificed to when asking to survive working in the mine. Most likely, there were great community rituals in Ilurbeda’s honor. When the Romans conquered Iberia, they organized the northwestern mines so all free people had to work some time in the mines to help pay the community taxes.

Finding a Celtic word for gold was difficult, as the Gauls adopted the Latin aurum. We have *arganto– for silver; *kanto– for stone and marble; *cassi– for bronze and copper; *isarno– for iron; and a root word for lead. The word “silver” is actually a loan word probably from a Semetic language. The Celtiberians used the word “silaber” for “coins.” They did not mint their own coins and silaber did not refer to silver ore. It was money. *arganto is known as the root word for silver, with three examples being Welsh arian(t), Breton argant, and the name of the Caledonian chieftain Argenticox (“silver limbed”).

A Celtic word for gold, however, was previously unknown. Prosper looks to the Indo-European and Indo-Iranian root word *geluos meaning “yellow” which became the root for gold in many languages, including English. Once Prosper did all the fancy linguistic changes of the Celtic languages, the root word for gold is *iluro-.

Ilurbeda had at least two other functions that helped humans besides being the source of gold. She protected the ore as it moved through the dangerous mountain paths to the east. An altar in Avila connects Her with the protective Roman Lares Viales. Two portable altars of Ilurbeda, good for wagons, were recovered west of the Vetton area. A Celtiberian bronze tablet from the 2nd century CE reads: “For the transportation of the ore along the way of…, leading to Cortonum, let the silver mine be cleared, both in the open air and in covered area. The magistrate has decreed in Cortonum.” This reminds us of the actual daily work and risks involved with this industry which made Iberia (and Gaul) so attractive to the Romans.

Ilurbeda also appears to have had a role in guiding immigrants to find work in the mines. They came not from the south, but from Callaeci from the northwest and from Uxamenses and Clunienses from the east in Celtiberia. Dedications were made to the Goddess. Some of the altars for Ilurbeda in Lusitania seem to be from immigrants looking for jobs. Perhaps some were from the staff, not the actual miners, “asking her to open up and give away her rich secrets,” as Prosper eloquently puts it. The places in Lusitania with these altars coincide with where the gold mines were.

Ilurbeda Today

Today, when we know the human rights violations and ecological damage caused by the mining industry, we may wonder what role Ilurbeda plays. Obviously if you live in any of the regions of Spain or Portugal where She was worshiped or there were gold mines, you can form a deep relationship with Her as place. Perhaps anyone who lives where there were gold mines, like parts of California, may make Ilurbeda offerings and begin prayers, divination and meditations to build a relationship.

Mining for metals not only exploits workers and leaves a huge hole in the bioregion where indigenous flora, fauna and fungi existed in harmonious relationships which now are open for invasive species, it normally leaves deadly toxins in the soil and water. The death toll continues after the mining is done. Also Her mines are mostly empty. A good symbolic sacrifice to Her may be to bury something gold you already own. Show that you are ready to give back.

There’s a great debt we owe these deities. If anything, we should thank Her for Her generosity and explain that we, on behalf of our species, understand the deaths that occurred of many forms of life. We know that Her wealth was not ours to rip away. Our species had temporary insanity which has continued as the norm. We want to be part of the restoration and regeneration of the land, sea and sky upon which we completely depend. As “the rocks dancing” we know there’s no separation between our species and anything else that exists – including our deities. Will She provide guidance? She was there to help humans during one stage of our recent development. There’s no known reason why She would no longer desire a relationship with us.

I’m lucky in that I have always been allergic to all metal. My skin blisters, so I don’t have metal jewellery aside from a few gifts that are kept on my shrines. Like our relationship with crystals, something that was rare but today is a huge collector’s hobby among “spiritual” folks, we need to revisit how what we buy and how “Magick tools” we use affect those beyond us. The only paper I can tolerate has vegetable ink lines, 100% recycled paper and covers made powered by a water mill and recycled metal spiral bindings. I reuse the metal spiral bindings in art, twisting them into large willow trees with long roots. The company is ecojot in Canada and the Jumbo Journal is the perfect size and the sketch pads are great. Although it really is much more important that corporations recycle as they are responsible for the majority of waste, recycling at home and work can be a conscious spell, to build the “hundredth monkey” effect that tips the scales. Your recycling bin could be part of your altar to Ilurbeda.

Ilurbeda could be a protective deity for those who work in transportation. Mail carriers, bus drivers, artisans traveling from festival to festival, crafts fairs to crafts fairs, Ilurbeda watches over those who transport – or She might if you form a relationship with Her. Bicycles, buses, cars and trucks are made of metal. If we don’t ask Her if She wants to bless ways of saving gas like carpools, bicycles and buses, we won’t know how She feels about this. Obviously restoring, upcycling and taking care of our metal possessions is very important. As a child my father hammered used nails straight for his laborer grandfather from Ireland. The cast iron skillet was treated like the most precious object in existence. The family car usually was fixed/ built by my father, sometimes with holes in the floor, but everyone’s trash seemed to be his treasure. I’m very grateful for what the Depression and Dust Bowl taught my family and taught me.

Many people move from home in search of work. Ilorbeda heard those prayers for centuries and I imagine that She’d understand those prayers today. She may be the Goddess of immigration! She may be the bringer of wealth! Unless you honor Her you won’t know.

A lot of people are stuck in dangerous mining jobs. Limited opportunities and the need for food, shelter and clothing means that some places’ entire community is dependant on the mines. I think of the Welsh miners’ strike which lead to the British general strike of the 1970s and hope a deity like Ilurbeda was behind it. Someone has to protect the people who have no other options but to risk their lives in the mines that our society requires.

Does Ilurbeda take care of the working poor, the immigrants in the dangerous jobs no one else will do? I would say yes. Did she help keep my Uncle safe as he drove a delivery truck on the sidewalks of Manhattan, trying to get around double parked cars, treacherous terrain inbetween the towering skyscrapers? I think I’ll make an offering just in case She did.
Bibliography

Prosper, Blanca-Maria, The Hispano-Celtic Divinity ILVRBEDA, Gold Mining in Western Hispania and the Syntactic Context of Celtiberian arkatobezom ‘Silver Mine’, DIE SPRACHE 49,1 (2010/2011)

Gaulish & Galatian Celtic God Telesphorus Festival!

 

gaulish figure Telesphoros
Sketch of Telephones Statue by Heather Awen

Wow. It’s been a year since I started my project of finding Roman Empire festivals that correlate with deities of the Celtic Iberian, Brythonic and Gaulish peoples and those tribes who moved through the Balkans and Eastern Europe to Turkey and the Ukraine. I’ve found more Celtic deities and Roman festivals since then, so more will continue to be posted. For the folks just joining us, I will link to the past posts about the season. Have a great time with Telesphorus – The Most Popular Celtic God You’ve Never Heard Of!

January 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! It’s usually posted on the 23rd so you have a time to send it.

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. As the mail is slower this time of year, try to send it at least a week in advance. 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.

January is named for Roman God Janus, who rules over beginnings and the transitional space of doorways. He’s depicted with a face of both sides of His head. January became the 1st month of the year later in Roman history. Originally it was March.
January 1 is Janus Agonalia, when Romans gave sweets like jars of honey, dates and figs to Janus and their loved ones so their year would be sweet. Ovid instructs: “Now must good words be spoken…. banish mad disputes straightaway!” They believed that you must only say positive, kind words when beginning anything.
Vediovus, a Roman God of the manes (the dead), was active in the barren month of January. He’s depicted as a young man carrying arrows with a goat.
During the 1st two weeks of January Greek healing deities Aesculapius, His mother Coronis and His daughter Salus (Hygeia is her Greek name) received offerings in the Roman Empire. Aesculapius had a staff with a snake coiled around it, still the symbol for doctors today.
January 3 is the Roman Festival of Pax, Goddess of peace. Her symbols are an olive branch, cornucopia and scepter.
Crossroads are places of transition that attract spirits. The Roman countryside held the Compitalia from January 3 to 5 to please the crossroad spirits. By hanging a head of garlic for every household member, their real bodies and minds would stay safe. In towns, families on the same block brought honey cakes to a festival.
The 8th is sacred to the tough Haitian lwa of the Revolution, abandoned children and lesbians, Erzuli Dantor.
The Carmentalia is January 11 or 13 (or full moon), when the nymph Carmentis was invoked as Postvorta and Antevorta, names that refer to Her power of looking into the past and the future. The festival was mostly held by women. No leather or blood sacrifices are allowed in a grove or temple of Carmentis. Instead of wine, She wants milk as a libation (drink).
The 17th is dedicated to Ogun in New Orleans Voodoo, focusing on work opportunities and protection.
During the waning moon of January rural Romans celebrated the Sementivae and Paganalia. While sowing of seeds, sacrifices of baked goods were made to Tellus (Mother Earth) on one day and Ceres (grain Goddess; similar to Greek Demeter) on another. The community prayed for a good harvest, peace and prosperity.
2 days before the dark moon of the lunar cycle of December-January, Hera, Greek Goddess of marriage, was honored with Her husband and the leader of the deities, bright sky father Zeus, at the Gamelia.
The day after the new moon was sighted in the lunar month of January-February began the Anthesterion (Older Dionysia) in Athens. Focus was on the flowers of spring. (The climate was similar to Southern California.) After sunset clay jars of wine were broken as a libation for Dionysus, God of wine. The next day featured drinking competitions as the dead wandered amongst the living, receiving water and wheat flour mixed with honey. The day ended by banishing the dead, yelling, “Get out, Keres (spirits that work harm), the Anthesteria is over!” The next day people ate pottage (boiled grains with honey) and offered it to Hermes in His role as psychopomp (guide to the dead).
The 27th Romans celebrated the birth of Castor and Pollox, horse riding sons of Zeus. Gauls also worshiped Them.

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

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.

October 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! It’s usually posted on the 23rd so it arrives in time sent by snail 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-Saxon name for October translates into “Winter Nights.”
October comes from octo-, meaning 8. When the Roman year started in March, October was the 8th month. This also explains September (7), November (9) and December (10).
Roman Goddess Fides (“Good Faith”) was honored on October 1st (or the new moon). Fides was concerned with faithful relationships between deities and mortals.
The 1st is dedicated to the Orisha Oya in New Orleans Voodoo.
The dark moon of the September-October lunar cycle was the Chalkeia in Athens. Artisans offered baskets of grain to Greek smith God Hephaestus and the patroness of artisans Athene Ergane (“workwoman”). Weaving Athene’s robe for next year’s Panathenaia began.
October 4 is a day of fasting in honor of Roman grain Goddess Ceres. The next day the Pit of Ceres was opened for the second time of the year. The manes (the dead) could leave the Underworld. Businesses closed and weddings and battles were forbidden.
On the 7th Jupiter Fulgur (“Jupiter of daytime lightning”) and Juno Curitis were honored by Romans.
October 9th is the birthday of the Heathen Queen Sigrid the Proud. She refused to convert to Christianity to marry a powerful king, saying others may choose Christianity, but she would continue the religion of her ancestors. He called her a Heathen bitch and tried to kidnap and rape her, but her soldiers defeated him. She swore revenge. She married another king who later would be involved with her former suitor’s death. Heathens honor her commitment to her religion; women honor her for not changing just to get married. She may have been Polish royalty.
The Meditrinalia (“to heal”) on October 11 celebrates the end of Roman grape harvests. The God receiving offerings was probably Jupiter. Ill people made a libation of new and old wine, hoping that tasting it would cure them.
The 15th is dedicated to the Orisha Oya in New Orleans Voodoo.
On October 15 two-horse chariot races were held to honor Mars.
Winter Nights was an important holiday in Iceland, held in October, perhaps on a Thursday near the full moon after the autumn equinox. A blot was held for the Disir (female ancestors and perhaps Valkyries and Goddesses).
Rome held the Armilustrium on October 19 as the war campaign season ended. Mars was honored and the soldiers and their weapons, polluted by having killed other humans, were purified.
In 1st century CE Rome, initiation into the Mystery Religion of Isis took place during October 28-November 3. A beautiful procession was lead by initiates in fancy clothing. A female chorus in white spread flowers on the path. Next came the people carrying torches, then musicians, followed by a youth choir dressed in white. “Make way for the goddess,” Priests and Priestesses yelled. More people already initiated came next, wearing white linen. Men were shaved bald and women wore white silk veils. They rattled a sistrum (a ritual instrument kind of like a metal tambourine). The rituals of the Isia were secret. The devotees probably reenacted Isis’s grief as She searched for Her murdered husband, the green Underworld God of barley Osiris, and then Her joy when She recovered His severed body. With Her Magick Isis put Osiris back together and had sex, conceiving the important God Horus. Like the other Mystery Religions, it guaranteed a deity’s help and a great Afterlife. At an older time Romans prepared a model ship for Isis, Goddess of the life-giving Nile River. Devotees purified the boat with flame, egg, sulfur and chanting. After the boat was filled with gifts, people poured libations of milk and grain into the water. Finally the little ship was put in the water, sailing its gifts to Isis.
Samhain is the Old Irish name for the the New Year, celebrated at the first frost or the evening of October 31 and day of November 1 with much feasting and divination. Samhain may come from the word “assembly” or “summer’s end.” Cattle and their young male protectors returned. Animals that could not be kept over winter were slaughtered and preserved. The dark half of the year began. Remains discovered at ancient British Celtic temples show that animals were sacrificed around Samhain and Beltain. The Gauls acknowledged this time as the new year, too. Called Trinoxtion Samoni (“three nights of Samhain”), it probably became involved with the rebirth festival of Isis of the Roman Empire. Samhain is a transitional time when communication with the spirits is easiest.

 

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